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All American Boys, An Insider's Look at the U.S. Space Program Kindle Edition
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Walt shows the astronauts as human beings that did have big egos and loved to fly. We learn there were many opportunities for the Astros to have numerous sexual affairs if they wanted to. There were plenty of good looking woman who wanted an "Astro" in bed....almost a trophy game. "Deke" Slayton cautions to be discrete and not bring shame to NASA or you maybe looking for another job. Many married Astros did have extramarital relations while many Astros stayed faithful to their wives.
We learn almost all the Astros were not rich with the exception of Alan Shepard through business deals and contacts becomes a millionaire. However the Astros had many, many perks such as the Life magazine contract, corvette cars, low cost housing loans, use of NASA jets for transportation, etc. Also many Astros got to meet many presidents, kings, queens, other politicians, dignitaries and entertainers. Many complimentary tickets.
We learn about the hardships the Astro's wives had with their husband spaceman not being home allot. Many of the wives took care of their homes and raised their families,while Dad worked,worked, worked. A lot of tension. Eventually divorces started.
Walt shows the tragic rush, rush, and sloppy workmanship that lent to the fire of Apollo 1 and loss of 3 good friends. He shows their lives lost helped NASA and its contractors get on the ball to produce one of the greatest flying machines of all time.
We see the cutthroat antics of the Astros trying to get a flight....any flight and the pecking order of the senior Mercury Astros first, Gemini Astros second then Apollo and the bottom of the barrel the scientist/astros. Military rank had little to do with it. There was vast favoritism and sometimes an illogical positioning of Astros to go on a flight. Walt shows many more qualified Astros got pushed back. Some like Scott Carpenter were deliberately kept off flights due to his perceived mistakes on Arora 7. We see poor Gordon Cooper who did excellent work on his Mercury and Gemini flights deliberately not given an Appolo flight because of his free spirited antics and not working as a "team member".
The book reads very well and Walter Cunningham was able be to get across his point of the Astros as human beings not some superhero superstars. Walter made one flight in Apollo 7 helping to resurrect the Apollo program from its ashes of destruction of the loss of Apollo 1. We see him working hard to get another flight but because of internal politics he never got one. He gets an assignment to Skylab and is doing great getting it started. Unfortunately for him Pete Conrad who was senior to him bumps him out of the top spot.
Walt shows us some of the start up of the shuttle program and the fantastic heat deflecting properties of the shuttle tiles.
Other Astronaughts and Cosmonauts are mentioned.
Walt gets discouraged and realises its time to do something else in life and put up his space shoes. Both his wife Lo and him are happy to leave NASA. He leaves not bitter but proud of his accomplishments and proud of the men he worked for and with. Eight years at NASA was enough.
He explains while he was in NASA there was not a black Astro or a women Astro. NASA was NOT racist or prejudice but wanted the very best people. Most of the pilots and scientists were routinely rejected. No favorite group quotas given. Later he says blacks and women will have more opportunities for them to get the qualifications plus politically he sees changes happening with edicts telling NASA to hire black and women Astros , but its going to take time. Walter was definitely not a racist or sexist but a realist.
A good book putting out the real Astronaut not the super hero myth. He didn't sugar coat the book but told it INMO from the heart. Thanks for your space contributions Walt Cunningham.
Part of the reason is, as Collins pointed out, that Cunningham received a rigorous scientific education and was involved in scientific research before going to work for NASA. This gave him a greater ability to objectively judge the qualities of his fellow astronauts.
The original Mercury astronauts were good pilots, but one of the most important qualitites that they were chosen for was ability to stand immense stress, because at that time, it was not known how spaceflight
would affect the astronauts, physically or mentally. After Project Mercury proved the stresses were not as bad a feared, new generations of astronauts were chosen who had better education, better ability to understand the increasingly complex Gemini and Apollo spacecraft and a greater appreciation of the importance of the exploration of space in a scientific sense, something the Mercury astronauts did not have so much.
Cunningham also shows that the grind of training took a toll on the Mercury astronauts, and he says frankly that the commander of his Apollo 7 mission, Wally Schirra, who flew outstanding missions in both Mercury and Gemini (piloting the first rendezvous mission with another vehicle) didn't really have his heart in his Apollo mission and it negatively influenced his performance. Schirra repeatedly lost his temper during the mission which gave his whole crew a bad reputation leading to both Donn Eisele and Cunningham being banned from further flights (everyone admits Cunningham got an unfair rap in this). Cunningham also frankly points out that although the crew indeed proved that Apollo spacecraft was flight worthy, they didn't really accomplish nearly as much as they could have during their relatively long-duration flight in a scientific sense.
Other interesting things I learned from this book was that, starting with the two-man Gemini flights, the Mission Commander was the astronaut who controlled the abort initiation sequence, so he had to be significantly better, and management required more confidence in him than in the other astronauts who flew along, and in borderline situations, he had to have the best "feel" for how the flight was going and the spacecraft was performing.
One surprising thing Cunningham reveals was the most astronauts felt that
in the Gemini 8 mission (first docking of a manned spacecraft), astronauts Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott made a serious mistake leading to their spacecraft to spin out of control. Fortunately, they got it back under control and made an emergency reentry. Most histories of the space program say it was a mechanical glitch and that Armstrong's cool response gave Deke Slayton the confidence in him to assign him to be the commander of the first landing on the Moon.
Cunningham feels that ultimately, although all the astronauts were talented and qualified, the flight crews were chose based on Slayton's
feelings of friendship
for the fellow (although it should be pointed out that the great success of the space program shows that Slayton did generally pick the best to fly) and this was more important than ability, physical fitness or other objective considerations. Famous examples was Slayton giving Alan Shepard the Apollo 14 mission without him having served as a back-up crewmember on a previous mission. Although Shepard did an excellent job landing the Lunar Module very close to the desired target, his subsequent performance during the lunar EVA left a lot to be desired and much possible scientific gain was lost. Another example was Gene Cernan crashing his helicopter while he was ogling sunbathing girls. Many people
thought this would wash him out of his Apollo 17 command position, but Slayton covered up for him (it should be pointed out that Cernan did an outstanding job both piloting and carrying out his scientific duties on that flight).
Finally, although he wrote the book before the Space Shuttle first flew,
he points out that many of the astronauts felt too many compromises were made in designing it and that it wasn't safe. Cunningham points out that fighter pilots and astronauts find taking life-endangering risks to be exhilirating IF THE RISK IS NOT TOO GREAT. However, they oppose taking foolhardy risks, and not a few astronauts felt the Shuttle fit into that
category. Subsequent history has unfortunately shows that was the case, and the new Orion spacecraft is going back to an Apollo-like design and getting away from the "space-plane" concept.
All-in-all, I found the book a good read and a pleasant reminder of the
glory days of the manned space program that led to man walking on the moon.