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Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond Paperback – June 23, 2009
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"A blow-by-blow account of heroic teams overcoming adversity...No matter how many times you read the story of the Apollo 11 landing, with computer alarms going off and only seconds of fuel left, it is a heartstopper. Here, Kranz recalls it vividly." -- Alex Roland, The Washington Post
"A rich, behind-the-scenes account of the experts who held the lives of America's first space explorers in their hands." -- Mark Carreau, Houston Chronicle
About the Author
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Kranz speaks candidly about the challenges, successes and failures he and his team encountered as they grew the mission control center. His writing style is that of a military man and an engineer - his wording is often crisp, succinct, precise while lacking emotion. He also presumes some familiarity with the history of the space program, as he tends to dive into detailed accounts of each mission, without offering much in the way of background.
For anyone interested in the space race, or especially anyone studying how one demonstrates exemplary leadership while facing never-before-seen challenges, Kranz's book is a must-read.
The author was the ground-based flight director for the Apollo lunar missions and played a similar role in all earlier space missions from Alan Sheppard’s first American in space onwards. As such, the author has detailed first hand knowledge of the full history of the US Space Program.
The reasons why I did not rate the book higher:
- It reads dry, with a lot of names of people and insistence on explaining various roles on the mission control team, which ultimately breaks up the flow of the story
- It is purely Mission Control focused. To the point where personal interest stories are minimized, little is mentioned about the engineering side (rockets, capsules, computers), and the astronauts are the “other” and their experience is not covered either.
- What actually happened on the moon is barely mentioned. This really is just a space flight controller book.
I learned a few historic tidbits I didn’t know before. For example, Charles Lindbergh has dinner with the Apollo astronauts before the first lunar mission.
When I compare this book to the 2019 documentary Apollo 11 or the movies First Man or The Right Stuff, the lack of breadth, emotion and storytelling in this book becomes even more apparent.
Recommended with reservations, only for hard core space buffs.
I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone that wants to know the Space Program in the United States went from President Kennedy's promise, to KEEPING that promise!!
You may not like this if you aren't a techie. It isn't a novel. It's highly technical engineering nonfiction. But, it's a heck of an exciting tale, and if you appreciate that kind of writing, you won't be able to put this down! If you enjoyed "Moby Dick", an amazing sea adventure story with pages and pages of technical detail about ships and whaling, you'll love this...
Top international reviews
After 16 successful launches they overcame the death of three astronauts in the pad fire that destroyed Apollo 1. But, despite that disaster, the programme continued and we are given a gripping account of the moon landings, subsequent lift off and rendezvous. There’s also an near-light-hearted summary – remember the film? – of the way in which the astronauts put together that air scrubber using a fan, bits of cardboard and a fair amount of duct tape. But it worked and averted another near disaster.
At the end of the book Gene Krantz expresses – strongly – his views about the way in which the United States terminated that particular part of the space programme. But, of course, he was unaware of the way in which projects like the International Space Station and Mars explorations would ultimately follow. And that Russia, China and India would play a major joint role in ongoing space exploration.
In the book he also quotes the opening line (the title to my review) of the poem ‘High Flight’, written by the 19-year-old Canadian pilot John McGee, who was killed when his Spitfire 1 collided with a training aircraft close to RAF Cranwell on 11 December 1941. ‘High Flight’ is now the official poem of both the RAF at the RCAF and was quoted by President Reagan in his speech following the Challenger disaster on 28 January 1985.
I believe the final few lines of the sonnet epitomise the entire space programme:
“Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
Gene Kranz was right at the heart of the Apollo story and he has sufficient technical knowledge to give real insights into how NASA managed to put Armstrong et al on the moon in such a short space of time.
Of course there is heroisim in here by virtue of the bravery exhibited by those who were prepared to put their lives at risk in order to achieve the goal set by JFK. Not everyone survived.
But for me, the real lessons are about just how much can be achived by a motivated set of gifted individuals with a set of technologies that were at the time in their absolute infancy.
I can't believe Health and Safety will ever again permit a story like this to get off the ground, and therefore is likely to remain for ever one of the truly outstanding team achievements of all time.
A compelling book.
I don't know if Kranz uses a ghost writer or did it all himself, but the writing is very easy to absorb, is written in a natural flowing manner and explains technical or unusual words in a sensible way that doesn't condescend or patronise the reader.