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Failure is not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond Paperback – May 1, 2001
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Later printing. ECC Conference bookplate signed by Gene Kranz inside the front cover.
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Gene Kranz said that the sides of the LM were only the thickness of two sheets of Aluminum Foil,
.OO6" or 6 thousands of an inch thick. Do you really think a contraption like that can go to the moon and back?
I say surprisingly, as the space program had many many interesting people and events. Kranz is a horrid story-teller, he makes it as stale as week-old bread. Apollo 13 was a wonderful movie, exciting as anything and Kranz' discussion of the flight is dull, dull, dull!!
Kranz makes a plea for more space exploration but fails to provide a reason for it beyond giving his fellow engineers and controllers a job.
Kranz brags about the long hours he spends, the endless preparation. But he also brags about how many children he has. Heck, why have children if you are a wokoholic. Or simply keep your personal life out of it
People have asked me why I choose to review some books and not others. It is a good question. After much thought, I have realized that if a book is extremely good, I want to tell the world about it. Or in this case, when I choose a new book, I hate being disappointed. This book disappointed me badly.
More than just a historical chronology of each mission, Kranz does a respectable job of bringing out the human element and the many personalities involved, each of whom played a critical role in making key decisions. You really get an appreciation of the high stakes involved. Risk management is the name of the game and the stress never abates. Every aspect of every mission was clearly a team effort and compromises were necessary at every level. It was a special time and these were special people.
Sadly, the book highlights just how far we have fallen as a nation of pioneers. Kranz observes that the 1960's opened with JFK's bold and visionary assertion that America was going to the moon and only a decade later Richard Nixon effectively gives the Apollo program it's obituary with a "thanks" to the astronauts who would likely be the last to walk on the moon that century. By 1973 the public was already becoming disinterested with space so the money, and the will, dried up. Gene Kranz does a convincing job of explaining the intangible benefits of leading the world in exploration and pushing into the universe beyond. I believe if more people read Failure is Not an Option, there would be a renewed interest in returning to space.
As a side note, there are a lot of acronyms in the book, which is normal everyday fare in aviation, but for the uninitiated it can be a bit daunting. There is a handy appendix provided that will help you keep it all straight. You may not realize that it is there until you've finished the book, especially if you have the Kindle version.
For every action of the astronauts - from docking, to EVAs, to even taking a poop, there was someone on the ground whose job it was to worry about that specific aspect of it and how it impacted every other part of the mission. These amazing specialist controllers worked and trained with the primary and the backup astronaut crews to develop the specific procedures for performing every action (potential and planned) the whole team might foreseeably encounter. When it came time to perform those actions, the makeup of the shift of controllers would be the specialists in those areas. So when the action changed from launch to docking rendezvous, the controller shift changed, too.
The Apollo 14 mission is one great example. Paraphrasing a chapter, one of the controllers had detected a problem with the ABORT switch. After a quick conference with other specialists, they called a backroom of other experts who was there to specifically back him up. Behind that back room of specialists was a software team from MIT on the line waiting just in case. While the astronauts were preparing and proceeding with their lunar descent, the MIT team had written a software patch, the back room team had tested it with the backup astronaut crew in the SIM and then transmitted to the crew. Without their efforts, the landing would have been scrubbed.
As another example, every time the launch was put on hold, there was a trajectory controller who performed the calculations for the new trajectory and upload it to the computers. You have to think, every minute or so means a new trajectory!
The Apollo 13 movie only hints at the immense pressure these guys were under. No rocket was perfect and every mission required troubleshooting (and fixing) one set of problems after another. Live. Thanks to Gene for giving these guys their due.
Another book that I think of as essential is Deke Slayton's book, "Deke!" This bridges the gap between astronauts and admin and how many of the decisions were made (such as who was first in space or on the moon).