Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Moon Shot

I finally finished another book over the weekend, and it was a good one: Moon Shot, by Jay Barbree with Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.

Shepard and Slayton probably (I hope, anyway) don't need any introduction here. Jay Barbree was a news correspondent throughout the golden era of space flight, from Mercury through the shuttle, and his insider's view is evident throughout the book.

While I thought it was mostly going to be about the Apollo program, the book covers pretty much everything from "Hey, we got these German rocket scientists, now what?" through the Apollo-Soyuz mission. In addition to outlining every mission, the book infuses some personal stories of the astronauts and what makes them tick. Suffice to say, these are not your average folks. Test pilots are indeed a rare breed, and their coolness under extreme pressures is something to behold.

As an aside, you have probably figured by now that I am a race fan, and I've always thought race drivers share many of the same attributes as astronauts. That aspect is also considered in the book as the friendships that developed between the astronauts and Indy 500 winner-turned-car-dealer Jim Rathmann are examined.

Another fascinating topic is the rivalry between the US and Soviet programs. Barbree introduces the various cosmonauts and takes a look at some of the most notable missions, something I knew relatively little about.

Overall, the book is written in what I would almost call a magazine feature story style, making this an easy read for the lay reader with an interest in the space program. It's probably not techy enough for the true space enthusiast, but is a great overview for most people wanting the highlights in an easy-to-read format.

The book was obviously written in the mid-70s (it alludes to Skylab and hints at the forthcoming shuttle program), but has been revised somewhat since. To wit, it does not exactly praise President Obama's space policy in its concluding chapter. But NASA has been something of a political hot potato since day one, so I could overlook it regardless of my personal positions on the various issues.

I picked this up when I visited the Huntsville rocket center this spring. So yes, I have been on a bit of a rocket kick lately. Just last night I finished my second rocket of the year, and hope to launch it soon. I will wait until the replacement parts I ordered for my old rockets arrive and I can fix up the fleet. Pics forthcoming.

Also, maybe its the wargamer/modeler in me, I have been left a little unsatisfied with the selection of rockets available from Estes and others due to their, I guess we'll call it fantastic nature. I'm more for historical accuracy. So I just ordered a Dr. Zooch kit of the Mercury Redstone. That looks like a fun, old-school type of kit and I'm looking forward to it. Watch this space! (No pun intended...)

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