May 5th, 1961. Freedom 7. The United States took its first small step on its journey to the moon…
Do you hear the nervousness in his voice? I think the whole thing got a bit more causal, but not necessarily much safer, later on in the space program.
“I had not realized the intensity of the emotions and feelings that so many people had for me, the other astronauts, the whole damned manned space program. This was the first sense of adulation, a sense of public response, a sense of public expression of thanks for what we were doing. I got all choked up.”
Next step? The moon. One problem: Nobody has a clue as to how to do that.
In Moon Shot, Alan Shepard, the guy in that space capsule/tin can in the video, chronicles the history of the process of going to the moon. The book is co-authored by Deke Slayton, one of the other embers of the original Mercury Seven astronauts. Since Shepard was not only the first American in space, but also later walked on the moon as one of the Apollo astronauts he’s well qualified to write this book. The book was originally written some time ago but has been re-released with various additions and features. Jay Barbree has been added as an author, and there is an intro by Neil Armstrong.
From a press release for the book:
Shepard and Slayton wrote Moon Shot together releasing it on the 25th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing. Soon the book was being called “the bible of the space age.” It became a four-hour television hit and made the New York Times and other major bestseller lists while being published in eight countries.
The new Moon Shot takes you to the moon – in a digital version, with video and never before released content about the space program. If this is your first read, you’ll be riveted. If you experienced the original book, the new version will be, in the words of all great space explorers, “the damnedest trip you’ll ever take.”
You may recall that Alan Shepard is famous for saying, when asked what was going through his head as he sat atop the Redstone rocket that would propel him and his tin can into space, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.” An ear-related illness and some bad scheduling luck kept Shepard from flying any rockets through the entire Mercury and Gemini programs, but he served as Chief of the Astronaut Office, overseeing everything the astronauts did as part of their training and preparation. He then flew on Apollo 14. He died in 1998. He was the first American in space, and he was also the first person who walked on the moon to die.
I only received the book recently so I’ve not had time to read it all, but I spend a couple of hours with it last night. It’s well written, fun to read, and if you followed the events of the space program like I did, as they happened, you will find it nostalgic. The book covers the famous training program of the original Mercury astronauts (The Right Stuff stuff), and the tragic Apollo One mission. It discusses the complex decision making process of working out which Apollo craft would go to the moon vs. land on the moon, and the bizarre event that we all remember (in different ways, a bit like Julia Child’s chicken) of the computer turning off just as it was needed most while they were landing Apollo 11. The authors also cover the events associated with Apollo 13 (yet another movie). and a lot of other stuff.