This book was born in May 1999 after a phone call from an administrative assistant at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I wish I remembered her name. She was confirming my interview the next month with John Young, who commanded Apollo 16 and walked on the moon in April 1972.
I excitedly jotted down the information and thanked her for calling. Before I could hang up, the woman said, “I should tell you something. Captain Young doesn't do interviews anymore. But he pulled your letter out of a huge stack of requests and said, 'Set this one up.' I thought you'd like to know that.”
I thanked her again. Then I found a copy of the letter I had written Young about a month earlier. It was a simple, two-paragraph note, asking for an in-person interview for a package I was working on about the thirtieth anniversary of the first moon landing. Cynthia Wall, my features editor at the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, at the time, had given me the okay to travel to Houston and write the story if Young agreed to the interview. I thank her for that.
And to this day, I still don't know why Young chose my letter over the others. I thank him, too.
Young was my target for a couple of reasons: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first humans to set foot on the moon, had quit granting one-on-one interviews, and Young is perhaps the most decorated astronaut in history. He flew two Gemini missions. He was the first to orbit the moon alone, on Apollo 10. He spent two days, twenty-three hours, and two minutes on the lunar surface during Apollo 16. He commanded