Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon

By Handy, John B. | Air Power History, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon


Handy, John B., Air Power History


Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon. By Robert Kurson. New York: Random House, 2018. Photographs. Diagrams. Notes. Sources. Index. Pp. 356. $28.00 ISBN: 978-081298870-3 (Hardback), 978-081298872-7 (ebook)

To many Americans, the Apollo program can be summed up in a very few sound bites: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed"; "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"; and "Houston, we have a problem!" Nearly forgotten today is the audaciously daring mission of Apollo 8, which was only the second manned flight of an Apollo spacecraft, the first manned launch of a Saturn V launch vehicle, the first manned flight above low-Earth orbit, and the first manned flight to orbit the Moon. And the Apollo 8 mission--from conception to execution--was just four months in the making!

Robert Kurson, Harvard Law School attorney and author, has done a masterful job of communicating the urgent need for such a game-changing mission; the risks accepted to make it possible; and the tremendous effort necessary to pull off such an extraordinary leap forward from what was, until then, a careful, incremental stepwise building of lunar-landing capabilities. Into the story of the mission itself, Kurson has woven the stories of how and why we were even in a space race with the Soviet Union, and how Apollo 8 "saved 1968," a year of tremendous divisiveness and tragedy for our country. I remember 1968 myself, and it wasn't pretty.

Kurson's book starts with the launch of Apollo 8, but quickly reverts to a major decision by George Low, NASA's first Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. Setbacks in the development of the Lunar Module would have delayed the planned earth-orbital Apollo 8 testing mission. Why not test a manned Saturn V launch and operate the Apollo Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit instead? …

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