#BookReview: Across The Airless Wilds by Earl Swift

Astounding History Of An Oft-Forgotten Era. One point Swift makes in this text is clear even in my own experience – *even as someone who has been to the NASA Cape Canaveral Visitor Center many times*: The era of Apollo after 11 and in particular after 13 is often forgotten in the zeitgeist. People talk about Armstrong and Aldrin all the time. People even talk about Lovell and Mattingly in Apollo 13 a fair amount (helped somewhat by the excellent and mostly realistic Tom Hanks movie and the fact that to this day, NASA sells quite a bit of “Failure Is Not An Option” merchandise).

But after that particular era is when the “real” lunar science began. And for that, NASA needed another tool that got a fair amount of (slightly inaccurate) press back in the day, but whose story has never been quite so thoroughly documented as this particular effort by Swift. That tool was the lunar rover, aka the “moon buggy”, and here Swift does an extremely thorough job of documenting the first inklings of an idea that it may be possible through the early history of American rocketry (while not hiding one iota from its roots in Nazi experimentation) through the conceptualization and manufacturing of the actual rover and even into its impacts on modern rover design, such as the newest Mars rover, Perseverance.

The book does get in the weeds a bit with the technical designs and what exactly went into each, along with the various conceptual and manufacturing challenges of each. Similar to how Tom Clancy was also known to get so in the weeds about certain particulars from time to time, so Swift is in good company there.

But ultimately, this is an extremely well researched and documented book that does a simply amazing job of really putting you right there as all of these events unfold, all the way to feeling the very dirt and grit the final men to walk on the moon experienced when they had certain cosmetic failures on the buggy… millions of miles away from being able to really do anything about it. Truly an excellent work that anyone remotely interested in humanity’s efforts to reach outside of our own atmosphere should read. Very much recommended.

This review of Across The Airless Wilds by Earl Swift was originally written on April 11, 2021.

#BookReview: Operation Moonglow by Teasel Muir-Harmony

Interesting Angle I Had Never Considered. This book takes a topic that many around the world, and particularly many Americans, know about and presents an angle on it that few openly consider. So many talk about the amazing scientific accomplishments of the Apollo program and NASA at the height of its prowess in its earliest days, but here Muir-Harmony explores the dimension of *how* did so many around the world know of this and *why* did the know of this. Muir-Harmony makes the case reasonably well from a *political* side that from the beginning, NASA’s actual chief mission wasn’t specifically science-for-the-sake-of-science, but much more closely science-as-covert-imperial-tool. NASA was tasked with achieving remarkable scientific feats, but it was only when the political pressures to be the “peaceful” face of Democracy And Western Ideals came to bear that the funding and urgency were truly put in place to make the “race to the moon” a thing… even as it never really was a thing, since the Soviet tech for such missions was… lacking. Still, an utterly fascinating history that puts well known events in a new light, and that alone makes this truly a worthy read. Very much recommended.

This review of Operation Moonglow by Dr. Teasel Muir-Harmony was originally written on August 22, 2020.

#BookReview: Shuttle Houston by Paul Dye

Fascinating. This book is from a guy that started in NASA in the era right after Apollo and seemingly left right as SpaceX and the other private space agencies were finding their first successes. It is highly technical, yet also very approachable – Dye actively tries to explain as much of his “NASA-speak” (his term) as possible while not getting bogged down in too many details. This covers the entirety of his 40 ish years in NASA, from his first days as a co-op student through his last years planning the recovery missions should a Shuttle be stranded in space in the years after the Columbia disaster. Great insight and sometimes hilarious stories, though it ultimately suffers from the same bad taste of an ending that soured Kranz’s Failure Is Not An Option. In its final chapter, it more often comes across as a bitter old man not understanding the new dynamics of the agency he helped mold, rather than as someone truly hopeful for the future of space exploration and what the promise of the new and immediately future eras. Still, a truly worthy read from one of the people who doesn’t have the name recognition of a Kranz or a Chris Kraft, but who was arguably just as important in getting NASA to where it is today. Very much recommended.

This review of Shuttle, Houston by Paul Dye was originally written on March 10, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Vessel by Lisa A Nichols

This week, we’re looking at a lone-survivor-in-space book from a debut author that could give still-new author Andy Weir’s The Martian a run for its money. This week, we’re looking at Vessel by Lisa A. Nichols.

This story is basically a combination of a psychological thriller ala say Dete Meserve’s The Space Between with a lone-survivor-of-space-disaster science fiction ala the aforementioned The Martian by Andy Weir, with a sense of a dash of Interstellar thrown in – all without going into really any techno-speak beyond the bare minimum necessary for such a story. Thus, it is very approachable for anyone from any background, and indeed it works very well as a very real introduction to how NASA tends to operate in real life, for better and for worse.

That’s right. This particular reader has somewhat followed NASA for most of his life, including reading several memoirs and biographies of different personnel over the last year in particular, and this story really gets what working at Johnson Space Center as an Astronaut is really like, almost as though Nichols has read the same memoirs and biographies I have. Thus, there is just enough realism to this admittedly science fiction tale to add that extra degree of gravitas to the entire story, and in the end that makes a big difference.

If you enjoyed The Martian or Interstellar, you really should give this book a try. It really is a solid effort in those lines. Even if you didn’t particularly enjoy those efforts, give this one a shot – particularly if it was their more technical elements you didn’t enjoy as much. Simply a truly stunning book that you really need to drop everything else and read.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield

Space Oddities. This is an intriguing look at the life of the man who became Canada’s first space walker and who went viral a few years ago when he (and his son and several others) put together a music video for David Bowie’s Space Oddities… from the International Space Station. Solid, enjoyable read that is even more fascinating when read close in time to other books from other former ISS Commanders, as the different tones about their jobs and the different expressions of experiences they share roughly in common are even more fascinating than this book by itself – which is still very strong in its own right. Absolutely recommended.

This review of An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield was originally published on May 23, 2018.

#BookReview: Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz

Fascinating. This book is a fascinating tale of Gene Kranz’s early years at NASA, where he rose from being one of the initial Flight Controllers for the first Mercury missions to being the Lead Flight Director for both the first Lunar landing and the Apollo 13 explosion. The story ends after the Apollo program is scrapped, and the book then introduces its singular MASSIVE flaw, that resulted in me docking it a star. In the final chapter, Kranz takes himself from the hero just doing his job of his experience with Apollo to the bitter old man who just retired 20 years later when he is writing this book and making “recommendations” about the state of NASA during the 90s. His critique of the early days of the International Space Station in particular sounds particularly hollow nearly 20 years later, while former ISS Commander Scott Kelly is still being studied after his Year In Space mission (which contrasts nicely against some of Kranz’s early missions of putting Alan Shepherd in space for just 15 minutes). Overall a great book, just ignore the last chapter to have a happier experience.

This review of Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz was originally published on May 13, 2018.

#BookReview: Endurance by Scott Kelly

Simply phenomenal. Told in alternating chapters detailing his Year in Space and the rest of his life leading up to that mission, Kelly does an awesome job of telling his story in a way that makes it very nearly impossible to put down the book. I actually listened to the audiobook for most of this read, which was read by Kelly himself. Also fun was knowing I had followed him on social media during that year, so some of the things he talks about in the book, I actually saw when his team put them on his social media accounts as they happened. Overall an excellent book about the current realities of the International Space Station and at least one man’s tale of how he got there.

This review of Endurance by Scott Kelly was originally published on January 15, 2018.