Tag Archive: earth


I wasn’t looking for another space book to review, but when I returned “Endurance” to the library and then browsed the “New” section, this cover caught my eye:

The rocket men featured are astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders; the crew of Apollo 8.

“Rocket Men”, penned by Robert Kurson, is historical, educational, suspenseful. Those are but a few of the adjectives I can use to describe this incredible book, which is necessary reading at this juncture in American history, given the inexperience we have in the Oval Office currently which has the country in a similar snit as back in 1968. It reads almost like a novel, except it really happened!
Whether you grew up as an American with the “space race” and NASA by your side like I did, or (especially) not, this is a riveting must read!

Kurson had a great planned layout for this book. He gets right into it with the beginnings of the space race and builds some drama as the Russians leap way out in front. Then after he sets up the moon as a goal versus events like the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy getting assassinated, the ongoing unpopular Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, he goes into the personal stories of Frank Borman, then back to NASA, Jim Lovell then back to NASA, Bill Anders and back to NASA and the strife of our country at that time. I found one of the most endearing qualities of this read to be how he wove the struggles and faith of the astronaut’s wives and families into the story of “Rocket Men”.

We are suddenly launching Apollo 8 before the middle color photo pages! You need to read how they got to that point. Twenty-four chapters, a great Epilogue and Acknowledgement section, plus easy to comprehend diagrams. I couldn’t put it down except to sleep, eat and do my own work.

Its the story of the space race between our USA and the Soviet Union (Russia) and the genius of NASA’s group of scientists, which eventually led to the Apollo space program more particularly. Feeling that we were losing the race, a bold president challenged the nation to be better and win. My favorite president, John F. Kennedy, is mentioned often, because if it were not for his famous gauntlet of words thrown down before the Congress of the United States in 1961, we would have lost the race to the Moon to the Russians. Ironically, within the genius brain-trust that made Apollo 8 a success was Wernher von Braun, a former Nazi Germany rocket scientist, who was responsible for Hitler’s V-2 campaign against London and other European countries, late in World War II. This brought to mind a movie my parents took me to called “Operation Crossbow”, which recounted Europe’s response to the V-2 Campaign. You never know who will become your helpful bedfellow in this life.

The improbable success of the Apollo 8 moon mission is the focus of the book and by the time you finish reading, you will feel, like I do, that its success was something that was “meant to be”. If you ever doubt there are such circumstances, this book will change your mind. Names from my youth like Yuri Gagarin, Sputnick (“fellow traveler”), Laika (Russian for ‘barker’) and Alan Shephard are revisited and for me, personally, all while I was a teenager learning how to become a young man.

Did you know that in all, twelve Americans walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972? I must have known this, but in truth, those mission almost became commonplace back then! Unbelievable that our men flying to the Moon became routine at that point in time! Since Apollo 17, though…we have never returned there. It is fifty years later.

Remembering the name, Chris Kraft (how can one forget such a unique and appropriate handle?) and his quote on page 323, “never more courage than on anything we ever did in the space program”, because they accelerated it in order to meet the, by then late, President Kennedy’s deadline challenge.

One of my favorite quotes from the book came from his mention of the deadline challenge our great President Kennedy threw down, “Only by attempting ‘the impossible’ would a nation truly find out who it is…”

Another one is from Borman’s wife, Susan, who after being criticized for showing emotion after her husband Frank’s first launch on Gemini 7 said, “But…I have come to realize you can’t be all things to all people. So I decided not to pretend and not to try to hide my feelings – I decided to be myself.” The Author equally writes about how Marilyn Lovell and Valerie Anders coped and showed strength and concern for the safety of the sudden mission – in different ways.

This book is real life history, which is so very worthy your time.

Earlier than half-way into the book, Kurson so aptly employs the description the lift-off of the troubled and slightly untested Saturn V booster rocket on that fateful morning in December, 1968, that I had to go find the video on YouTube!

Even the Epilogue is an epic as it reminds us of how Apollo 13 had an explosion which almost doomed the crew. Great job, OMG…

For me, as a personal “by-the-way”, this story reminisced these launches, which were on the news daily back in those days. My father insisted on us watching the evening Walter Cronkite CBS News at dinner time, because our dining together was mandatory; a good thing that I didn’t like then, which, in retrospect should be more emphasized in today’s American families. Space stories are reminders that our earthly “problems” are petty when viewed against the dark vastness of the universe, of which our planet is a beautiful, but tiny dot.

I give this book five-out-of-five Earths!

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If you’ve never looked up into a dark clear night sky and wondered which, besides the moon, of those twinkling lights are planets and which are stars, or been curious about the cosmos, astronomy or manned human space travel, then you can stop reading right now – this book review is not for you.

On the other hand, if you look up into the night sky and wonder about our place in the universe, this book is a must-read for you and it might convince you to look up with a renewed understanding of our delicate, fragile place in the vastness of space!

I, and many of my “Baby Boomer” generation were fascinated and captivated by being included in every manned launch into space in the 1960s and ’70s. Being that there were only seven television channels of the day and three of them network (CBS, ABC and NBC), when there was a launch from Cape Canaveral (later to become Cape Kennedy and the Space Center), it was like a national address by The President (which we are sadly lacking these days also)!

Having recently finished another great book, who knows, maybe this will become another regular sub-category of this ole blog, until such time that I am reunited with my musical “children” and beyond. The name of this fantabulous tome is, “Endurance: A Year In Space, A Lifetime of Discovery” by Scott Kelly.

He weaves in and out from personal to NASA professional stories, with believably weird dreams which sometimes draw back the curtain for the next scenes of his space play, in a way that made me think, “this guy must have kept a diary or has one helluva memory!” Truth be told, when you read the final acknowledgements, you realize the collaboration that it took to put these thoughts together in a readable, informative and entertaining fashion.

Pages 304 – 305 offer Kelly’s most profound critique of our behavior on earth, visa v random and unnecessary gun shootings, one of which touched his sister-in-law, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona and my favorite quote from the book. I love his call to us earthlings, “We have got to do better.” Major words of advice from a perspective which deserves our respect; too bad many of our bad actors (politicians included) cannot be shot up into space as a sentence in “zero-g” for a while to gain some humility!

To the above paragraph’s end, Kelly describes how well he and the cosmonauts from Russia work together at 17,500 mph (or the closets kmph) without the drama below, along with those from Japan, Italy and Great Britian (the “U.K.”). I like how he mentions learning how to curse in Russian in a jovial way, between “CQ”s (Crew Quarters) visits, describing it as “much more complex!” While different protocols exist, they all co-exist accurately, performing over 400 experiments, with the most important thing in-mind: survival. You will learn what it is like to ascend at the top of “a big bomb” and return through our planet’s protective atmosphere.

For Kelly and his brother Mark, Identical twins who were raised in West Orange, New Jersey, and who could hardly focus enough to study their grade school lessons and pass to the next grades, instead, wanting to “jump off of things”, to suddenly develop the discipline to achieve U.S. Navy fighter jet pilot flight school because of (in Scott’s case) reading the 1980 book by Tom Wolfe, “The Right Stuff”, is truly remarkable.

“Endurance…” Is full of accurate, informative insights about the nuances of becoming and being an astronaut (or cosmonaut) and what it is like to live and work on the International Space Station (ISS). He often refers to his long-time female companion, Amiko, who awaits his return; she too works for NASA!

I remember, as a boy of maybe nine years, when the Gemini project was first announced by NASA and I glued together a model of the spacecraft. Even then, the prospect of human space flight and survival that Mr. Kelly writes about was the stuff of science fiction movies like “2001, The Space Odyssey”! Its a reminder that I have lived to see ‘the future’ scientifically, if not sociologically.

We have come a long way from the late astronaut, Ed White’s first spacewalk during the Gemini IV mission, and NASA doesn’t publicize astronaut’s names like they did when I first started following their space exploration programs during Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, it seems. I wonder why? Maybe because they are a little leery after the Challenger and Columbia disasters, of the worst-case scenarios? These are bound to happen and may again on our way to Mars; another of the cool things about Scott Kelly’s book – he is always making the case that this is why he is making himself a human Guinea pig!

Being a huge fan of H2O, I think his best personal take from being on the ISS for so long is, “Nothing feels as amazing as water/Rain is a miracle.” File that one under ‘Reality Check’/things we take for-granted!

This book which reads three-hundred-and-sixty-five pages, while the actual number of days that Scott Kelly spent on the ISS in “zero g” is 340, it is close enough for me to give him a “year” if you add the wonderful, color photo pages. A great a read as this can only be blessed with five-out-of-five heavenly space shuttles!

As always, I will answer your spaced-out comments.

I remember when Alan Shepard…
Alan_Shepard_-_GPN-2000-001005
…gave me goosebumps by just being launched up into the place just above earth’s atmosphere and coming back down to splash into the ocean!  I felt the same thrill upon watching the video of America’s newest foray into the “space race”, the lift-off of this massive and futuristic rocket-ship, “Orion” on the morn of December 4th 2014!
I recall school classes being delayed in order for us to watch the launches of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo! President Kennedy prioritized it. Then Nasa got a little careless during the Challenger era and had to take a “chill-pill” for a while. Their budget was cut by Presidents and Congress.
A space launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida was stop-the-presses or even a time-out during our school classes back in the 1960s and 70s! Now, with so much nonsense race-baiting going on here in “the future” I hardly knew one was going on until I went to check my AOL mail account.
It is great to see NASA back with a strong launch success! The on-board camera’s on the Orion vehicle give us a perspective ride that was never possible back in Shepard’s day! Looking back down upon the burnt cloud hole the rocket made upon its ascent and then seeing the blackness of the edge of outer space rekindled the true meaning and scary awesome fascination of space exploration beyond the gravity of our little planet as juxtaposed against the vast universe. That capsule splashdown in the Pacific ocean? It looked like the Apollo module!! Hmmm…
I need not say much more other than, “Come now along for the ride and listen to the cool and confident narration as we now test our space legs towards landing humans on Mars…”

A welcome distraction from the recent oft race-related human nonsense here on the ground, don’t you think? Please tell me your astronautical impressions in the comments section! BraVO, NASA!

Have you noticed?  This egg we call Earth is a-cracking more and more recently. A 3.8 in Chicago;  Haiti, Japan, Turkey, and the 8.8 in Chile!   This egg is cracking..where next? People are using terms like “apocolypse'” and “end of the world” during these events…what if?

We in the continental U.S. have been very lucky.  I wonder what would happen – IF it could happen – if a major quake could shake this whole continent of north America like the it did in Chile.  I bet the Congress of the U.S. would suddenly be much more congenial!  You see, the U.S.A. has unfortunately become much too complacent and fat.  We almost need a cataclysmic event like an earthquake to shake us back into civility IMHO. And these new security cams (big brother cams) that are all over have ONE good use: they catch the action like never before!  I mean the up-and-down, up-and-down motion answered one of my long-standing questions about Earthquakes: what is it like?  Holy cow.  The Geological Service says this isn’t a trend – it sure feels like one! Reminds me of when, as a boy, I saw the classic sci-fi movie, “Crack In The World”…

pickhit: The aftermath of both quakes show a commonality of people who are perceived to be outwardly “different” – in disaster, the language is the same: desperation.

 
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