Tag Archive: Mercury space missions


My summer, 2019 reading list includes this gem I found at the local public library:

Neil Armstrong was one strange dude. It was that quality that allowed him to be the first man on the moon.

Shoot for the Moon, The Space Race and The Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11” [Little Brown, May 2019] is a magnificent chronology of the space race from when the USSR (Russians) were the only participants in 1957. It educates about the history, personalities, characters, successes and failures of America’s quest to put a man on the moon and of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) team leaders with familiar names to me from my boyhood like Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz and Walter Cronkite – because all of this was on television when there were only seven channels and during the beginning of color TV!

This tale is a reality check because it shows what humankind can achieve when inspired to pull together towards the same goal. It reminds also of a saying or lyric that goes, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
I learned terms like “machine systems, CGM, LM training” and about the statuesque stack known as the Saturn V rocket which boosted our men towards the moon.

Its a story of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronaut families; of various contractors doing the unimaginable on a shoestring budget in today’s terms. Of luck and skill at problem solving which began at the end of World War II and how America recruited some former Nazi rocket builders (the movie “Operation Crossbow” comes to mind), led by Wernher Von Braun to help us catch and overtake the Soviets to win the race to the moon (a story in and of itself).

It will take you back to when mathematicians had to really think and solve problems, and the smallest computers were the size of a six-pack beer cooler; ingenious solutions to complex and urgent problems on-the-fly, literally!
The accurate descriptions amazed me like on page 371, when he describes meticulously how they were preparing for the EVA after Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the moon.

If you’re like me, you’ll feel like you’ve been to the moon and back after you’ve read Mr. Conrad’s final word of the Epilogue. The two multi-photo pages are informative (the Soviets attempts) and literally outta this world! Educators! This book should be required reading in every history, social studies and science classroom. It was such an exciting book, I hated to return it to the library! So, I’m gonna have to buy one for my personal atheneum.

The tome wraps with extensive notes, a bibliography such as I’ve not seen since my college days and a complete index. Five moons!

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.

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