Tag Archive: USSR


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!

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!

[Some of this material is re-posted with grateful acknowledgement to a blog post by Elizabeth Abosch who I have tried to get in-touch with/link to regarding this post, unsuccessfully.] tumblr_ln79m1yqmY1qii7l6o1_500 When I was a little boy, one of the ladies who made sure that I had an after school snack and got on with my homework until my hardworking parents returned home, was our next-door neighbor, whose name was Odessa (Redus) Brown. I took the name for-granted, yet always thought “Odessa” as a regal, majestic name and I never thought to research it until my Inna, who I hope will spend the rest of my life with me as my wife, introduced me to a place in her country that she wants us to enjoy together that has an historic beach-port, called Odessa, Ukraine, two years ago. Recently, she writes: “Naphtali, check out This Unpleasant Information… By the way, yesterday there was a whole transfer on TV with participation of real girls on a similar theme…. These girls told about the histories as they were used by years… Men from USA, England, Italy, Switzerland, Australia. Men promised to marry them, met on resorts, or came to them on a visit. Or invited to itself, and after one or two months sent the women home. As, have told and have shown a photo of the man which each two years invites to itself women home in in USA under the visa of the bride. And then exposes for doors of women… And so already proceeded [has done this for] with about 10 years. Now to this to the man any more does not give embassy the sanction to invitations of the following brides. I see, the whole system of entertainments and games on feelings was already created, and it is expensive(dear) costs(stands)! I of nothing want to tell bad about you and about us. I only share with you the information and as, has thought, if You will publish this information on the BLOG. Cheerfully it is possible to spend in Odessa to American guys! [Can have a good time] You remember, two years back, you sent to me the reference from YouTube about Odessa…. Yesterday wanted to find this reference again…. But has lost…. I any more do not remember, that there spoke…. But I remember, that there there was a dirty. Also it is the truth much to our regret. But this dirty is everywhere in any city of the world. And you know it. Only it is interesting, why particular Now this time, do they began to give this more than attention?!(Why?)” Yeah, Honey, I agree. Why the sudden attention to this? And so now, please peruse parts of Ms. Abosch’s historical account. “With access to Turkey and its closeness to the rest of Europe, Odessa is an international human trafficking hub. Women and orphans from Odessa or even poorer areas like rural Moldova travel to the city to find good jobs abroad, and are promised them by traffickers before their passports are taken away and they are sold into slavery or work as prostitutes within the city.” old-map-odessa Video from a movie about Odessa: Elizabeth Abosch writes, “In wartime and in post-war Soviet film, one man made a name for himself portraying an Odessan and portraying him as a hero. That man was Mark Bernes, the first great Soviet Star and the possible creator of what I like to call, the Odessa “Hero Myth”. Bernes (who was of Jewish ancestry) became famous for his character Arkady Dzubin, first in the 1943 movie “Two Soldiers”. He spent time with troops in military hospitals who were native to Odessa, and picked up that their dialect seemed quite lazy and was accompanied by much shoulder shrugging and lip pursing. He created an archetype for “the Odessan”, a vaguely jewish, musical, easy-going person who could calm his brothers with humor and then rise to any bravery needed….” In “Two Soldiers” he distracts a woman from a bombing raid by singing an ironic song about a fisherman, Konstantin, and his wife Sonya: “Shalandy Polnye Kefali”:” And also of heartfelt interest, Ms. Abosch continues, “Perhaps his most famous song as the Odessan Arkady Dzubin was “Dark Night”, which became the unofficial anthem for Soviet citizens and soldiers barely surviving World War Two. The song is about a soldier who believes no harm can come to him as long as his wife and new baby still wait for him…” I can relate to this as I “fight” on the front of my personal financial “war” to achieve funding for Inna and I to finally marry here in 2013. The lyrics are, “Dark night, only bullets whistling over the steppe, Only the wind humming in the woods, dim stars twinkle. In the dark night, darling, I know, I’m not sleeping, And in the crib, you secretly wipe away a tear. How I love the depth of your gentle eyes, How do I want him to press my lips against you! Dark Night divides us, my love, And a disturbing, black steppe lie between us. I believe in you In my sweetheart, This belief is the bullet Dark night … Happily me I am confident in mortal combat: I know you will meet with my love To me no matter what. Death is not terrible. With time it’s time to meet. Here and now She whirls on me. You got me waiting And the cradle, And so, I know, with me Nothing will happen!” Maybe a bit more than many other famous cites in the world, Odessa is fueled by the myths surrounding it which shape perceptions about the place to this very day. Ms. Abosch’s blog from 2012 is concise, precise and enlightening – sometimes sadly so. 29_Odessa_de_Ribas_monument Here is one more sample video and song with great classic pictures of “the city of the steps” that she brought to light, “I Remember Mother Odessa” (“Odessa Mama”): “Whoever has not been In the beautiful city of Odessa Has not seen the world And knows nothing of progress Who cares for Vienna of Paris, They’re puddles, jokes, no comparison Only in Odessa is A Paradise, I say. There in a restaurant They serve you beer And with it a bite Of fresh skrumbli Bashmala and balik And with them a shashlik With a good glass of wine – What could be better? Oh, Mother Odessa, You’re forever dear to me. Oh, Mother Odessa, How I long for thee! Oh, Mother Odessa, Who can forget you? Oh, Mother Odessa, I see you no more. Oh, Mother Odessa, I long for you and vow: Your avenues, promenades Are light, beautiful. The cafes, the boulevards, One can never forget. The carriages, the gypsies, The tumult, ta-ra-ram, The hotels, the young ladies Still are on my mind. Oh, Mother Odessa, You’re forever dear to me. Oh, Mother Odessa, How I long for thee! Oh, Mother Odessa, Who can forget you? Oh, Mother Odessa, I long for you and vow: Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, One cannot forget. Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, How I should like to see you again! Hop tidl dam ti stidl didl dam ti….. Oh, Odessa-Odessa Mother, You are the most beautiful panorama; Everyone treasured you dearly. The cabarets, restaurants, You will still remember today Who knows what has become of you? Odessa, Odessa, I long for you” It is amazing that Odessa still is controversial and standing today; I guess they wouldn’t have it any other way. I encourage you to read Ms. Abosch’s whole piece here, http://odessahistory-eabosch2012.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html Out of respect for her brilliant research and blog, I shan’t devote more space to it than I already have in order to peek your curiosity. I feel this is a lesson in how stereotypical thinking ruins reputations on both sides of any argument. It reminds me of the rolled eyes, doubting looks, behind-my-back whispers that I am being “tricked” or scammed that I notice when I tell some people about my relationship with Nina, inferring that she isn’t “real” or “stringing me along”. Being a black American, I know how stereotypes painted with a broad brush can distort the perception of a whole people – or country – first-hand.

I also can hear my late father commenting how black Americans and Jews have many more similarities historically than most people realize. A story about Jews hiding in a Ukrainian cave comes to light here: After you’ve absorbed her blog, please come back here to comment. Maybe we can get Elizabeth herself to weigh-in!

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