Tag Archive: Walter Cronkite


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!

Too many people give me this , “well that’s the way things are these days” excuse!  Especially when denying my request of them for work, a deal for mutual financial gain,  another job, or maybe even a blow-job! Just kidding on the last “for instance” – ‘wanted to see if you are paying attention – I’m not into the last one, but might as well be, in order to get some tabloid-style “notoriety’!!  (rhymes)lol  Copping to the presence of “the status-quo”  is a lameo convenient cop-out for inaction.  If that is the way we thought thirty or forty years ago, the Vietnam war might STILL be going on, Black Americans might still be called “colored”, “Negroes” (or worse) and have to ride in the back of the public bus, women would still be waaay under the glass ceiling in employment and there would be no handicapped-access ramps or parking spaces.  The analogies could go on; all voice-mails from government agencies would have no “press two for Spanish” option, Obama would not be the President nor allowed to run; might still be a “draft” of young men into the U.S. military, there would be no “gays in the military” nor gay marriage debate, etc.

Another excuse is, “Well it is a different time now…” Sure there are more tech gadgets and toys, but the basic human being isn’t different!  We all still bleed red blood – look at any video of the aftermath of a suicide bombing anywhere on the planet – we still have the same brain (although this tech wave is softening many of them up in the richer countries due to not having to use all of it anymore); we still have the same basic survival demands like the need of life’s elixir, water.  You see, we as a society or a government, choose which things we want to change.   So now is the time to work towards changing the way “things are”, don’t continue the injustices in employment and economics or technology by turning the other cheek in chosen apathy.   Will “they” still tell me this excuse when our clean H2O supplies dry-up within the next forty years?  Sticking the collective pundit head in the sand, Ostrich-style?  Will the masses in the U.S.A. and other traditional developed nations not take to the streets like the recent days in Tunisia?  Since when is an insufficient status-quo acceptable?  And don’t tell me, “Well, that just the way it IS now, ‘man…” Those who say this are comfortable watching the rest of us suffer and hope that we die so that there is more for them.  Prove me wrong! Please.  Say there should be fewer GUNS available for nut-jobs running loose in response the attempted assassination of a member of the U.S. Congress, and you’ll get another excuse for not amending gun ownership laws.  What has not changed since the 1960s in America regarding this?

The only person who got away with saying, “And that’s the way it is” and making it sound positive so we would come back to learn more the next time is the late CBS News anchorman, Walter Cronkite. (And those same leaders of excuses and inaction will say, “Yeah, well HE was from another time…”)

Make this the Year of Forward, Positive-thinking Decision; the year we realize that the next big wars will be not over oil, but over H2O, and let us take actions, even in the face of opposition from those we once trusted with our emotions and even our future, to ensure that those wars do not happen.   There is no rule that says we cannot go back to the extent that we grasp our best moments that achieved beneficial changes, and we easily can – if we put down our new hand-held devices and gadgets long-enough on a regular basis.

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