CHARIOTS FOR APOLLO: The Making of the Lunar Module by Charles R. and Joshua Stoff Pellegrino

CHARIOTS FOR APOLLO: The Making of the Lunar Module

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To read this person-rich account is to recollect a time when the energies of thousands of men and women were focused on a monumental engineering project billed as a race--a nation's prestige was on the line as were the lives of the astronauts involved. This full account by science-writer/astronomer Pellegrino and children's book author Stoff pays homage to Grumman Aerospace, the company that got the contract to build the module. This was a multi-stage misshapen vehicle that would descend to a a soft landing on the moon, and later ascend to redock with the mother ship for the journey back to earth. The authors go through the design preliminaries and decision-making. Then it's on to the factory floor and personnel. There are the hateful NASA overseers--the quality-control people who sniffed and snooped; there are the clean rooms, the women with find hands who wired the miles of electronics. As the project grew, Grumman staff were the ""angels with dirty faces"" who turned up at the Cape or in Houston. Work schedules and tempers soared and for a time there was total neglect of the human price paid in divorce, illness, heart attacks and even suicide--following the horrible death by fire of astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee. However, there was also the moment of triumph. And a surprising bit of trivia: Armstrong really meant to say, ""One small step for a man. . ."" (The authors find Aldrin's ""magnificent desolation"" better poetry.) The pair document the coexisting Russian efforts and the later Apollo launches, dwelling in gripping detail on the-one-that-didn't-make-it. The Apollo 13 command module lost its fuel tanks and LM 7 became the lifeboat carrying three undaunted astronauts on the long voyage home. Following the triumphs, the public grew bored, and constraints were placed on the space program; in fact, the fate of principal designers and some of the astronauts themselves form a coda to the book, the gloom only slightly redeemed by a Reagan directive to NASA to ""develop a permanently manned space station, and to do it within a decade. . ."" This book will delight the engineers and space enthusiasts among us. But it revels as well in the colorful mix of personalities that brought it all off. It raises small tingles of pride and pleasure in American know-how.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum