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by Matthew Hersch

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-137-02528-9
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

An astronaut-focused history of NASA's first 30 years.

Hersch (Science, Technology and Society/Univ. of Pennsylvania) debuts with an analysis of the astronauts as a special subset of professional skilled laborers, along with an examination of their part in the evolution of the technological systems developed for the Apollo program and beyond. The author shows that pilots recruited into the program under the original military test-pilot profile maintained a stranglehold on the flight schedule during the entire period of his study, and he discusses their relations with competing contenders as if they were involved in labor disputes. The shuttle program of the 1980s was still piloted by veterans like Richard Truly, who had been recruited in the ’60s. Hersch documents a series of struggles for control of flying seats among administrators, pilots and astronaut-scientists or engineers. Original NASA Mercury Seven astronaut Deke Slayton, rejected as a pilot for health reasons, and his second-in-command, Alan Shepard, refused to allow non-test-pilot-trained astronauts on “hazardous missions”—and by their definition, almost all missions were hazardous, including those of the shuttle. So NASA's efforts to recruit civilian scientists to the program were undermined, and seats on nine of the moon shots were allocated by the end of 1966. Knowing they would never fly, the scientist-astronauts called themselves “the excess eleven.” Hersch shows that this kind of conflict helped shape the evolution of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. However, the experimental pilots were also a vital part of the program, assisting with equipment design and redesign to ensure project safety. The importance of their training and experience was validated time and again.

A provocative effort to cast new light on the NASA program.