Stachurski, assigned by a superior in the U.S. Air Force to work at NASA during the 1969 moon landing, tells his version of man’s greatest adventure.
In July 1969, Stachurski was one of the ground technicians at Mission Control in Houston during the near-mythic Apollo 11 lunar landing. His aim here is not to put readers in the moon boots of Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin (who remain distant figures in this telling) but rather into the seats of the rows upon rows of generally unsung, console-bound tech specialists at Mission Control. They were incredibly near the action yet so far, connected to the spaceships by a tenuous web of low-wattage radio telemetry being intercepted and relayed at stations around the Earth, as they digested and second-guessed data about the Apollo spacecraft and its trajectory. Stachurski volunteers a few bio tidbits about himself, an academic prodigy born to a working-class household. He studied history but wound up in the Air Force, minding nuclear missile silos in the American heartland, until he was recruited for the NASA effort, according to him, because someone thought it would be interesting to see a “liberal arts puke” in the mix with rocket scientists. As lead network controller, Stachurski describes himself as a math-illiterate, nontechnical type, terrified that something would go wrong with Apollo 11 on his watch. But, apart from a prolonged communications lapse with a tracking station on the Canary Islands, things proceeded more or less without a snag. There’s a revelation that a mismatched mélange of corporate contractors meant some hardware couldn’t interface properly, and a false alarm that a lunar module fuel tank had gone faulty (which would have potentially stranded Armstrong and Aldrin) constitutes the only real sense of jeopardy. For the most part, this story has been told many times before, but Stachurski’s take is offbeat if a bit dry; despite his efforts to convey NASA techno-jargon for the layman (who might want to read the glossary and extensive appendices first), there’s little drama in dialogue such as “COMM CONTROL, NETWORK. Can you confirm your circuit restoral priorities for me?” Fortunately, the author—perhaps thanks to his inner “liberal arts puke”—felt the need to document the events in Houston, and readers will be glad he took such extensive notes. Though the author resists editorializing about politics and subsequent directions taken by NASA, his Apollo refrain—“Not bad for government work”—hints at the enormous amount of teamwork involved.
A valuable, perceptive eyewitness account of one giant leap for mankind.