An exuberant history of a major turning point in early American spaceflight, possibly “the riskiest and most thrilling of all the Apollo missions.”
Man’s first flight to the moon occurred seven months before the actual landing. While not ignored, the Apollo 8 mission has never achieved the iconic status of Apollo 11. This enthusiastic account aims to remind readers of its significance. “This is the best space story of all, I thought, and I wasn’t the only one,” writes journalist Kurson (Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, 2015, etc.). He notes that after the national horror at the 1957 launch of Sputnik, everyone assumed that the Soviet Union enjoyed technical superiority and was racing to beat us to the moon. In fact, only the latter was true. Kurson opens the narrative in summer 1968 with a top-secret intelligence report that the Soviets might attempt a manned circumlunar flight by year’s end. The Apollo mission was scheduled for 1969, but George Low, one official, maintained that the U.S. could match the Soviets. Some NASA leaders objected, and almost everyone agreed that “Sending Apollo 8 to the moon in December might be the boldest and riskiest and most important mission NASA ever attempted.” Since beating the Soviets to the moon was Apollo’s purpose, it had to be tried. The author offers biographies of those involved, a nuts-and-bolts account of four months of training and the flight itself, which was not without glitches, and digressions into events of 1968 America, torn by strife over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Most readers know how the story turned out, so Kurson strains to generate suspense, and space buffs will quickly realize that this is a journalistic account aimed at a mass audience (clue: the astronauts’ courtships and family lives receive prominent attention).
An overly breathless yet entertaining account of a pioneering space mission that deserves to be better known.