Rocket Men

Robert Kurson

“Two minutes remained until the spacecraft, now moving at 5,125 miles per hour, went behind the Moon. Since lift-off, Apollo 8 had traveled 240,000 miles, and the Moon had traveled 150,000 miles, to make this rendezvous. “One minute to LOS [loss of signal],” Carr radioed to Apollo 8. “All systems Go.” “We’ll see you on the other side,” Lovell said. Outside Anders’s window, any trace of sunlight had disappeared, and as his eyes adapted to the intense darkness he began to see stars, it seemed like a million of them, so many he couldn’t even pick out constellations. The sight took his breath away. He looked to his right, through the window beside him, hungry for more, but suddenly there were no stars anymore—all of them had gone dark. There was just a giant black hole, as if part of the universe had vanished. The hair on the back of Anders’s neck stood up, and for a moment it felt as if his heart had stopped, until he realized that he wasn’t looking at a missing piece of the universe at all. He was looking at the Moon. A few seconds after that, Apollo 8 disappeared behind it.”

This is a truly American book—one which showcases the power of a nation to accomplish a near-impossible task within a few months when fueled by pride, adventure, and a fear of embarrassment. While I am not old enough to remember the Apollo missions, those I know who do recall, with nostalgia, how they brought American together. While it is clear that no feet of engineering has since inspired so many Americans and that the Apollo missions feel like the glory days compared to today, there are clear parallels between the state of affairs in 1968 and those in 2020. In 1968, Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell saved Christmas. Who will save us this year?

Read this book if you are looking to feel inspired, want to understand the societal impact of the Apollo missions, or, like me, just really like rockets. You won’t be disappointed.