A Man on the Moon

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On the night of July 20, 1969, our world changed forever when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Now the greatest event of the twentieth century is magnificently retold through the eyes and ears of the people who were there. Based on in-depth interviews with twenty-three of the twenty-four moon voyagers, as well as those who struggled to get the program moving, journalist Andrew Chaikin conveys every aspect of the missions with breathtaking immediacy. From the rush of liftoff to the heart-stopping lunar touchdown to the final hurdle of reentry, this is the full, riveting story of one of humanity's boldest adventures.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Scheduled to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first lunar landing on July 20, 1969, this chronicle offers a comprehensive, often penetrating look at NASA's Apollo program. Originating in 1961, when President John Kennedy told Congress that the U.S. should attempt to land a man on the moon ``before this decade is out,'' the program's last mission ended in December, 1972, with the splashdown of Apollo 17. Diary-like reports mix with first- and third-person accounts as Chaikin, an editor at Sky And Telescope magazine, delivers a chronological view of the missions and those who planned and flew them. Focusing closely on the Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad and Neil Armstrong, Chaikin gives his topic a sense of immediacy. But his treatment, lengthy as it is, reads more like an extended magazine article. Missing is a view of Apollo in a wider context, one that captures the mythos of our efforts to land on the moon. (June)
Library Journal
Science writer Chaikin spent eight years interviewing dozens of NASA flight controllers, engineers, technicians, and especially all 23 surviving astronauts who flew missions to the moon during the Apollo program. Fleshed out with never-before-published conversations taken from declassified on-board voice recorders, his book provides a vivid account of the first era of manned lunar exploration. Published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first landing, Chaikin's insightful telling refreshes the oft-repeated stories of these pioneering flights with new details, anecdotes, and reflections that convey what the experience was like for the astronauts. He also shows that, paradoxically for one of the most intensively reported stories of its time, how little we really understood what happened on that July night in 1969. Reminiscent of Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox's superb Apollo: The Race to the Moon (LJ 6/15/89), this is a highly recommended purchase for both public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/94; see also Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton's Moon Shot, LJ 4/15/94.-Ed.]-Thomas J. Frieling, Bainbridge Coll., Ga.
Donna Seaman
Chaikin believes we have never truly come to terms with the fact that twelve men have left their 24 boots on the moon. In an effort to document and understand the shift in consciousness that transformed the moon--a celestial body long associated with goddesses, love, madness, and mystery--into a moving target and goal of the world's most sophisticated technology and determined egos, Chaikin conducted numerous interviews with the moon voyagers and their earthbound colleagues who guided and prayed for them. The result is a can't-put-it-down volume that picks up where Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" left off. These portraits of the men who were willing to be more alone than any human had ever been before are vibrant and compelling. And Chaikin meticulously chronicles each Apollo mission in dramatic detail, describing the dynamics within each trio, the emotions of the astronaut who had to orbit the moon alone while his more glorified comrades romped across powdery moonscapes, and the unprecedented, almost unimaginable experiences of the men who gathered moon rocks and watched the earth rise. This account helps us reclaim the awe these adventures originally inspired, the wonder at such audacity, and the now-ingrained image of the beautiful blue-green Earth spinning hopefully in the austerity of space.
New York Times Book Review
"Chaikin blends the myth of scientific exploration with the myth of astronaut adventures...[and] recounts in loving detail the standing Apollo epic ... with verve and intelligence."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140272017
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Pages: 688
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 1.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Chaikin is the author of the acclaimed A Man on the Moon and several other books about space. He is a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition and had appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, Fresh Air, and Talk of the Nation.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 3: First Around the Moon

The Decision

The news was bad in the summer of 1968. A nation reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy now confronted more images of violence in its living rooms: the blood of young soldiers in Vietnam, the blood of demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. And even within NASA's world, where these events were overshadowed by the race with the decade, there was bad news. The second unmanned test of the Saturn V moon rocket had been a near disaster. Minutes into the launch the booster began to vibrate badly. Then two of the second-stage engines shut down prematurely. Later, a third engine refused to reignite in space. And if that weren't enough, there were ongoing headaches with the Apollo spacecraft. The redesigned command module was coming along well at North American, and the craft slated for Apollo 7, the command module's manned, earth-orbit debut, was already at the Cape being readied for an October launch. But the lunar module was facing one technical problem after another. From the beginning, engineers at the Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, Long Island, had struggled to keep the lander's weight from exceeding forbidden limits. And there were other woes: faulty wiring, corroded metal, and most serious of all, troubles with the LM's ascent rocket. And when the first manned lunar module was shipped to the Cape in June, quality control inspectors found 100 separate defects. At NASA, no one who heard the reports on the lander was happy with the situation. Apollo 8, the LM's first manned flight, would almost certainly be delayed beyond the end of the year, throwing the whole sequence of Apollo missions into jeopardy. The end-of-the-decade deadline for the lunar landing was slipping out of reach.

All that began to change in early August. A plan emerged, elegant in its simplicity, astounding in its boldness, that altered the course of the moon program. It was the brainchild of George Low, the quiet engineering genius who oversaw the development of the Apollo spacecraft from Houston. If Apollo 7 went well in October, Low reasoned, why keep Apollo 8 in earth orbit? Even if the LM wasn't going to be ready for its debut, the second command ship could go to the moon by itself in December. Already, during the spring, Low had quietly raised the possibility of a circumlunar flight in which the joined command module/lunar module pair would execute a figure 8 loop around the moon and then come home. His new plan was even more ambitious. Low wanted to send the command module to the moon by itself, not to fly a figure 8 loop, but to go into lunar orbit. Even without a lunar module, that would let NASA practice the elements of a basic lunar mission: navigating across the vast translunar gulf, executing the precise rocket firings to get into and out of lunar orbit, communicating across a quarter-million miles, and the critical reentry into the earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. Then, by the time the LM was ready -- estimates said February -- Apollo would have taken a giant step forward.

But there was another reason for urgency. Reports from the Central Intelligence Agency said the Soviet Union was about to resume flying its new Soyuz spacecraft -- after the first Soyuz crashed, killing its lone cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, in April 1967 -- and were on the verge of sending one around the moon. Most experts doubted the Soviets had the capability to land on the moon before the end of the decade; for one thing, they had yet to test a rocket, like the Saturn V, powerful enough to propel the necessary payload to the lunar surface. Even a lunar orbit flight was probably beyond them. But with the booster they already had, they could fire a Soyuz, with one or two cosmonauts aboard, on a trip around the moon.

From the beginning, without warning, the Soviets had upstaged the United States in space with their own spectacular firsts. In 1957 it had been the first earth satellite, Sputnik I. More than three years later it was Yuri Gagarin's one-orbit flight that stunned the world and sparked John Kennedy's decision to go to the moon. Then came the first woman in space, the first multiperson space crew, the first spacewalk. If the Soviets got to the moon first -- even if they did nothing more than loop around it -- the world would hardly notice the difference between that accomplishment and NASA's more difficult lunar orbit mission.

There is no way of knowing what would have happened to Low's plan if NASA Administrator James Webb had been in Washington, but the fact was he was not; he and his deputy George Mueller were in Vienna attending a conference. In their absence Associate Administrator Thomas Paine, a bright, young engineer with a penchant for the visionary, was in charge. When Paine's deputy, Apollo program director Sam Phillips, told him about Low's idea Paine immediately saw the logic in it. But it remained to convince Webb, and that might not be easy.

Webb was not an engineer. He was, however, a canny bulldog of a politician. When Kennedy said "Go to the moon" it was up to Webb to keep Congress from having second thoughts, which he did by any means of persuasion he found necessary -- including a knack for knowing where congressional skeletons were hidden. Year after year, he was Apollo's champion on the Hill, where it counted most. He had persevered even as the war in Vietnam claimed more and more of Lyndon Johnson's attention and Apollo became a target of congressional opposition. If Americans reached the moon by the end of the decade, it would be due in large measure to Jim Webb. But Webb would not be at NASA to see it; he already knew his tenure would end when Johnson left office.

Webb took Paine's call at the American embassy, where there was a secure phone, and then Sam Phillips got on the line. Webb wasn't ready for what he heard. He yelled over the transatlantic phone line, "Are you out of your mind?" Webb reviewed what was apparent to any sane person: They hadn't even flown a manned Apollo spacecraft, and here they were with a scheme to send the second flight to the moon. And with no lunar module! All along, the LM had been thought of as a measure of safety, a lifeboat in case something happened to disable the command ship's rocket engines. Sending the command module by itself only increased the risk of what was already a risky mission. With the Fire still fresh in the memory of the public and the Congress, Webb could only imagine the effect of another space tragedy. He warned his two deputies, "You're putting the agency and the whole program at risk."

Webb was right. For all its logic, Low's plan was audacious. Many would look back on it as the boldest decision NASA ever made. Still, by the time Paine and Phillips hung up the phone to Vienna, Webb had agreed to give the idea a chance.

In Houston, they were already working on it. Low had asked Chris Kraft, director of Flight Operations, to find out whether his people could be ready to send Apollo 8 to the moon in December. They went ahead with their study in secret. When their office mates asked -- "What's all this lunar stuff you're working on?" -- they replied coolly, "Oh, it's just a what-if type of study..."

Within a week Kraft's team had an answer. By the summer of 1968, after years of intensive effort, the basics of sending a manned spacecraft to the moon were all but perfected. The biggest hurdle: finishing the computer software that mission control would need to help Apollo 8 navigate to and from the moon. Making the December launch date would be tight, but Kraft's people were confident they could do it. Meanwhile, at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Wernher von Braun's rocket team reported the problems with the Saturn V were being ironed out. It remained for the Apollo spacecraft to prove itself. If all went well on Apollo 7, slated for October, there wouldn't be anything to stand in the way.

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Table of Contents

Foreword     v
Preface     viii
Acknowledgments     xi
Prologue     1
Book 1
"Fire in the Cockpit!"     11
The Office     27
First Around the Moon (Apollo 8)     56
The Decision     56
A Hole in the Stars     82
"In the Beginning..."     107
"It's All Over but the Shouting"     125
"Before This Decade Is Out"     135
The Parlay     135
"We Is Down Among 'Em!"     150
Down to the Wire     160
The First Lunar Landing (Apollo 11)     184
The Eagle Has Landed     184
Magnificent Desolation     200
"Before This Decade Is Out"     219
Book 2
Sailors on the Ocean of Storms (Apollo 12)     231
The Education of Alan Bean     231
Shore Leave     253
In the Belly of the Snowman     270
The Crown of an Astronaut's Career (Apollo 13)     285
A Change of Fortune     285
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress     303
The Chill of Space     318
The Story of a Full-up Mission (Apollo 14)     337
Big Al Flies Again     337
To the Promised Land     352
Solo     360
The Climb     364
Book 3
The Scientist     383
A Fire to Be Lighted     398
To the Mountains of the Moon (Apollo 15)     411
"Exploration at Its Greatest"     411
High Point     423
The Spirit of Galileo     437
The Final Selection     444
The Unexpected Moon (Apollo 16)     452
Luna Incognita     452
"You Just Bit Off More Than You Can Chew"     477
"...Or Wherever Geologists Go"     482
The Last Men on the Moon (Apollo 17)     495
Sunrise at Midnight     495
Apollo at the Limit     516
Witnesses to the Earthrise     531
Epilogue: The Audiences of the Moon     553
Afterword: A People Without Limits     587
Astronaut Biographical Information     597
Persons Interviewed     607
Apollo Mission Data     610
Bibliography     615
Author's Notes     621
Index     663
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 1999

    A Book that takes you back to the Apollo Progam

    This book gives detailed descriptions of all the lunar missions. He also tells what each astronaut did after they left NASA. He includes everyone who made the Apollo Program possible. Chaikin did this with many interviews with astronauts, their families, scientist, and NASA officals. He also uses many other resources to make this book as good as possible.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2004

    Stellar Achievement

    This work is a stellar achievement. Chaikin manages, in poetic and succinct language, to humanize the men who were, in popular culture, untouchable. These specimens of unhuman perfection are anachronistic for us, twenty-first century readers, and it is Chaikin's masterful image-making that defines for us those times and those men.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2002


    This is a great book, sparked my interest in the Apollo Program, and eventually into my interest in rocket science. Anyone who has an interest in anything to do with manned spaceflight should read this book. I was insired by it, and I am sure that you would be too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2002

    Great Book!

    I read this book in 6th grade, but i understood everything, and it really helped me to expand my knowledge on the apollo program, which i am most interested in. Now i am in 7th grade, and that book has helped me to understand a lot of my recent research a lot better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2001

    No better read on the Apollo Program

    I gained interest in this book after the HBO mini-series 'From the Earth to the Moon.' Fully expecting a comparable dialoge with a few extras, I was astounded at the complexity, depth, and detail given from the Apollo program. EVERYTHING was in here! From the complex development of the machines to the human aspects of the non-astronauts, all was covered. Exceptional read for anyone interested in space exploration and for those who believe that there is no such thing as 'impossible.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2000

    the apollo bible

    quite simply the best space exploration book ever! almost like being there! andrew chaikins accounts of the apollo flights are superb, every detail, every magic moment is there. if you only read one space book, make sure it's this one. AWESOME !!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2000

    The Single Best Book about the Apollo Program

    I've read and enjoyed many books on the subject of the Apollo Space Program and each one has offered a little bit more detail about the missions and the people behind them. I am facinated with reading about details which did not make the newspapers. After reading this book, some 900 pages worth, I knew I had found The Book on the subject. This book is jam-packed with stuff I had never read before. This book, more than any other, fleshed out the people. In addition, this book is a one-of-a-kind because many of the people Mr. Chaikin interviewed have since passed away. I also recommend the mini-series From The Earth To The Moon, which was based on this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2000


    This is sooo awesome. Read it is all I have to say. It is amazing how far we have come in 30 years!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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