Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Apollo Moon Landings

Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Apollo Moon Landings

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by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree

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A revised edition of the New York Times bestselling classic: the epic story of the golden years of American space exploration, told by the men who rode the rockets

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, and the space race was born. Desperate to beat the Russians into space, NASA put together a crew of the nation


A revised edition of the New York Times bestselling classic: the epic story of the golden years of American space exploration, told by the men who rode the rockets

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, and the space race was born. Desperate to beat the Russians into space, NASA put together a crew of the nation’s most daring test pilots: the seven men who were to lead America to the moon. The first into space was Alan Shepard; the last was Deke Slayton, whose irregular heartbeat kept him grounded until 1975. They spent the 1960s at the forefront of NASA’s effort to conquer space, and Moon Shot is their inside account of what many call the twentieth century’s greatest feat—landing humans on another world.
Collaborating with NBC’s veteran space reporter Jay Barbree, Shepard and Slayton narrate in gripping detail the story of America’s space exploration from the time of Shepard’s first flight until he and eleven others had walked on the moon.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Swashbuckling.” —The New York Times
“Breathtaking.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A must read . . . an insight into the wonders of space flight, yes. But more important, readers come to know Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, and come to respect their courage and feel genuine affection for these two American heroes.” —President George H. W. Bush
“Gripping, authoritative . . . and skillfully told, this is the ultimate inside story of the U.S. space program. “ —Walter Cronkite
“From the early Cold War days of the Space Race through the beginnings of the ‘thaw,’ Moon Shot comes alive.” —Senator John H. Glenn

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Open Road Integrated Media LLC
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Moon Shot

The Inside Story of America's Apollo Moon Landings

By Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree


Copyright © 2011 Jay Barbree, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-1192-2



DURING THE FIVE DECADES FOLLOWING Alan Shepard's first launch in 1961, NASA's enormous accomplishments were respected and admired the world over. Those responsible for the agency's successes followed a simple axiom: Good is the enemy of great. Yet they were now watching NASA leaders aim for good enough and settle for misions on the cheap. On this particular night many of the old guard had gathered to witness the countdown for the final night launch of a space shuttle. Among the gathering was a man known to few in today's NASA. Only veterans recognized him as a member of the astronauts' original trio of command—the space flyer that had replaced Alan Shepard in the astronauts' front office, had taken the helm when Shepard left to fly Apollo 14 to the moon's third landing. This day he still served at a meaningful post in NASA as the Chairman of the International Space Station Advisory Task Force.

He had not always been at a desk. Thomas P. Stafford had sat atop four rockets: Gemini 6, the first ever rendezvous of two manned spacecraft; Gemini 9, with Astronaut Gene Cernan; and Apollo 10, again with Cernan, a full dress rehearsal of the historic Apollo 11 mission. It was Tom Stafford's fourth and final spaceflight that would arguably be the planet's most important. He commanded the historic Apollo-Soyuz flight with Deke Slayton and Vance Brand. More than 80,000 nuclear warheads were pointed by and at the Soviet Union and America when Apollo and Soyuz launched. The rendezvous, docking, and handshake in space were credited with arresting the Cold War.

This day, in large part—

"May I have your attention please," the words boomed over speakers across the center. "This night launch is from Complex 39. Although an accident during the first 30 seconds of flight is unlikely, some safety cautions are necessary.

"A potential danger exists from toxic vapors ..."

Stafford had heard all the safety announcements before. He looked up as clattering helicopters filled the night. Rescue blades chopping the black sky. The final warning the big space plane was ready.

"T-minus 15 seconds and counting."

At T-minus 9 seconds, the first of the shuttle Discovery's three main engines ignited, followed swiftly by the second, then the third, and then it was almost possible to hear the hush seconds before the twin booster rockets ignited. There was an enormous burst of flame from the boosters that swept away the night, seemingly bringing day as they blasted their way downward, into the sloping cavity where they met a Niagara of cooling water in the pad's flame trench, tens of thousands of gallons turning the boosters' overwhelming fire into a mountain of steam. Tom Stafford identified with the astronauts. He too had been there in that instant of full alert when he had to perform with catlike precision.

Not one of the thousands of spectators surrounding the spaceport could take their eyes off the enormity of it all: The shuttle was alive and that wonderful space machine, that great, not just good enough, engineered and honed million assembled parts working in magnificent harmony lifted from earth shaking a shower of ice and snow from the skin of its gargantuan fuel tank. The—

That's when it hit ...

The space shuttle's voice was mighty, a thousand jetliners tearing across the Florida sand and scrub brush, pounding its way through hands cupped tightly over ears—hands that helped but did not stop the shaking. Bodies felt as if they were being shaken by King Kong himself, shaken without mercy. People were instantly startled to see their skin move—to see their flesh roll in small yet perfect patterns. It did not hurt. Only the sound brought the stunning and numbing. It pounded and leapt and trampled. Not thunder, not roar. It was too loud for that. Sound created by the shock waves from the shuttle's engines and boosters. It mixed and swirled and collided, banged and crashed and slammed, poured out in all directions as a series of staccato explosions—a terrible crackling pain to the ears, assaulting the body, yet sweet and exhilarating and worth the beating the thousands assembled were taking, and they reeled back from the sheer fury of it all.

And as the assemblage drank in the unbelievable assault on their senses, they stared into the blinding mass of golden fire, as if they were children enjoying a perfect Christmas. Tom Stafford watched the flames grow, watched them wash downward as the shuttle heaved itself farther into the—no, there was no night. It had been banished by Discovery's flames. The brightness of it all tore into Stafford's eyes and he managed a moment to catch his breath as he saw the flames form a ragged spear as the great space plane climbed higher and higher, and he could only stare deeply into the golden color, watch it turn into a rich orange, watch as red appeared along the edges and then the shuttle's flaming thrust was longer than three football fields hooked together and he knew if one could love a machine he loved that one and he shouted, "Go you beautiful son-of-a-bitch, GO!"

Stafford had been part of the small group of visionaries who counseled President Nixon to build the space shuttle fleet. He had been there at the beginning and on this night he was there at the end as he watched Discovery 's contrail thin and grow wide, twisting in the high winds. The shuttle's twin boosters burned out and tumbled away, falling into a parachute recovery on the sea.

The engines would now spend the next six minutes pushing their spaceship faster and faster up the eastern seaboard as the raucousness of it all suddenly faded. As night returned so did the protesting cries of fowl that had been shaken from their roosts. It was the kind of night pilots call severe clear and Stafford settled his nerves and pounded muscles and watched and watched as the bright pinpoints of the three core engines faded.

The magic was suddenly gone. Time was moving again. Stafford could see no more and he filled his lungs with ocean air, felt his body finally relax. His muscles were all used up but his mind was clear and he spoke quietly only to himself. "Life was good when magnificent machines flew."


The Beginning

THERE ARE SOME SOUTHERN TOWNS that are cocooned in time, content to let the industrial and technological age pass by. In the 1950s one such community was Huntsville, Alabama. It was like many other towns of its vintage and size, moving with a courtly glide, its major contribution to its citizens a courthouse centered in the town square.

The future loomed barely ten miles west of Huntsville. The future was Redstone Arsenal, an unlovely complex along Alabama Highway 72 in the thick of the north Alabama clay hills and tall pines that stretched on to the Tennessee River. Here the U.S. Army loaded explosive materials into artillery shells, bombs, and other weapons that helped America secure a hands-down triumph in World War II. With the war over, however, activity at the Redstone Arsenal ceased. The Army closed the facility, and Huntsville returned to its tranquil times.

Five years later, in 1950, the arsenal came back to life as hundreds of engineers, technicians, specialists, scientists, and their support personnel descended. Their number included 118 men who had come with their families from the center of Europe. The most prized rocket team of the infamous Third Reich.

They came to a run-down Redstone Arsenal to work, to Huntsville to live, and their purpose was to construct a rocket laboratory that would propel the Western world into the second half of the twentieth century. They represented Hitler's finest, recruited by the U.S. government from a nation where only a few short years earlier Alabama's young men had fought and died. They were German citizens by birth that had been offered American citizenship and a new home amid the quiet cotton fields of rural Alabama. Having designed, constructed, tested, and launched deadly missiles for the Reich, including the V-l and V-2 rockets whose explosive force had terrorized London during the Blitz, these scientists and engineers were now commissioned to design, construct, test, and launch long-range missiles for the United States. Arriving in Huntsville, they were confident they could exceed their past performance.

Nobody questioned his or her expertise. The American military was without any missile skills and considered these Germans to be the most valuable booty from the defeated Third Reich. They had been recruited through Operation Paperclip, a secret U.S. Army program created to scour Germany for rocket, atomic, and aircraft specialists who could be brought to America and kept together as a team.

The lead German scientist was Dr. Wernher von Braun, a brilliant propulsion engineer with a dynamic, commanding presence. He was a visionary who from his youth had dreamed of developing rockets to explore outer space. Many of his fellow scientists and engineers shared his vision and had established rocket clubs in pre-war Berlin. With the advent of war, these engineers had been forced to build weapons of destruction for Adolf Hitler. When von Braun's V-2 rocket first hit London, he remarked to some of his colleagues, "The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet."

With Germany crumbling, with the Americans and their European allies advancing from the west and the Russians from the east, von Braun called his top men to a secret meeting.

"Germany has lost the war," von Braun announced. "But let U.S. not forget that it was our team that first succeeded in reaching outer space. We have never stopped believing in satellites, voyages to the moon, and interplanetary travel. We have suffered many hardships because of our faith in the great peacetime future of the rocket. Now we have an obligation. Each of the conquering powers wants our knowledge. The question we must answer is: To what country shall we entrust our heritage?" The answer was unanimous. They all wanted to surrender to America. In America they might still realize their dreams—explore space and reach the moon.

The Armament Ministry in Berlin directed von Braun to destroy all classified material relating to his missile research. He disobeyed. He hid his documents and von Braun and several of his top scientists and technicians were moved by SS troops to an area south of Munich where they suspected they would be murdered to silence their missile know-how.

But in the confusion of Germany's collapse, the rocket men were able to surrender to the American Army near the Bavarian ski resort of Oberjoch in May 1945. The Americans were delighted to have found the German scientists, and von Braun and 117 of his key team members were sent to the United States under contract to the Army to build rockets. Once the Germans arrived in the United States, however, the country hardly knew what to do with them. The world was at peace, and Congress was not of a mind to appropriate much money for rocket research, much less space exploration. So von Braun and his team, lonely and discouraged, were deposited at Fort Bliss, Texas, and left to tinker with captured V-2s and instructed to teach rocketry to those in the Army who were interested.

"The United States had no ballistic missile program worth mentioning between 1945 and 1951," von Braun complained years later. "Those six years during which the Russians obviously laid the groundwork for their large rocket program were irretrievably lost."

Although the United States recruited the cream of the German rocket scientists, the Soviets captured many of those left behind and began their own missile program.

In 1950 the fortunes of the Germans at Fort Bliss changed when the Army received confirmation of Soviet rocket activity and immediately decided to establish a rocket research and development center.

Huntsville, Alabama, became the new home for the German team. The Army brass promised a warm reception from the local community, but there were still too many empty beds, broken hearts, and still-fresh World War II gravesites of Alabama soldiers for the people of Huntsville to welcome the Germans with any hospitality. Many were suspicious and unable to accept that the scientists had transferred their loyalties from Nazi Germany to the United States as quickly and easily as they seemed to.

Tensions eased when the Alabamans learned these men were not Nazis. And gradually this energetic, dedicated band of Germans—who had learned to speak English at Fort Bliss—won the respect and support of their stubborn hosts. Much of the credit for this turnaround went to von Braun, the charismatic leader who worked tirelessly to create goodwill within the community.

Just weeks after the arsenal reopened on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded a startled and unprepared South Korea. Two days later President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. troops to Korea. The Korean War energized the arsenal. The Army, under orders from Washington, directed the von Braun team to develop the country's first ballistic missile. It was required to propel a conventional or nuclear warhead two hundred miles and be mobile enough to be ferried around the battlefront by combat troops. The missile was named Redstone, after the arsenal.

Once more the German engineers and scientists were called on to build a weapon of war, their hopes for space rocket research and development derailed again. Little did they know that this slender sixty-nine-foot rocket would one day be their ticket to space.

The Germans and the American engineers working with them designed the Redstone from scratch, fired its engine in test stands, shaped its dynamics in wind tunnels, and verified its structure in vibrating machines. By 1956, the Redstone had become more than a battlefield missile. Coming on line were more powerful fifteen-hundred-mile-range missiles—the Air Force Thor and Army Jupiter—and the Air Force's Atlas and Titan, the true intercontinental range brutes designed to loft nuclear warheads five thousand miles or more. Missiles this large all shared the same problem: when their warheads were hurled into space, they had to reenter the earth's atmosphere to reach their targets. Their sixteen-thousand-mile-per-hour speed would create such friction when they hit the dense air on reentry that the heat would melt the warhead. Existing materials were adequate for the warhead of the Redstone, which flew lower and slower. New protective materials had to be developed for the larger rockets and the Pentagon asked von Braun to build a rocket that could fly at sixteen thousand miles per hour, allowing it to carry out warhead reentry tests.

The Huntsville team adapted the one-stage Redstone for the job. It lengthened the rocket, modified the engine, and added two upper stages, consisting of a total of fourteen small rockets, and called the modified booster a Jupiter-C. Atop this stack they added the unarmed warhead, stuffed with recording instruments, its nose cone coated with the new protective material. It worked perfectly on the first test launch, and the dummy warhead survived.

"Do you realize what we've done?" von Braun asked his team. "We went higher than six hundred miles, we sent the warhead more than three thousand miles, and we reached a speed of sixteen thousand miles an hour—higher, farther, and faster than any rocket has flown. If we had just one more small rocket on top, we could have placed a satellite in orbit around the earth!"

The Huntsville gang, as von Braun's scientists had become known, was exuberant. Excitement swept their ranks. Von Braun and the Army asked the Pentagon for permission to add that single stage to the backup Jupiter-C, dubbed Missile 29. Despite the resounding success of the Jupiter-C, the response to von Braun's request was anything but certain.

Two years earlier, in 1954, von Braun and other space enthusiasts from industry and academia had met in Washington to discuss the U.S. contribution to International Geophysical Year, a cooperative scientific effort through which scientists around the world would study the earth and which would be observed between July 1957 and December 1958. Von Braun said he could orbit a five-pound satellite to study the upper atmosphere by adding upper stages to the Redstone rocket. The Office of Naval Research put up eighty-eight thousand dollars, and Project Orbiter was born.


Excerpted from Moon Shot by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree. Copyright © 2011 Jay Barbree, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Swashbuckling.” —The New York Times  “Breathtaking.” —Entertainment Weekly “A must read . . . an insight into the wonders of space flight, yes. But more important, readers come to know Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, and come to respect their courage and feel genuine affection for these two American heroes.” —President George H. W. Bush “Gripping, authoritative . . . and skillfully told, this is the ultimate inside story of the U.S. space program. “ —Walter Cronkite “From the early Cold War days of the Space Race through the beginnings of the ‘thaw,’ Moon Shot comes alive.” —Senator John H. Glenn

Meet the Author

As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Alan Shepard (1923–1998) became the first American in space on May 5, 1961, and a decade later took, with his partner Edgar Mitchell, the longest walk—two miles—on the moon before hitting a golf ball for miles and miles across the lunar landscape.
Another Mercury astronaut, Deke Slayton (1924–1993) was meant to be the second American in Earth orbit, but was grounded because of an irregular heartbeat. He stayed on at NASA to supervise his fellow astronauts and was returned to flight status in 1972.  In 1975, after sixteen years as head of the astronaut office, Slayton made it into space for the historic first docking of an American and a Russian spacecraft, a step that was a long stride on the road to end the Cold War.
 Jay Barbree (b. 1933) is the author of eight books and has been NBC’s space correspondent since the birth of NASA. He shared an Emmy Award for NBC’s coverage of Apollo 11’s first landing on the moon, and is a recipient of NASA’s highest medal for Exceptional Public Service.

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Moon Shot 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
lit-in-the-last-frontier More than 1 year ago
There are some events in the history of mankind which can never be duplicated. Only one person could be the first to orbit the earth in a spacecraft, or drift outside its confines, or walk on the face of our moon. The 1950s through the 1970s were a special time in the great, epic story of our race. A few dozen men with skill, nerve, and willingness to put their lives on the line to experience the impossible, for themselves and their fellow human beings, stepped up for perhaps the greatest endeavor in earth¿s history. To land a man on the face of the moon and return him safely home. Aided by the sharpest minds in rocket science, aerospace engineering, and computer and communications systems, these men of courage expanded our frontier, some at the expense of their lives. The four hundred pages of this book flew by for me. Beginning with the choice, in the waning days of World War II, of a group of German rocket scientists, led by Wernher von Braun, to surrender to the Americans, which became the genesis of the United States¿ rocket program, the initial printing of this book ended with the Apollo-Soyuz mission (a joining, in 1975, of a U.S. and a Soviet spacecraft while they orbited the earth). Both astronauts involved in the writing, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, have passed away since the original printing in 1994. Journalist Jay Barbree wrote an update for the latter version, which I read, which has been rereleased in 2011 for the 50th anniversary of the advent of the space program. His update felt rushed and gave very little specific information about the space program since the last Apollo flight; I would have appreciated a less political stance and one which gave more concrete information. If you are looking for a fast ride through the history of the U.S., and to a very minimal extent, the Soviet, race to the moon, this is a solid place to start. It is also a good book to read if you want to believe that there was very little tension and competition among the astronauts themselves and the various engineers-something that other writings lead me to know is patently untrue. While I can appreciate the desire of the authors to produce an account free from mudslinging, the book does have a ¿nicey-nice¿ ring to it that got a bit too saccharine at times. However, the passion of those involved in the early space programs, the spirit of the unknown that drove them, and their sheer love of what they were doing, comes through clearly in the exciting flow of the narrative. This book made me laugh, cry, and cheer, despite prose that verged on melodramatic at times. Moon Shot focuses on the United States¿ side of the space race, but if you are interested in a balanced account which includes the parallel history of the Soviet side (albeit with much less information from the U.S. viewpoint than Moon Shot), I would like to suggest Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race. This book was written by U.S. astronaut David Scott-Apollo 15 commander, and Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov-the first man to walk in space, and tells their simultaneous stories from opposing sides of the Iron Curtain. These two men also worked together on joint U.S. and Soviet projects later in their careers. As someone who grew up during the Cold War, I found this collaboration absolutely engrossing, although, like Moon Shot, it is not the most well-written of books.