Now in paperback, an award-winning historian and perennial New York Times bestselling author takes a fresh look at the space program, President John F. Kennedy’s inspiring challenge, and America’s race to the moon.“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”—President John F. Kennedy
On May 25, 1961, JFK made an astonishing announcement: his goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In this engrossing, fast-paced epic, Douglas Brinkley returns to the 1960s to recreate one of the most exciting and ambitious achievements in the history of humankind. American Moonshot brings together the extraordinary political, cultural, and scientific factors that fueled the birth and development of NASA and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects, which shot the United States to victory in the space race against the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
Drawing on new primary source material and major interviews with many of the surviving figures who were key to America’s success, Brinkley brings this fascinating history to life as never before. American Moonshot is a portrait of the brilliant men and women who made this giant leap possible, the technology that enabled us to propel men beyond earth’s orbit to the moon and return them safely, and the geopolitical tensions that spurred Kennedy to commit himself fully to this audacious dream. Brinkley’s ensemble cast of New Frontier characters include rocketeer Wernher von Braun, astronaut John Glenn and space booster Lyndon Johnson.
A vivid and enthralling chronicle of one of the most thrilling, hopeful, and turbulent eras in the nation’s history, American Moonshot is an homage to scientific ingenuity, human curiosity, and the boundless American spirit.
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About the Author
Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, a CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. In the world of public history, he serves on boards, at museums, at colleges, and for historical societies. The Chicago Tribune dubbed him “America’s New Past Master.” The New-York Historical Society has chosen Brinkley as its official U.S. Presidential Historian. His recent book Cronkite won the Sperber Prize, while The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He was awarded a Grammy for Presidential Suite and is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates in American studies. His two-volume, annotated Nixon Tapes recently won the Arthur S. Link–Warren F. Kuehl Prize. He is a member of the Century Association, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three children.
Table of Contents
Preface: Kennedy's New Ocean xiii
Part I Rockets
1 Dr. Robert Goddard Meets Buck Rogers 3
2 Kennedy, von Braun, and the Crucible of World War II 33
3 Surviving a Savage War 67
4 Who's Afraid of the V-2? 99
Part II Generation Sputnik
5 Spooked into the Space Race 151
6 Sputnik Revolution 205
7 Missile Gaps and the Creation of NASA 255
8 Mercury Seven to the Rescue 299
9 Kennedy for President 315
Part III Moonbound
10 Skyward with James Webb 343
11 Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard 365
12 "Going to the Moon": Washington, DC, May 25, 1961 405
13 Searching for Moonlight in Tulsa and Vienna 435
14 Moon Momentum with Television and Gus Grissom 463
15 Godspeed, John Glenn 503
16 Scott Carpenter, Telstar, and Presidential Space Touring 547
Part IV Projects Gemini and Apollo
17 "We Choose to Go to the Moon": Rice University, September 12, 1962 587
18 Gemini Nine and Wally Schirra 611
19 State of Space Exploration 647
20 "The Space Effort Must Go On" 677
21 Cape Kennedy 707
Epilogue: The Triumph of Apollo 11 735
Image Credits 891
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed Douglas Brinkley's book "American Moonshot." As an aerospace engineer myself, I thought I already knew a lot about Apollo. Turns out, there was much for me to learn! The book does cover the important ideas of the engineering technologies, but it presents them in a way a non-engineer could understand. I was impressed by the accuracy and attention to technical detail. In addition, I was fascinated to learn how Apollo was not just a feat of engineering, but one of politics. JFK's articulation of a national vision and the behind-the-scenes politics that Brinkley describes truly made possible the moon landing within the decade. I had not appreciated how pivotal that convergence of policy and engineering was to NASA. Reflecting on NASA's new plans to return to the moon and fly to Mars, I think the historical lessons in "American Moonshot" ought to serve as a guide for how to bring out the best of our nation. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, aerospace engineers and non-engineers alike. Brinkley brings the story of the rockets, the engineers who built them, and the politicians of the Apollo era to life in a unique and engaging way. 10/10 Rocket scientist approved! If it speaks louder than my words, I would note that this is the first time I've felt compelled to write an online book review. In addition, I bought 10 more copies of "American Moonshot" to share with my friends and family, many of whom also work in the space industry.
An Epic of a book! Even "space nuts" who think they have read all there is about the subject will get something here! Yes, within the title, you get the idea you are going to have to wade through politics, and as deviceive as that has become, it might turn some readers off. Don't let it stop you. There was as much intrigue on the ground as any going on in space and Brinkley takes you through it with wonderous detail. This is researched wonderfully and layered in the perspective of time. I think young people, learning about what the 'space race' was will get a understanding as well as those of us that lived through it will revisit memories and events, thrilling and unpleasant in a new light!
“America’s Moonshot” is a contemporary look back at the Race to the Moon of the 1960s with the focus on the role of President John F. Kennedy in its initiation and promotion. More presidential history than scientific, it illustrates the central role that the space Program played in the Cold War. The characters run the gamut of space lore from Jules Verne through Robert Goddard, Alan Shepherd, Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Jim Web, Chris Kraft, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and others too numerous to mention. The scene is set with Kennedy having been elected to get America moving again, a Soviet satellite in space, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the President looking for something we can beat the Russians at. Told that that could be a race to the moon, Kennedy made the bold challenge that would invigorate the 60s. The action begins with the Mercury program that moved NASA into space and laid the ground work for the Gemini and Apollo programs to follow. The tragedy of the Apollo I fire is analyzed not only on its own account but for the threat it presented to the timely completion of the challenge. The bold decision to send Apollo VIII to the moon, rather than have into earth orbit as originally planned, showed that the end of the decade deadline could be met. Even a story as big as the Moonshot has personal elements. John Glenn and John Kennedy would become friends and the President was partially responsible in encouraging Glenn to get into politics. Kennedy’s distrust of Wernher von Braun because of his Nazi involvement and questions about his culpability in war crimes continually surface throughout this tome. Some astronauts, such as Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra irritated Flight Director Chris Kraft and former President Eisenhower repeatedly criticized the program. Author Douglas Brinkley has crafted an enlightening look back on the stories that were front page news and television bulletins a half-century ago. He provides some explanation why the relatively short Kennedy Administration remains a benchmark against which others are measured. The references to von Braun’s record encourage reflection on our own time’s treatment of those with pasts. This is a well written history that shines light on our past and encourages us to reassess our present and future.