Apollo 11: 1969 (Including Saturn V, CM-107, SM-107, LM-5) Owners’ Workshop Manual by Christopher Riley and Phil Dolling (book review).

Now in its sixth reprint, the breath-holding titled ‘Apollo 11: 1969 (Including Saturn V, CM-107, SM-107, LM-5) Owners’ Workshop Manual’ by Christopher Riley and Phil Dolling should be on the list to own by anyone interested in the Moon landings, more so now that the first man on the Moon, Neal Armstrong, died in 2012.

If you’re not familiar with the history of space flight by now, then you ought to hand in your SF cards and find a different hobby. Saying that, you will find out a wealth of information with this book. I mean, if you thought the designs used for space rockets in films like ‘Destination: Moon’ a bit preposterous now, they weren’t back then and were once on the drawing board. It was only the problems of carrying enough fuel to take off again, that such rockets were dropped in favour of the multi-stage rocket. It did make me ponder if there were other fuel options and alternatives, would things have turned out as they had. Propulsion for any rocket has to be a big issue, especially the fuel’s weight versus the amount of thrust it supplied.

This book touches briefly on the Mercury missions – shouldn’t we have a book out about these? – and then into problems as NASA fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s desire to get a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. The work involved, together with setbacks and disasters shows how much work and money went into achieving this. The benefits since across the globe have been massive as well and everything from computers to specialised fabrics to your non-stick frying pan owe themselves to the Apollo programme. I suspect if ever the desire to get a man on Mars was to go ahead, the benefits of further advancement could only benefit mankind once more, especially as such a long flight would mean developments in eco-systems and growing food in flight, both of which would surely benefit the third world.

In the meantime, this book is a warts and all look at what actually took place and if you were too young to remember or at my age, haven’t looked back that far in a while, you will find this book an immense education.

Saying I learnt a lot from this book is not doing it justice. Where shall we start?

Werner von Braun devised the cluster like rockets at the base of the Apollo sections for maximum thrust. The same applies to the escape rocket right at the top. When I was at school, I was tasked to put an Apollo rocket model kit together and could never figure how the escape rocket would work, mostly looking back now was because its nozzle cluster hadn’t been detailed and with a nozzle pointing down at the capsule seemed a little impractical. After so long, I became truly enlightened.

To get the weight-saving honeycomb insulation inside the fuel tanks constructed, North American Aviation sought a team of experienced surfers who used this in the surfboards they built to help.

As the long awaited question of latrine duty on a spaceship is always asked, this is given enough detail that you’ll never need to ask again. It’s also interesting discovering similar detail to the early space food and clothes hygiene. I knew something about the pure oxygen they lived with but to avoid the problem that happened with Apollo 1 that resulted in the deaths of three astronauts, for take-off, the air was 40% nitrogen, 60% oxygen. No doubt this also helped on returning to Earth and adjusting to the atmosphere.

Something that should interest all you computer buffs, is the working knowledge of the computer that the Apollos carried as this was where the start of the silicon integrated circuits began and which now run your computer. Looking back to the mid-60s, considering that so many of the calculations that were done for these trips was done on paper using a sliderule, it’s amazing how much we take computers for granted these days to do the simplest things. I did a lot of programming on pre-PC computers and even touched on early Fortran briefly but early programs were hardwired into the computer with only a couple controls for output. To read about the early programmers and early multi-tasking with prioritising will make you realise how truly ground-breaking they were with computers that had less computing power and memory than even a moderate calculator has with 32Kb of memory.

When it comes to the Lunar Module, something I hadn’t really given much thought to in the past forty years was the fact that the astronauts, laden in their spacesuit, could only stand in flight. I saw a mock-up of the Module at Madame Tussauds in London back in the 70s and thought it looked fragile. Reading this book, I discovered it really was fragile, mostly because they had to trim the weight down, which also contributed to the time it took to get it ready to take into space. Going back to the Moon, the Module section that was returned to the Apollo 11 Command Module was later left to crash on the satellite and not known where it ended up.

Something we pretty much take for granted these days is the spacesuits but when you look at the detail as to how they were built to ensure there were no leaks and to keep the man inside one comfortable with losing heat and such, it really is a marvel. It was the International Latex Corporation that actually made the pressure suit since their expertise in comfortable ladies underwear gave them the experience and lessons from the liquid-cooled vests used by British Spitfire pilots contributed to their cooling suits. You’ve often heard how materials like mylar and Teflon were derived from the space programme. Here, you see what aspects of the spacesuit they were used in.

Did you know that the camera that took Neil Armstrong’s photo as he made his first steps on the Moon was actually upside down and someone had to flip it the right way up on Earth for the viewers?

The priorities of some of the astronauts were towards engineering that filming what they saw but the new colour cameras changed that perspective a lot. When you see the early black and white footage, the ghosting of the astronauts was largely because of the slow camera frame speed. Another mystery solved.

You’ll love why the Saturn 5 rockets were named after Saturn or rather after Jupiter.

I could go on, but you see the picture. If there is a flaw in this book then it relates to what happened after Apollo 11. There is some information but I didn’t think it went far enough. With so much discussion about how the weight was trimmed off 11’s lunar module, later versions were far more heavier, including carrying the moon buggy. It would have been interesting to have seen how they resolved this weight dilemma. As I’m reviewing the follow-up book about the moon buggy next month, perhaps my questions will be answered there.

This is a remarkable book and if you haven’t got or read it yet, then buying it will certain go towards several more deserved reprints.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Haynes. 195 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £21.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84425-683-9)
check out website: www.haynes.co.uk


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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