Apollo 11: The Moon Landing In Real Time by Ian Passingham (book review).

July 22, 2019 | By | Reply More

This book, ‘Apollo 11: The Moon Landing In Real Time’ by Ian Passingham, takes a slightly different approach to the events 50 years back. After a brief chapter encapsulating the space missions up to that time, the book starts at Launch Minus 14 Days and concludes with the Splashdown and touching on a little of the aftermath for the three astronauts.

As such, there are snippets from all over the world, not just from NASA but public reaction as well and from some unusual sources regarding upsetting various deities should Man dare to land on the Moon. As we are still here, I guess we must have passed that test. Oh and here’s one I hadn’t heard of, the Church of the New Jerusalem claimed dwarves lived on the Moon, although when they didn’t show up they said they thought they’d moved onto another planet.

There are some interesting reminders. When President John Kennedy announced that America would have a man on the Moon by 1970, he hadn’t told Doctor Robert Gilruth, the head of NASA’s Space Task Group and they only had Alan Shepard’s 15 minute space flight so far. There, that should make you think that politicians running off at the mouth was a more recent phenomenon.

Another thing was the original plan was to land the entire rocket on the Moon until Doctor John Houbolt argued the case for what we later had with a lunar module although it was a long battle. I couldn’t help thinking the SF film indoctrination of a single rocket was still riding high at the time. The same applies with germ contamination led by the book ‘The Andromeda Strain’ in 1969 rather than the film which came 2 years later.

I’ve often spoken of the 64kB RAM computer the Apollo mission had on-board but this is the first time I’ve come across its operating speed, some 0.043MHz. Now my current laptop runs at some 2.5GHz. The two can’t even compete but it does explain why the common problem that their computer was being asked to do too much simultaneously.

There’s a lot more about the astronaut training here as well so everything was down to practice and more practice. Even so, the worry that something could go wrong and strand Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon was always a constant worry.

The sociological effects are shown in some detail. A reminder about hunger and poverty in the USA got NASA Administrator Thomas Paine saying it would be harder to solve those than getting a man on the Moon. Something I was less aware of was how the American black community felt about it as not being good for them. Looking objectively, I can’t recall any black test pilots at the time which would have been where they were looking for astronauts so that was never tested.

Interestingly, the first two books mentioned related to the Apollo Missions, ‘We Reach The Moon’ by John Noble Wilford and for kids ‘Babar’s Moon Trip’ by Laurent de Brunhoff, can still be obtained. I can’t recall seeing Wilford’s book in the UK but I was only in my early teens at the time.

Seeing how the various countries kept watch on Apollo 11’s launch was also a show on political stance and who had televisions and best reception. Probably more stirring is seeing which companies were cashing in on their connection to NASA or purely to make a buck. These days, I imagine that there would be some control on advertising or at least NASA got a cut but not back then.

Did you know that Apollo 11 on achieving Earth orbit was given the number 4039 as the Air Force’s Aerospace Defence Command keeps record of all man-made objects sent into space?

It goes without saying that the biggest chapter is devoted to the Lunar Module landing on the Moon and the world-wide reaction to it. I remember being woken by my parents to watch the black and white TV in their bedroom when they stepped out onto the Moon’s surface. I didn’t really pay much attention to the world-wide media response but seeing it here should make you think.

Of particular note, the lunar module weighed 32,400lbs and the section that returned to orbit weighed 5,800lbs. I did a calculation and that meant 17.9% took off again. Obviously there was very little fuel and 50lbs of moonrock but I suspect this was all calculated than by a weighing machine.

Another thing of interest and forgotten over the years was that Russia had its own vessel, Luna 15 in Moon orbit at the time that ultimately crashed there instead of collecting samples.

One thing that isn’t drawn upon much because Passingham is covering the events that happened at the time was what did the world benefit from NASA’s Apollo program. The details are here covering computers, microwave ovens and the camera that watched the two astronauts on the Moon. All three of which have had an impact on our lives in the past 50 years. Poverty might not have been overcome but that has always been down to the whims of national governments.

It’s rather interesting that Japanese TV presenter Kokontei Shimba only ate real space meals three times a day for the duration of the Apollo 11 mission finding them tasteless. Things have obviously changed since then but eating in zero-gravity and tongue sensitivity is different to eating on Earth.

As you might have guessed from the above, I rather enjoyed this book. I think this is my sixth book about the Apollo 11 mission this year and this one brings the background elements together in an unexpected way. I was around when all this happened but my age group probably didn’t absorb all of this at the time. Having all those gaps filled now has made for an illuminating read. One to add to your collection. Quite how the youngsters of today would make of life back then would be a lot harder so if your sprogs read this book remind them that our tech evolved from all of these events.

GF Willmetts

July 2019

(pub: Pen And Sword. 263 page illustrated hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK). $42.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-52674-856-0)

check out website: www.pen-and-sword.co.uk

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Category: Books, Science

About the Author ()

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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