Moon Mission: The Epic 400-Year Journey to Apollo 11
Moon Mission: The Epic 400-Year Journey to Apollo 11
But it did mean cramped living spaces. From July 16 to July 24, three grown men lived in a space smaller than the average bedroom – and not an empty bedroom, but one crammed with equipment everywhere, including the bulky space suits the astronauts were wearing. Given the lack of space and the bad food – basically a mixture of freeze-dried paste and water – it’s been described as the world’s worst camping trip. But in this case, the campers can’t even leave the tent. The astronauts had to stay inside the entire time, where they lived, cooked, ate and handled various body functions, such as expelling liquid and solid waste – and gas.
Fifty years ago, for eight days in July 1969, much of the western world avidly followed news of the Apollo 11 mission that landed humans on the moon and returned them safely to earth. The mission made Neil Armstrong a household name and etched two statements into western culture: “The Eagle has landed” and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Moon Mission is a remarkable achievement. Brouwer’s three-pronged structure breaks each of the eleven chapters or “episodes” (beginning with a countdown through liftoff, escaping Earth and so on to moonwalk, and eventually the big burn as the capsule reentered the atmosphere and safely splashed down) into three stages. The first stage is a riveting narrative that places the reader inside the mission as an astronaut, as shown in this short excerpt from the beginning of the liftoff episode:
During the final seconds before liftoff, it feels like you are a helpless rat in the mouth of a giant terrier shaking your from side to side. Against the violent shuddering of the massive rocket trying to escape gravity, the millions of parts must hold together or all the fuel will trigger one of the biggest non-nuclear bombs in human history.
The second stage typically recounts scientific discoveries spanning the last four centuries that laid a foundation of knowledge that was crucial to the success of the Apollo 11 mission. Topics range from German engineer Wernher von Braun’s rocket scientists’ defection to the Americans in the closing days of the Second World War, discoveries by astronomers such as Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, problem-solving by mathematicians such as Kepler, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Emmy Noether and Katherine Johnson, the human computer made famous by the book and movie Hidden Figures. Brouwer deliberately seeks to ensure that women, who are often overlooked in discussions of the history of science, engineering and mathematics, are appropriately recognized for their contributions. The Soviets were, of course, early leaders in space technology. The American space program is portrayed as a race to catch up and surpass their Cold War enemy by being the first nation to place an astronaut on the moon. Secrecy around the Soviet programs is only part of the reason that Soviet accomplishments are not well- known in the west. In July 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first female in space; the Americans took another twenty years before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.
Brouwer’s third stage or prong explores varied topics related to the mission. In the first chapter, this consists of short biographies of the three astronauts. Another chapter presents a description of the Command Module, the Columbia’s, primitive on-board computer, the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) that had less computing power than a pocket calculator. Other topics explore the mystery surrounding the formation of the moon, or the moon’s egg-shape and extremely slow rotation around its axis.
Brouwer includes a fourth feature: a science mystery introduced in a sidebar early in each chapter and then solved at the end. Thus he packs even more knowledge into what is already a fascinating exploration into the scientific discovery, engineering and astronautics that made extraterrestrial discovery possible. Quotes from NASA transcripts appear on the preliminary page for each chapter and serve as snippets of primary source material bringing the words of the astronauts or staff at the Control center into the story. Barb Kelly, the book’s designer, includes other clever features including a LCD-style time bar on each chapter title page, and a graphic spread of title chapters atop the first full double-page spread in each stage one section of a chapter.
Moon Mission is heavily illustrated with black and white photographs, many supplied by NASA. In one way, the use of b&w images and drawings is appropriate since that was central to the technologies in broadcast media (television) and print resources, especially newspapers and news magazines of the day. However, some of the images on NASA’s own website are in colour, and anyone viewing the recently released documentary film Apollo 11 will see the mission in colour. Readers today may prefer to see a mixture of b&w and full-colour imagery.
In addition to consulting the NASA website for additional coverage of this and other moon landings in photos, videos and audio clips, students can discover more from the publisher’s website for this book. This reviewer was unable to access the site as it will not be live until the book is officially released. A detailed index and list of resources consulted are added strengths of the work. Some questions remain unanswered. What was the financial cost of the mission?
Moon Mission is a wonderful addition to the STEM-focused books. It is an adventure tale that should find a broad readership.
Val Ken Lem is a collections and liaison librarian at Toronto’s Ryerson University.