recommended reading and viewing

A great deal of the content of this "armchair history" of manned spaceflight is either in the form of links to on-line reference sources or derived directly from on-line sources. NASA, in particular, has done a fantastic job of converting their old mission archives from the '60's, '70's and '80's to web-based formats, and the thoroughness and rapidity of their on-line documentation of new missions is truly remarkable. There's something kind of cool about watching a space walk live on an internet broadcast and then, within just a day or two, being able to view high-resolution digital photos of the event downloaded from orbit. Needles to say, the NASA Human Spaceflight web site has become a favorite haunt of mine. I must also give a tremendous amount of credit to Make Wade, whose Encyclopedia Astronautica represents a pretty stunning accomplishment.

However... Mere factual documentation of an event with the occasional anecdote thrown in never tells the whole story. It rarely conveys the sense of drama, excitement, or suspense involved. Much of the background information regarding preceding and succeeding events must inherently be left to the documentation of those events themselves. In order to get a fuller picture of the whole story, we must eventually go beyond factual documentation and into the world of the story tellers.

Every so often, I come across a book, movie, or television show that really says something about manned spaceflight. For the purpose of a history of manned spaceflight, we must naturally discard all the science fiction stories, fun though they may be, and focus exclusively on stories based on actual events. Below is a listing of a few of my favorites. Each of these books, movies, and television programs provides some particular insight into the events, the people, or the technologies involved in the manned exploration of space. Efforts have been made by the authors and producers to peek behind the scenes, to gather the recollections of the people who lived the events, and to provide some unique perspective on outer space and our planet's place in it. Attempts have been made to bring the thrill and grandeur of our first steps into the cosmic ocean home the audience in identifiable and engaging fashions. Give them a read or a viewing for yourself, and see if they capture your imagination the same way they caught mine.

The Right Stuff
1979 by Tom Wolfe
Bantam Books

This could very easily be considered the classic novel about manned spaceflight. Mr. Wolfe paints a colorful picture of the original Mercury 7 astronauts and the fighter jock culture that they came from. There are plenty of old air combat stories, anecdotes about flying and drinking and drinking and driving, and a few words about the "cookies", of course. Not only are we presented with the lives and times of the Mercury astronauts, but we are introduced to other pilots who would become prominent in the astronaut corps during the Gemini and Apollo programs as well as the legendary Chuck Yeager and some of the scientists and technicians who helped launch them into the annals of history. Tightly written and fast paced, this is an insightful look at how a group of high-tech cowboys managed to fire a half dozen crazy test pilots into space strapped to the nose cones of ballistic missiles -- somehow without killing anybody in the process.

The Right Stuff
1979 The Ladd Company
Warner Bros., a Time Warner Entertainment Company

Well, I suppose they really had to make a movie out of this book. Director and screenwriter Philip Kaufman did a pretty good job of bringing Mr. Wolfe's book to the screen with the help of a star-studded cast including Charles Frank, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Kim Stanley, Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright, and Pamela Reed. Pack a lunch, though. This is a long movie. I'm still going to recommend reading the book, however. Despite the length of the movie, a lot was left out, particularly from the later Mercury missions. Still, all the highlights are there, as well as the best anecdotes, goofs, gags, and other astronautic extracurricular activities.

Apollo 13
(previously published as Lost Moon)
1994 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger
Houghton Mifflin Company

When the crew of Apollo 13 safely touched down on the aircraft carrier after surviving one of the most harrowing disasters of the space age, Capt. James Lovell, the mission commander, suggested to his command module pilot, Jack Swigert, that they should write up the story of the mission. Nearly a quarter of a century later, Lovell finally got his wish, albeit with co-author Jeffrey Kluger rather than Swigert. This is the true story of the Apollo 13 disaster written by one of the men who actually lived through it. It's a fabulous tale that needs no invention to provide suspense and excitement. The book carefully lays out the chronology of the mission, presents technical details in a manner clearly understandable to the lay person, provides a glimpse into the private lives of the astronauts and their families, and is replete with Lovell's characteristic, low-key humor. Lovell and Kluger have produced an excellent book about the most complicated rescue effort in history.

Apollo 13
1995 Universal City Studios, Inc.
Universal, an MCA Company

When film producer Brian Grazer learned that Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger had written a ten-page outline of a book they planned to write about the Apollo 13 mission, he wasted no time in placing a telephone call to director Ron Howard. It wasn't long before Tom Hanks had signed on to star in the movie as Jim Lovell (even though the book hadn't been written yet). Howard and Hanks set out to retell the story Apollo 13 in the most accurate and faithful fashion they could, sparing no expense along the way. The result is a suspenseful and spellbinding movie starring Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinese, Ed Harris, and leading lady Kathleen Quinlan.

The DVD collector's edition provides some excellent bonus material including feature commentaries by Ron Howard and by Jim and Marilyn Lovell as well as a documentary on the making of the movie with actual NASA film footage from the mission. Jeffrey Kluger also wrote a companion book to the movie, titled The Apollo Adventure, The Making of the Apollo Space Program and the Movie Apollo 13 ( 1995 by MCA Publishing Rights, a division of MCA, Inc.). In a sense, the original book, the movie, and the movie companion book comprise the finest existing documentation on how man first reached the moon.

Terror in Space - Mishaps of the Space Age
originally aired on PBS ???

Not to be outdone by the big Hollywood types, PBS produced a NOVA special on the Apollo 13 mission. It was a great documentary, but I haven't been able to track down any info on the program. However, you can visit the "Terror in Space" page on NOVA Online and read about Apollo 13 and some of the other little problems that have occurred during the last four decades of space travel.

To the Moon
originally aired on PBS 7/13/99

PBS also produced a two-hour special on the Apollo program as a whole. It is chock full of interviews with astronauts, flight controllers, and other NASA luminaries. Definitely worth a watch. You can also log on to the "To the Moon" page on NOVA Online to learn more.

Stationed in the Stars
originally aired on PBS 4/25/00

Moving to more contemporary topics, NOVA took on the International Space Station in yet another fine program from PBS. For details, log on to the "Stationed in the Stars" page on NOVA Online.

Space Station
produced by IMAX Corporation and presented by Lockheed Martin Corporation
released spring 2002

If you have access to an IMAX or OmniMAX theater, go see this movie! Narrated by Tom Cruise, this is the first movie filmed entirely in outer space. While it doesn't go into very much technical detail, Space Station provides a rare glimpse into the lives of the astronauts and cosmonauts living on orbit. There are also plenty of absolutely stunning views of the Earth, the interior and exterior of the ISS, and the Space Shuttles. It's completely worth the outrageous admission prices.

History of Aviation
(second edition)
1978 by John W. R. Taylor F.R.Hist.S. and Kenneth Munson
(editors and compilers of Jane's All the World's Aircraft)
Crown Publishers, Inc.

Here's a book you'll never find. However, you might find it valuable to check into a few general aviation history books. Many of them have chapters that discuss early rocketry. This particular book covers Robert Goddard, Wernher von Braun, James Van Allen, early sounding rocket programs, the first artificial satellites, and a host of other topics related to the development rocket flight.

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