Robert Kurson did his homework. Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon is a comprehensive and entertaining examination of the first manned space flight around the world.
I love all things related to space and astronauts and memoirs relating to space. This book is among the best I have read. It is written as narrative nonfiction and tells the story of the trip around the moon from many perspectives. What I liked about the story was the fact that Mr. Kurson included discussion of other things that were happening at the time this mission happened – the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Viet Nam war, the Cold War. He discusses how volatile the U.S. was in 1968 and that this mission – run over Christmas – brought some healing to the country and brought people back together. He weaves all these events into the compelling story of how we flew men around the moon – 250,000 miles from Earth – in a rushed mission to beat the Soviets to the moon and fulfill Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon before the end of the 60’s.
Kurston doesn’t sacrifice space for the political and social happenings of 1968. He weaves the events together to provide the reader with a fantastic overview of all the events that were happening at the same time. This is important to me, because I was not born when all of this happened and it helped me to understand how big this mission was when put into the perspective of all of that. I loved the stories of the astronauts, naturally. But I found myself liking the stories of the wives and children who had to wait all those days to see if their husbands were going to make it back to Earth. At the time Apollo 8 launched, NASA was unsure of whether these three men would live through this mission. Things were predicted – and amazingly happened – to the second. The amount of technical knowledge and forethought that goes into a space flight is described with poetic beauty in this book.
I loved this book. It was informative and entertaining. If you are at all interested in how we got to the moon and probably the most important space mission we have undertaken to date, read this book.