Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control From Mercury To Apollo 13 And Beyond by Gene Kranz – 2009
Who received most of the accolades when a successful, or for that matter, an unsuccessful space mission was completed? Well the answer to that question is obvious; of course it is the astronauts who risked their lives to explore the unknown. But behind those heroes were thousands of people who often times were among the unsung heroes that helped to launch, fly, and land those spacecraft. Chief among those were the flight controllers which is the subject of Gene Kranz’s Book Failure Is Not An Option.
Kranz’s book is all about the corps of flight controllers that manned Mission Control for every minute of every day that there was an American spacecraft aloft. He traces the history of flight control from the very beginnings of the space program through the entire Apollo program.
The early years of space exploration were marked by a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union vying for dominance with the Soviet Union scoring decided victories, leaving the United States playing a game of catch-up. While the Soviets were sending satellites and people into orbit around the planet, the United States’ rockets were having a difficult time just getting off of the launch pad. When the U.S. Finally did begin successfully launch payloads, President John F. Kennedy declared to the world that before the end of the 1960’s, the U.S. would successfully send an American to the moon, and return them safely (according to Kranz, the plans prior to Kennedy’s speech were to actually land Americans on the moon in the mid 1970’s).
Kranz traces the history of manned space flight from the perspective of his role as a NASA flight controller. During his thirty year tenure, he was a firsthand witness to all of the events including projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. He goes into some detail on all of the flights, and goes into even greater detail on the flights for which he was the chief controller including the first landing on the Moon of Apollo 11, and the near tragedy that was Apollo 13. He gives an accurate picture of the missions including the problems that were encountered and solved and discusses the reasons for and the solutions to the problems that allowed Americans to take pride in our achievements in space exploration.
Kranz’s narration is sometimes difficult to read because he get quite technical at times, but this book is a must read for those of us who enjoy knowing what went on behind the scenes at NASA. However, if you are looking for scandal, you will not find it in this book, it is not an expose, but rather a factual account of the history of manned spaceflight from the flight controller’s point of view.
Not only does Kranz revisit the past in Failure, he also speaks to the future of American space exploration by expressing his disappointment (which is felt by many of us today as American astronauts hitch rides into space aboard Russian rockets) in the present state of affairs: “Entering the twenty-first century, we have an unimaginable array of technology and a generation of young Americans schooled in these technologies. With our powerful economy, we can do anything we set our mind to do. Yet we stand with our feet firmly planted on the ground when we could be exploring the universe.”
I think that Failure is a worthwhile read for students of space flight history and those who want to know what goes on behind the scenes at NASA.
In other news…
There is an ongoing debate in the science fiction genre that would seem to search for the answer to a question that has occupied my mind of late; what is science fiction and what is not. I had the opportunity to once again be a guest on the Scifi Diner Podcast and explore this question with Scott, and Miles (podcast hosts), Raul Ybarra (sci-fi fan, blogger, and mad-scientist), and Keith DeCandido (sci-fi author). Our conclusion? Well you are going to have to listen to the show. I am told that it will be released sometime this coming week and I will add the link to it when it comes available. We visited for almost two hours on this and could actually have talked longer.
I received a very nice gift from Nick Eftimiades in the mail. He sent me an autographed copy of Edward of Planet Earth, a work of fiction in the style of Douglas Adams. Click HERE to read my review and recommendation for Edward. I should also like to point out that Eftimiades is not only an author, but he is also active in many other areas including Chinese espionage, and the defense of our planet from threats from space. I, for one, have gained more interest in possible threats due to the recent meteor incidents in Russia and on the east coast of the United States. Recently, Nick has posted something that may sound like science fiction, but it is truly a threat and needs to be addressed. Click on the link to read his United States Commission on Planetary Defense.
Blog posts from me have become quite infrequent of late because real life has a tendency to get in the way of leisure pursuits. Hopefully, as the school year comes to a close, I will be able to write more frequently, but until then…
There it is.