First edition.
Publisher, Date:
New York : Random House, [2018]
x, 372 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Do you want to go to the moon? -- The space race -- A secret plan -- Are you out of your mind? -- Frank Borman -- Just four months -- Jim Lovell -- Pushed to superhuman speeds -- Bill Anders -- How's fifty-fifty? -- My God, we are really doing this -- Leaving home -- A deeply troubled year -- A critical test -- An astronaut in trouble -- Equisphere -- Racing the moon -- Our most ancient companion -- Earthrise -- The Heaven and the Earth -- Aiming for home -- Please be informed-there is a Santa Claus -- Help from an old friend -- The men who saved 1968.
9780812988703 (hardback)
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Call Number:
629.454 Kur
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Author Notes
Robert Kurson received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree from Harvard Law School. He practiced real estate law before becoming a writer. In 2000, Esquire published his first magazine story My Favorite Teacher, which became a finalist for a National Magazine Award. He won a National Magazine Award in 2006 for a profile in Esquire, which he later turned into a book. His stories have also appeared in Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine. He has written several books including Crashing Through, Shadow Divers, and Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship. <p> (Bowker Author Biography)
First Chapter or Excerpt
Chapter One Do You Want to Go to the Moon? August 3, 1968--Four months earlier As he sat on a beach in the Caribbean, a quiet engineer named George Low ran his fingers through the sand and wondered whether he should risk everything to win the Space Race and help save the world. At forty-one, Low was already a top manager and one of the most important people at NASA, in charge of making sure the Apollo spacecraft was flightworthy. Apollo had a single goal, perhaps the greatest and most audacious ever conceived: to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had committed the United States to achieving this goal by the end of the decade. Never had a more inspiring promise been made to the American people--or one that could be so easily verified. Now, Kennedy's end-of-decade deadline was in jeopardy. Design and engineering problems with the lunar module--the spidery landing craft that would move astronauts from their orbiting ship to the lunar surface and back again--threatened to stall the Apollo program and put Kennedy's deadline, just sixteen months away, out of reach. And that led to another problem. Every day that Apollo languished, the Soviet Union moved closer to landing its own crew on the Moon. And that mattered. The nation that landed the first men on the Moon would score the ultimate victory in the years-long Space Race between the two superpowers, one from which the second place finisher might never recover. For months, NASA's best minds had worked around the clock to fix the issues with the lunar module, but the temperamental and complex landing craft only fell further and further behind schedule. By summer, many at the space agency had abandoned hope of making a manned lunar landing by the end of the decade. And then Low had an idea. It had come to him just a few weeks before he'd arrived at this beach, and it was wild, an epiphany, a dream. It was also dangerous, risky beyond anything NASA had ever attempted. But the more Low thought about it, the more he believed it could keep the Apollo program moving and save Kennedy's deadline--and maybe even beat the Soviets to the Moon. Low inhaled the fresh, salty air and tried to push space travel out of his thoughts. At home, his mind burned nonstop with ideas, formulae, trajectories. Now he needed a break, and it should have been easy to find one in this tropical paradise. About the only reminder of America was the local newspaper, which told of the Newport Pop Festival in Costa Mesa, California, where more than a hundred thousand music fans were expected, and brought word of potential protests at the coming Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It had been an explosive year already, with assassinations, riots, and violence. A quiet beach was just where a man like Low needed to be. But Low could not relax. He walked the beach, looking out over the ocean toward Moscow and the Moon, thinking, imagining, America and the world on fire behind him. Five days after Low returned from vacation, a serious man with an oversized head went to work inside a giant assembly plant in Downey, California. His mission: to build a machine from the future that would help make the world safe for democracy. Over and over, astronaut Frank Borman opened and closed the hatch on the Apollo command module, a cone-shaped capsule made to fly a three-man crew to the Moon. He'd already certified that the hatch worked, then certified it again, but he would not stop pushing on it, making sure it opened, no matter what. Nearby, Borman's two crewmates, Jim Lovell and rookie Bill Anders, got ready to test the hundreds of dials, switches, levers, lights, and gauges that made the command module work. The spacecraft was small, measuring just eleven feet tall and thirteen feet wide at its base, but every inch of it had been designed by Borman and others to be impervious to a galaxy of deadly forces. A nearby transistor radio played Top 40 music, which caught Borman's ear. "That's a pretty slick song," Borman said. "Who's the fella singing it?" "That's the Beatles, Frank," Lovell said, laughing. Borman preferred the standards. As a kid, he'd memorized the lyrics to all the great Western songs played on the radio in Arizona. He could still sing "Cowboy Jack"--a ditty that dated to the nineteenth century--but didn't dare start because he knew Lovell and Anders would insist that he sing it to the end. Borman stuck to classic films, too. Alone among astronauts, it seemed, he hadn't bothered to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, the new Stanley Kubrick film released in April that showed men flying to the Moon. That stuff was science fiction, Borman told his colleagues; America had real people to get to the Moon. Borman and his crewmates knew that the lunar module was troubled and behind schedule. But until designers and engineers could make the fixes, these astronauts could do little more than make certain that the command module was perfect. So they climbed inside their spacecraft and began testing it, pushing the command module mercilessly, because that's what outer space would do to it, too. And then the phone rang. Smart people knew better than to bother Borman at work. But the man on the line went back a long way with Borman. And he said it was urgent. Donald Kent "Deke" Slayton was in charge of managing astronaut training and choosing crews for manned space missions. If an astronaut flew on board a NASA spacecraft, it was because Slayton had chosen him to go. When Borman heard who was calling, he wriggled out of the capsule and grabbed an extension. "Deke, I'm in the middle of a big test here," he said. "Frank, I need you back in Houston." "Talk to me now." "No, I can't talk over the phone. It's gotta be in person. Grab an airplane and get to Houston. On the double." Borman grimaced--America did not have time for nonsense and delays--but Slayton was in charge, and NASA, no matter its official designation as a civilian organization, was a military operation to Borman, so he took his orders. Poking his head back inside the spacecraft, he told his partners, "You guys are stuck with the module. I've gotta go back to Houston." Borman grabbed his rental car, drove to Los Angeles International Airport, and hopped in a T-38 Talon, a two-seat twin-engine supersonic jet used by astronauts for training, commuting, and even some fun, and pointed it toward Texas. At forty, he still looked every bit the West Point cadet: sandy blond near-crewcut, square jaw and chin set for combat, arched eyebrows that seemed a radar for anything askew. Even his head was military issue, all right angles and slightly larger than life, a feature that had earned him the childhood nickname Squarehead. Borman couldn't imagine why he was needed in Houston, and so suddenly. He was commander of Apollo 9, the third of four manned test flights NASA planned before it would attempt to land men on the Moon. Apollo 9 was to be a basic mission--orbit Earth, test the spacecraft, come home. It wasn't scheduled to launch for another six months. Still, Borman knew he hadn't been summoned for nothing. The last time he'd received a "drop everything" call had been the darkest day in NASA's history. It had happened about a year and half earlier, on January 27, 1967, when a fire broke out in the spacecraft during a simulated countdown on the launchpad in Florida. The Apollo 1 rehearsal should have been safe and routine for the three astronauts inside, who were preparing for the actual flight about four weeks later. But a spark occurred in the electrical system and the men were trapped as the sudden fire spread in pure oxygen. Even Ed White, the strongest of all NASA's astronauts, couldn't muscle open the command module's hatch as flames spread through the spacecraft. Borman had been enjoying a rare break with his family at a lakeside cottage near Houston, where they lived, when Slayton's call came in that day. "Frank, we've had a bad fire on Pad Thirty-four and we've got three astronauts dead--Gus Grissom, Ed White, and one of the new boys, Roger Chaffee. Get to the Cape as quick as you can; you've been appointed to the investigative committee." The news stunned Borman, who considered Ed White the brother he'd never had. And it devastated Borman's wife, Susan, who counted Pat White among her best friends. Borman told Slayton he'd fly to Florida right away but first needed to stop at the Whites' home in Houston. When he and Susan arrived, Pat was hysterical. She was the mother of two children, ages ten and thirteen, who suddenly had no father. Even in her raw grief, just hours after receiving the news, a Washington bureaucrat had informed her that despite Ed's wishes to be buried at West Point, the three fallen astronauts would all be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. "Give me the guy's name," Borman said. He had the man on the phone a minute later. "It's already been decided in Washington," the man insisted. "I don't give a good goddamn what's been decided," Borman said. "Ed wanted to be buried at West Point and that's what's going to happen, and I'll go all the way to President Johnson to make sure it happens, so you better fucking well do it." Four days later, White was buried at West Point. Borman and Lovell were among the pallbearers. Anders also attended. After the funeral, Borman began his work on the investigative committee convened by NASA. He was the only astronaut on the panel, a sign that NASA considered him to be among its best. His first job was to help supervise the disassembly of the Apollo 1 spacecraft at Cape Kennedy in order to determine the cause of the fire. Days later, he became the first astronaut to enter the cabin. He found a burned-out nightmare. Rows of equipment and panels had been charred and covered in soot, debris was scattered everywhere. Hoses connecting the astronauts to their life support systems were melted. No matter where he looked, Borman could see no color, only grays and blacks. That night, he joined Slayton and others at a restaurant in Cocoa Beach called The Mousetrap, a NASA haunt. Borman seldom drank to excess, but the smell of the scorched spacecraft needed bleaching, and he started in early. He raised toasts to his fallen brothers, then threw his glass into the fireplace. White was among the straightest arrows Borman had ever known--honest to a fault, a true patriot, and a man who didn't mess around with the sports cars or fast women so readily available to astronauts. For both men, family came first. The Bormans and Whites often shared a house on a lake near Houston for fishing trips. Borman couldn't remember missing someone as much as he missed Ed White that night. Borman spent the next two months inside the burned spacecraft, studying the design, searching for flaws, making fixes in his mind. In April 1967, Congress held hearings into the cause of the fire, and Borman was called to testify. Much of the questioning was aggressive and antagonistic, full of second-guesses and should-haves and pointed fingers, but Borman held firm, hiding nothing and acknowledging NASA's responsibility, but never allowing congressmen to kick the agency just because it was down. He still ached for the loss of his friend, Ed White, but never allowed those emotions to spill into his report. Near the end of the hearings, he offered some of its most memorable testimony. "We are trying to tell you that we are confident in our management, and in our engineering, and in ourselves," Borman said. "I think the question is really: Are you confident in us?" A few days later, he told lawmakers, "Let's stop the witch hunt and get on with it." At NASA, it seemed there wasn't a person, from the administrator to the janitors, who didn't cheer him on. In the end, Congress took his advice and NASA continued on its mission to land men on the Moon. Having survived the inquest, NASA approached Borman with an extraordinary offer: Take temporary leave from the astronaut program to head up the team tasked with implementing design changes to the command module. He accepted on the spot. He and others worked to make the new version of the capsule the most advanced, and safest, spacecraft ever built. Borman could only hope there hadn't been another tragedy as he landed his jet at Ellington Air Force Base and made his way to Slayton's office. He suspected something unusual was afoot when he was asked to close the door behind him. Slayton addressed him without even sitting down: "We just got word from the CIA that the Russians are planning a lunar fly-by before the end of the year. We want to change Apollo 8 from an Earth orbital to a lunar orbital flight. A lot has to come together. And Apollo 7 has to be perfect. But if it happens, Frank, do you want to go to the Moon?" The idea startled Borman. Apollo 8 was meant to fly in December, just four months from now, but certainly not to the Moon. Apollo 8 was a conservative mission designed for low Earth orbit, perhaps at 125 miles altitude. It was one of several essential steps leading up to a manned lunar landing, hopefully before the end of 1969. Everything went in steps at NASA. Everything. But Slayton meant exactly what he said. He wanted Borman to change missions and fly to the Moon. At a distance of 240,000 miles. In just sixteen weeks. Slayton didn't discuss the fact that the lunar module couldn't possibly be ready by then. He didn't discuss any of the other myriad reasons NASA couldn't be ready to fly men to the Moon by year's end. In fact, Slayton gave very few additional details. He didn't even ask if Borman cared to talk things over with his wife or crew. Borman would have been justified in taking days, if not weeks, to consider such a proposition. And yet Slayton needed an answer, and he needed it now. Borman understood the urgency. If the Soviet Union sent men to the Moon first--even if those men didn't land--it would score a major victory in the Space Race and deal a devastating blow in the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. The mission Slayton was proposing would be exquisitely dangerous. But it also had the power to change history. Now, suddenly, it all depended on the decision of Frank Borman and his crew. Excerpted from Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Fiction/Biography Profile
Space travel
Kennedy, John F.
Aeronautical engineers
Aerospace engineers
Time Period
1968 -- 20th century
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Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

Many are familiar with the stories of Apollo 11 and the pioneers who took "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" on the moon, and of Apollo 13 and the astronauts who survived an explosion on their spacecraft while circumnavigating the moon. Yet, less widely known but equally gripping, is the account of Apollo 8 and the three bold men who were the first to orbit earth's lunar companion. Kurson (Shadow Divers) recounts the historically significant mission, which served as a crucial test run for the eventual landing on the moon and was noted for capturing the famous "Earthrise" photograph. He frames this well-researched story with an overview of the events that shaped the year leading up to the December 1968 launch, including the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. At the heart of Kurson's narrative are astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, and their families. However, unlike Robert Zimmerman's Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8, Kurson does not delve extensively into the religious views of the astronauts. VERDICT Space buffs will enjoy this accessible and engaging account of human ingenuity and exploration.-Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

With the 50th anniversary of the trailblazing Apollo 8 mission approaching in December 2018, Kurson (Pirate Hunters) affably reminds readers of the days when America's dreams and goals lay far beyond Earth's surface. Kurson sets the stage swiftly: President Kennedy had promised in 1961 that U.S. astronauts would land on the moon, but as the decade drew to a close, the Soviet Union remained the unquestionable leader of the space race. After the CIA reported that cosmonauts planned a lunar flyby late in 1968, NASA altered Apollo 8's mission. Instead of orbiting the Earth, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders would fly to the moon, orbit, and return. This was an especially challenging journey, because the August announcement meant that NASA's astronauts and engineers had only four months to prepare. Kurson effectively recreates the era, recalling the tumult of a changing nation, as well as the tension felt by those involved both on Earth and in space, of a mission with little margin for error. Kurson writes in clear, simple language, avoiding technical matters and cryptic NASA jargon to focus on the people involved. Fans of explorers and adventurers will enjoy Kurson's vibrant, accessible history. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Booklist Review

Coming out about a year after Jeffrey Kluger's Apollo 8, Kurson's account of the first space mission to orbit the moon naturally covers much of the same territory: the hectic preparations for the launch of Apollo 8 (which was hastily converted from an Earth-orbital mission to a lunar-orbital mission), the mission itself, and its aftermath. This is a fine book, a solidly written story of adventure and heroism, and it would be a shame if it were overlooked simply because Kluger's book already exists. Kurson has a good dramatic storytelling style (Looking back down toward his spacecraft, Borman gave thanks to the scalded machine, an exquisite piece of design and daring), and his portrayals of the pioneering astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders (all of whom were interviewed by the author), turns these men from historical figures into real people. The book is proof that there's room in the marketplace for more than one book about a well-known event.--Pitt, David Copyright 2018 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

An exuberant history of a major turning point in early American spaceflight, possibly "the riskiest and most thrilling of all the Apollo missions."Man's first flight to the moon occurred seven months before the actual landing. While not ignored, the Apollo 8 mission has never achieved the iconic status of Apollo 11. This enthusiastic account aims to remind readers of its significance. "This is the best space story of all, I thought, and I wasn't the only one," writes journalist Kurson (Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, 2015, etc.). He notes that after the national horror at the 1957 launch of Sputnik, everyone assumed that the Soviet Union enjoyed technical superiority and was racing to beat us to the moon. In fact, only the latter was true. Kurson opens the narrative in summer 1968 with a top-secret intelligence report that the Soviets might attempt a manned circumlunar flight by year's end. The Apollo mission was scheduled for 1969, but George Low, one official, maintained that the U.S. could match the Soviets. Some NASA leaders objected, and almost everyone agreed that "Sending Apollo 8 to the moon in December might be the boldest and riskiest and most important mission NASA ever attempted." Since beating the Soviets to the moon was Apollo's purpose, it had to be tried. The author offers biographies of those involved, a nuts-and-bolts account of four months of training and the flight itself, which was not without glitches, and digressions into events of 1968 America, torn by strife over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Most readers know how the story turned out, so Kurson strains to generate suspense, and space buffs will quickly realize that this is a journalistic account aimed at a mass audience (clue: the astronauts' courtships and family lives receive prominent attention).An overly breathless yet entertaining account of a pioneering space mission that deserves to be better known. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * T he riveting inside story of three heroic astronauts who took on the challenge of mankind's historic first mission to the Moon, from the bestselling author of Shadow Divers .<br> <br> "Robert Kurson tells the tale of Apollo 8 with novelistic detail and immediacy."--Andy Weir, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian and Artemis <br> <br> By August 1968, the American space program was in danger of failing in its two most important objectives: to land a man on the Moon by President Kennedy's end-of-decade deadline, and to triumph over the Soviets in space. With its back against the wall, NASA made an almost unimaginable leap: It would scrap its usual methodical approach and risk everything on a sudden launch, sending the first men in history to the Moon--in just four months. And it would all happen at Christmas.<br> <br> In a year of historic violence and discord--the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago--the Apollo 8 mission would be the boldest, riskiest test of America's greatness under pressure. In this gripping insider account, Robert Kurson puts the focus on the three astronauts and their families: the commander, Frank Borman, a conflicted man on his final mission; idealistic Jim Lovell, who'd dreamed since boyhood of riding a rocket to the Moon; and Bill Anders, a young nuclear engineer and hotshot fighter pilot making his first space flight.<br> <br> Drawn from hundreds of hours of one-on-one interviews with the astronauts, their loved ones, NASA personnel, and myriad experts, and filled with vivid and unforgettable detail, Rocket Men is the definitive account of one of America's finest hours. In this real-life thriller, Kurson reveals the epic dangers involved, and the singular bravery it took, for mankind to leave Earth for the first time--and arrive at a new world.<br> <br> Praise for Rocket Men <br> <br> "In 1968 we sent men to the Moon. They didn't leave boot prints, but it was the first time humans ever left Earth for another destination. That mission was Apollo 8. And Rocket Men, under Robert Kurson's compelling narrative, is that under-told story." --Neil deGrasse Tyson <br> <br> " Rocket Men is a riveting introduction to the [Apollo 8] flight. . . . Kurson details the mission in crisp, suspenseful scenes. . . . [A] gripping book." -- The New York Times Book Review
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