Craig Nelson's ROCKET MEN: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
Craig Nelson’s ROCKET MEN is a mixed bag. It is episodic, there are frequent flashbacks to provide context that take away from the Apollo story (delving into Werner von Braun’s past lacks relevance given so little attention is devoted to development of the different components of the Apollo stack), and the writing style varies from prosaic to inspired.
Overall I enjoyed it very much. What it lacks in technical detail (some of which is in error) it makes up in the frequent and illuminating quotations from Apollo participants. Having always been a fan of aerospace history this book is one of the first I’ve read that actually attempts to answer in some depth the question, “What was it like to be part of the Apollo program?”
We hear from the different participants from astronaut on down. It’s highly educational and even surprising in parts.
The concluding chapters are the most interesting and thoughtful of the book. The author attempts to put the Apollo program, NASA, and the space program into the context of history. Even though he does not succeed in answering the big questions about space exploration, he does thoughtfully discuss them:
- Has it all been worth it?
- What does it all mean?
- What do we do next?”
Some reading this 2009 book might be surprised at some of the questions given the spectacular space exploration successes in recent years. The questions still stand as we face the serious issues of how to spend our resources.
I think these questions are important. While I’m not a big fan of the International Space Station, and while I can’t get excited about returning to the Moon, I am greatly disappointed that we are not working cooperatively with the Chinese on an international basis to explore the solar system. Given the huge expense of such endeavors the fact that we on Earth are not working together on such projects seems just plain stupid.
One saving grace is that we are continuing robotically to explore the Solar System and deep space. I personally find most exciting our efforts to discover and study planets orbiting distant stars.
Will the appeal of such projects be sufficient to maintain support for the public money needed to continue them? Given the anti-science attitudes of so many Americans and legislators that does concern me. Still, this book, as imperfect as it is, does help shine light on such questions.
Review copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald.