As The 50th Anniversary Of Apollo 11 Nears, New Books Highlight The Objective’s Legacy



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The U.S. flag stands alone on the surface area of the moon.

NASA/Getty Images.

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NASA/Getty Images.

The U.S. flag stands alone on the surface area of the moon.

NASA/Getty Images.

The countdown has begun. It’s T-minus a month or two until the 50 th anniversary of Apollo 11– and humanity’s first and famous actions on another world.


In gratitude of that accomplishment, and the five-decade milestone, a flotilla of books has also been introduced exploring Apollo’s story and raising concerns about its ultimate legacy. Surveying just a few of these works, it rapidly becomes apparent how singular America’s accomplishment was with Apollo. Even more important, however, is how these books reveal that– half a century later– we’re still grappling to comprehend its long-term significance for our nation and the world.

If you’re looking for an excellent telling of the manned space program’s story, you need to start with James Donovan’s Shoot for the Moon: The Area Race And The Amazing Voyage Of Apollo 11 Starting with the American panic after the Russian launch of Sputnik in 1957, Donovan capably maps out the United States’ course to Apollo11 As Soon As President John F. Kennedy stated, in 1961, that America would reach the moon prior to the years was out, NASA discovered itself on the hook for creating space-travel on the fly (literally).

Donovan walks the reader though the line of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, each more hazardous and adventurous than the last. Donovan knows how to tell a gripping story. With each launch, or failure, NASA’s engineers, managers and astronauts pushed the grand experiment that was human spaceflight a little additional. They first had to discover how human beings would even respond to area. Then came learning how to rendezvous and dock 2 ships in orbit. The next lessons were how to leave Earth’s orbit, cruise around moon, and go back to safety.

With each step, Donovan gives us choice stories about people on the frontier, like how astronaut Buzz Aldrin campaigned to be the one taking those popular primary steps. NASA, however, preferred the meaning of an astronaut not in the military making that huge leap for mankind. So, says Donovan, it was Neil Armstrong, a civilian test pilot, who got approval. To his credit Aldrin, who Donovan refers to as “a loner who was participating in a team sport,” accepted the choice with grace.


If you are interested, however, in how the U.S. introduced itself on the improbable mission of getting individuals to the moon when it might hardly get a rocket off the pad, then Douglas Brinkley’s American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy And The Fantastic Space Race might be the read for you. The book’s subtitle reveals all you require to learn about its focus. Part Kennedy bio, part political space history, Brinkley’s book makes it clear that releasing the Apollo program was all about beating the Russians. As the Brinkley book shows, the president who had the biggest impact on space exploration was, in his own admission, “not that into space.” What American Moonshot shows, nevertheless, is that Kennedy was a daring and astute politician who understood that setting Apollo in motion implied leap-frogging over the Russian’s considerable abilities in space circa1961 By setting the moon as America’s goal, Kennedy threw down a gauntlet whose effects would bloom far beyond its Cold War political origins.

Understanding those consequences and setting their story in context falls to Charles Fishman through One Giant Leap: The Difficult Objective That Flew United States To The Moon. While Fishman is interested in the origins of the space race and the mechanics of issue fixing that got us there, he’s simply as worried about the methods Apollo changed us. The race to the moon was, in his words, “the largest civilian job ever undertaken, overshadowing not just the Manhattan Project, but the Panama Canal and the transcontinental railway.” In this method, Fishman wants us to see Apollo as part of a social revolution just as profound as any of the others taking place in the 1960 s.

For beginners, the scale of what NASA required to, and did, accomplish in the innovations of management represented its own type of transformation. Fishman files how in the dawning years of the 1960 s, when Russia was first to get satellites and people into orbit, it was not entirely clear that democracies had the capability to marshal the single-minded focus needed to develop an area program. But by 1968, NASA could be counted as “the # 4 organization in the country in regards to workers, ahead of every business except for GM, Ford and GE,” Fishman notes. To work so effectively at that scale and at the sharpest and most unforgiving edge of innovation was a revolution of its own kind that confirmed the American kinds of democracy and capitalism.


For Fishman, however, the most important and least understood success of Apollo lay in the domain of the digital. One Giant Leap spends significant and well-used time demonstrating NASA’s function in birthing digital innovations that are now common. When the race to the moon began, “incorporated circuits”– indicating computer system chips– were an unsure technology. However NASA saw that they would be necessary to their need for “actual time” computing where answers from devices had to follow just seconds after concerns were posed. As Fishman reveals, it was NASA that drove this innovation, buying 60 percent of all incorporated circuits made1963 More notably, NASA’s strict requirements drove the chips to 100- percent dependability– meaning they could fly lunar landers and, eventually, perform calculations that make the GPS on your phone so accurate.

Fishman ends his book with an extended mediation on what this civilian project, brought out in the complete light of public transparency (Russia showed nothing of its launches until they were over), meant for the world. He concludes it was very important that the U.S. made it to the moon– and not the totalitarian system represented by the USSR– pricing quote Neil deGrasse Tyson: “No other act of human exploration ever laid a plaque stating ‘We come in peace for all mankind’.”

With its vision, its reach, and its delivery of a brand-new relationship in between individuals and innovation, Apollo changed the world. As Fishman stresses, in every way Apollo was both “triumph and success.” It’s a lesson we would all succeed to keep in mind half a century later on.

Adam Frank is an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of Light of destiny: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth You can find more from Adam here: @adamfrank4

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