We’ve been going through a mini space-obsession. In the past two weeks we’ve reviewed The Astronauts Wives Club and Memories of the Future, which is all about Star Trek, but I think it counts! Today we want to share Failure is Not an Option.
OMG ok this book is just…wow! So I’d been struggling to find a book that could keep my attention. I’d started a few that I knew I’d enjoy but just couldn’t stay committed to them. I was in a blah reading mode. Then one night scrolling through Netflix I came across a Discovery Channel mini series: When We Left Earth. This six part series takes you from the Mercury flights to near the end of the shuttle era. I was inspired to put the movie Apollo 13 on hold to see again, as my library search was on Apollo 13 this book came up (it’s subtitle is Mission control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and beyond). The book is written by Gene Kranz former flight controller and flight director for NASA. He’s easily recognizable in many mission control pics of the day in his crew cut and natty vests. In Apollo 13 he is played by Ed Harris.
This book is quite simply mesmerizing. I have been totally unable to put it down. I just want to keep reading it’s amazing. Gene takes us behind the scenes from early in the Mercury trials at Cape Canaveral (later to be renamed Cape Kennedy) to the end of the Apollo program.
I think I knew academically that going to space was a dangerous proposition so many things that could go wrong. This book brings you right into the control room though and you learn what many of those things were. It wasn’t only Apollo 13 that had problems those theirs were the most significant and most remembered, thanks to Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. When John Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth was in orbit concern was raised about the heat shield of his spacecraft, there was concern it was damaged or had separated from the craft itself. Another astronaut was so excited to be in space and taking so many pictures that he nearly ran out of fuel having just enough to return to Earth.
On the first Moon landing there were even some problems, the lunar module or LM overshot the intended landing site, they had to maneuver to find another site. Problem after problem occurs, some small and some large and alarming. Mission control flight directors and controllers keep level heads and work through them all. As each new mission is being described I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting to see what goes wrong this time and how it is solved, and even KNOWING the results of the missions I found myself totally wrapped up in the tale, worried something else would go wrong, worried the astronaut wouldn’t make it home. I had to stop a few times to remind myself they did make it home.
Perhaps one of the most chilling stories in the book is the story of the Apollo 1 fire on the launchpad. Included are the last things heard from the astronauts locked into the capsule. I cried.
If you have ever been interested in space, if you are a science fiction fan, if you enjoyed the movie Apollo 13, you absolutely should pick up this book. I borrowed it from the library but it will be going on my to buy list because I want to own it. As I finished the book I wanted to start again and reread it all, catch things I may have missed the first time but I had another space book just waiting to be read so I’ll go back to it some other time, maybe for summer reading.