Sunday, November 30, 2008

Worth reading: Men from Earth by Buzz Aldrin and Malcolm McConnell

My father in law Mike lent me Men from Earth, by Buzz Aldrin and Malcolm McConnell (1989, Amazon link), and it turned out to be quite a page-turner.

The book is an account of the space program from the end of World War II through to Apollo 11, in particular the manned space program. It is a mix of Buzz Aldrin's first hand account with technical and historical details of both the US and Soviet space programs, the blending of which both humanizes the history and places the human aspect in context.

It is refreshingly frank regarding the disappointments, problems and failures experienced on both sides of the space race, and also regarding the issues confronting NASA in the 1980's with the lack of a real mission or a mandate to develop a long term space program. Given that it was written in the late 80's it is ironic how Aldrin and McConnell identify the same problems that confront NASA now: the shuttle as a flawed launcher, the need to develop a safe launch capability, the lack of direction for the manned space program, the sad fact that we don't have a heavy launcher comparable to the Saturn launcher technology that was thrown away in the 70's when the Shuttle program was cobbled together.

I was also surprised at how much was known about the Soviet moon program - although I knew the Soviets had been developing the G-1 launcher and that they'd had accidents with it I hadn't realized how seriously they had taken the moon race, or how much political pressures for propaganda victories had damaged their space program.

All in all I learned a lot that I hadn't seen or heard before - there was a lot of detail that you can't get in wikipedia articles - and its really quite well written. Well worth a read.

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