I was a college student in Florida in 1962 when John Glenn’s historic flight took place. Half of the student body broke university rules and took off for the beach late the night before to watch the gorgeous liftoff the next morning at Cape Canaveral. I have been hooked on space ever since. July is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and walk on the moon, so this column celebrates that amazing feat.
In addition to the books I am reviewing, there are two local places with related experiences. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History has a 10,000-square-foot exhibit titled “Launchpad: Apollo 11 Promises Kept,” which is composed of artifacts and experiences to tell the story of space exploration past, present and future. It is also showing the documentary Apollo 11: First Steps in the Omni Theater. The Sky Theater at UNT has two shows, “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Dark Matter Mystery.”
Most of us have mementos strewn throughout our homes, whether they’re toys from our childhood, artifacts passed down in the family, programs from important occasions, curios from our travels or anything you can imagine. The Smithsonian is the largest museum in the world and is fondly known as “the nation’s attic.” They have cleaned out the attic for this occasion and created a fascinating book titled Apollo to the Moon: A History in 50 Objects (by Teasel Muir-Harmony, foreword by Michael Collins; National Geographic, 2018, 303 pages, $35).
Each of the 50 artifacts is accompanied by an essay and photographs. You can read them in any order, and though it is a hefty book, it can be sampled at your whim. Object 1 is a plaque that ties Apollo 11 to the first flight by the Wright Brothers. Neil Armstrong took a piece of fabric and wood from the Wright Flyer into space with him so that “pieces of wood and fabric connected the first lunar landing with the first airplane flight, drawing a thread between two critical moments in aerospace history.”
Objects as varied as a survival kit, a urine collection and transfer assembly, a space suit, and the model Walter Cronkite used to explain the event to the world are all included.
Of course, Apollo 11 was preceded by a series of development and flights that built toward the moon landing. The U.S. and Russia’s Cold War sparked the space race, and Russia’s successful Sputnik launch in 1957 took some of the glow out of America’s space initiative. Our technological pride was stunned, and Sputnik set off a race to go farther and faster into space. Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 (by James Donovan; Little, Brown and Co., 2019, 453 pages, $30) covers this span of years in a highly readable text that brings both people and events to life. Definitely worth the read.
The noted historian Douglas Brinkley creates a historical context for Apollo 11, starting with Jules Verne’s 1865 book From the Earth to the Moon and moving to Robert Goddard’s work with rockets in the 1920s. Eventually, Brinkley arrives at teenage John F. Kennedy’s fascination with Buck Rogers, which led to his determination for the United States to win the space race. Brinkley’s American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race (Harper, 2019, 548 pages, $35) is written with his usual precision and elan.
This tome is for the serious reader, as well as those who are fans of JFK. I rarely recommend a condensed version of a book, but he has published a young reader’s edition with the same title and publisher with just 262 pages and a $16.99 price tag. For those who have less time and money, it’s a terrific read.
NASA was established in 1958. Its reach has waxed and waned with the interest of our presidents and the amount of money and attention that is given to exploring outer space. Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow (by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Feiwel & Friends, 2018, 154 pages, $19.99) recounts the history of NASA and its accomplishments and is illustrated with wonderful color photos. The book design is very attractive, with bits of information given in sidebars and boxed profiles of people who were lesser known, but important in NASA’s history.
Younger readers might enjoy these next three books. Go for the Moon: A Rocket, a Boy, and the First Moon Landing (by Chris Gall, Roaring Brook Press, 2019, 48 pages, $19.99) begins with a young boy looking out his bedroom window at the moon, anticipating the next day’s launch of Apollo 11.
His room is replete with space paraphernalia. He has built a rocket and the following double-page spreads show what NASA and the astronauts have done, with insets of what he has done. The book is based on the actual experience of the author.
It seems as if everyone was involved in some way with putting a man on the moon. NASA estimates that nearly 500,000 people had some part in the endeavor. Papa Put a Man on the Moon (by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Sarah Green, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019, 32 pages, $17.99) is told from the perspective of a young girl whose father works at the local mill.
The mill has received a new mission, to create a fabric that is one layer of the spacesuit the astronauts will wear. In an afterword, the author reveals that the mill most of her family worked for was the mill in the story. They are among the 500,000 who had a part in putting a man on the moon.
And, for those who could benefit from some information about the moon itself, I suggest Moon! Earth’s Best Friend (Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt, 2019, 32 pages, $17.99). Using a cartoon format and large type, significant information is presented without being overwhelming.
You will find these books and more at the Denton Public Library. The local Barnes & Noble Booksellers has created a display of these books, so if you are like me and actually buy books, swing by and check them out.