Review published on July 8, 2018.
Apollo is entertaining and educational, reading this will give anyone who wasn’t there at the time a sense of the period, the people and the moon landing moment. There is some great art work that effortlessly slides between reportage and dream-like beauty.
It might be hard now to envisage a world in which nearly every country was rooting for the Americans, but the Moon landing captured the imaginations of people all around the planet. It seemed what they were doing was for everyone. As if the astronauts were taking a stride for all nations.
As President John F. Kennedy put it, in his address of September 12th, 1962, which is included in the book, “…We chose to go to the Moon in this decade and to do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard;….because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win.” That was the spirit of the early sixties but things had changed dramatically by the end of the decade when the mission finally took off, the authors get that.
Now it seems inevitable that almost anything can be achieved, but the technology of the day meant that success was by no means a certainty, modelling had to be accomplished as much with a pencil as with a computer. Now we don’t recognise limits, but then people did not know this goal was attainable. Kennedy spoke in hope.
The British team of Fitch, Baker and Collins have set out to bring to life the zeitgeist of the time as much as the facts; the euphoria, trepidation and hope that accompanied the Moon landing, the darker background of Vietnam and race relations/civil rights. They have reconstructed the story cleverly melding two time lines. We begin with the excitement of the launch, the crowds and the successful take off of Apollo 11. Then the story of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong’s mission is cut with the history of the programme. From the cockpit blaze on Apollo One in January, 1967, that nearly scuppered NASA; killing Chaffey, Grissom and White. Through the childhood dreams of Neil Armstrong to Buzz Aldrin’s military service flying planes in the Korean War.
There are dream sequences and surreal moments that seem to capture the time and place, including hippies and bikers and cheering crowds as if the astronauts were on stage performing. We see Nixon desperate for this to be his legacy, rather than that of John F. Kennedy, and get a feel for the sacrifice of the astronauts and their families. The soldiers in Vietnam react to the news of the landing and remind us this was a time of war.
In all, the mission took eight days. The illustrations vary from practical drawings that cover the dialogue between earth and the command module but also beautiful vistas of the earth as seen from the command module (replicating the first images people had of the planet from that perspective). Of course, the iconic moment shortly after the eagle landed when Neil Armstrong puts his foot on the Moon and says “That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”
I like the way the authors told the story, filling in the history (references as far back as the pre-war airship) and giving the story context (Vietnam etc.) Apollo manages to convey the hope of the mission and the scale of the achievement. Some of the images even manage to convey the stillness of space, the vast quiet.
There are two issues that are not addressed in any detail and maybe I would have liked a little bit more, given we have the perspective of time. Firstly, Wernher Von Braun and Nazi space technology (his team built Saturn V) and secondly, the arms race (which included the dash to the Moon, although the Russians had given up by 1969). Overall, this is an intelligent book that bridges a gap between dry history, film footage and a look at the personal feeling people had at the time. I enjoyed this and it strikes me this might be a good book for a readers group too young to have been there to get a sense of the time, or more particularly, a young adult reading group.
Paul Burke 4/4
Apollo by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker and Mike Collins
SelfMadeHero 9781910593509 hbk Jun 2018