Rocket Men | Robert Kurson

Summary of: Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
By: Robert Kurson


Get ready to embark on a thrilling journey back to 1946 as we explore ‘Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon’ by Robert Kurson. This book summary takes you through the tumultuous years of the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States, highlighting key events and the extraordinary achievements of both nations. Immerse yourself in the gripping story of Apollo 8, which eventually laid the foundation for the historic moon landing. We’ll delve into the experiences of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft, as well as the dedicated support of their families and the tireless efforts of countless others behind the scenes.

The Space Race

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an ideological battle for scientific and technological dominance. The Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, and sent Yuri Gagarin as the first human being into space. The United States, lagging behind, established NASA and aimed to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. The Space Race sparked incredible innovation and pushed both countries to achieve the impossible.

A Year of Turmoil

In 1968, the world was shaken by counter-culture and progressive movements. The US was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and in January of that year, the Tet Offensive caught US and South Vietnamese forces off guard. This revealed the emptiness of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s claims of victory, and the war deeply divided America. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement gained ground, but the country was still on the verge of becoming “two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” Tragically, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April, and in June, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy met the same fate. Despite the turmoil, a moon landing remained a hope for unity.

Apollo 8: A Mission to Orbit the Moon

NASA’s Apollo 8 mission aimed to orbit the moon and provide a detailed understanding of the far side, which hadn’t been seen by humans. Its success would be significant for future moon missions, as the mission’s planning and scientific calculations provided a foundation for them. The astronauts on board would obtain an incredible record of lunar history, from every impact crater to piece of debris. Although Apollo 8 wasn’t to land on the moon, it was critical that it orbited close enough to scout potential landing sites without crashing. The success of the mission would not only be a blow to the Soviets but also lay the groundwork for future space missions.

NASA’s Risky Race to the Moon

In 1968, NASA pushed through challenges and tragedy to beat the Soviet Union in the race to send a man to the moon.

As the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union reached a climax in 1968, NASA faced mounting pressure to reach the moon first. Despite a tragic setback with the Apollo 1 disaster, the Soviet Union was making strides in its own lunar program, and NASA knew it had to act fast. A US intelligence report revealed that the Soviets were planning a manned mission to orbit the moon later that year, and in November, they successfully launched the unmanned Zond 6 spacecraft around the moon. These developments put NASA in a precarious position, but they pressed on with the Apollo program.

The push was not without casualties. The Apollo 1 accident claimed the lives of three astronauts during a simulated mission, causing many to question NASA’s safety protocols. The agency also experienced a setback with the Saturn V rocket, a critical component in the Apollo program. During a test flight, the rocket malfunctioned and suffered damage, which could have derailed the mission entirely.

Despite these obstacles, NASA pressed on and successfully launched the Apollo 8 spacecraft with a crew of three in December 1968. The mission was historic, as it marked the first time humans had ever left Earth’s orbit and orbited the moon. The mission’s success paved the way for future Apollo missions, eventually leading to the first moon landing in 1969.

NASA’s push to beat the Soviet Union to the moon was a risky endeavor that ultimately paid off. The agency faced unforeseen challenges and setbacks but persevered through them all. In the end, the achievement of landing humans on the moon was a testament to the hard work and determination of NASA’s engineers and astronauts.

Apollo 7: The Testing Before the Great Leap

In October 1968, before Apollo 8 was launched, NASA engineers designed a testing mission called Apollo 7. This was to ensure the safety of their next lunar mission and prevent another disaster. The three astronauts on board, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Frank Borman, had different motivations, but they worked extraordinarily well as a team. Although they encountered several technological difficulties and even got head colds, they accomplished their objectives and showed great professionalism. Lovell had a passion for space exploration, Anders was interested in geology and exploration, and Borman wanted the US to beat the Soviet Union in the Space Race. Despite their differences, Lovell and Borman had previously worked together on Gemini 7 and had formed a great friendship. The three astronauts worked well as a team, and Borman specifically admired Anders’ work ethic and integrity. Apollo 7 was a significant test for NASA, but it proved that they can achieve anything with highly motivated individuals, a functional team, and careful testing.

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