Over the previous couple of months, astronauts have entered my orbit with shocking frequency.
This has been greater than a bit uncommon, since there have been solely 833 of them, males and girls, so I’d have been extra prone to stumble upon a Nobel Prize winner (of which there have been 892) or a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient (three,518).
In April got here Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, not within the flesh however leaping off the pages of a spectacular new book, “Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon” (Random House).
It is the work of Rob Kurson, a former lawyer, newspaperman and the writer of three earlier bestselling non-fiction books (www.robertkurson.com).
This newest was born in late 2014 when Kurson visited the Museum of Science and Industry to indicate some mates the U-505, that World War II German U-boat that has been within the museum since 1954 and which is a lifeless ringer for the submarine on the middle of Kurson’s first book, 2004’s “Shadow Divers.” He was strolling out of the museum when he observed a area capsule.
It was one thing he had seen many instances earlier than with out paying it a lot consideration. But this time he stared on the capsule and noticed one thing, as he writes, “about ten feet tall and thirteen feet wide … scarred from its journey, wherever it had gone, and its open hatch revealed three cramped seats and a universe of controls inside. … (It) looked at once to have come from the past and the future.”
It was the command module of Apollo 8, which had carried the primary males to the moon in 1968 and turned the primary mission to enter lunar orbit. “Like many people I knew all about Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 but nothing about this,” Kurson says.
He began to analysis and rapidly discovered that Apollo 8 was, he says, “the most daring and dangerous journey that NASA has ever attempted.” Yes, these different area journeys are extra well-known: Apollo 11, which landed males on the moon in 1969 (“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”), and Apollo 13, the near-disastrous flight in 1970 (“Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem”). The latter was dramatized so powerfully in the 1995 film “Apollo 13” that when many individuals assume “astronaut” it is Tom Hanks’ face that involves thoughts. (He performed the aforementioned Lovell, who was the commander on the flight).
“Rocket Men” lives as much as Kurson’s billing as “one of the most incredible stories in American history.” He begins to make his case within the book’s compelling first sentence — “Three astronauts are strapped into a small spacecraft thirty-six stories in the air, awaiting the final moments of countdown. They sit atop the most powerful machine ever built.” — and carries on in nice model by way of 350-some pages of “daring, adventure, risk-taking” and a lot extra.
Lovell who, like Kurson and his household, has lengthy lived within the northern suburbs (and operated an acclaimed eponymous restaurant in Lake Forest from 1999 to 2015) was a fan of “Shadow Divers.” He was not solely receptive to assembly and being interviewed by Kurson however fortunately launched the author to his fellow area vacationers, all then of their 80s.
The trio was beneficiant with their time and with their nonetheless vivid recollections, serving to elevate “Rocket Men” into the ranks of essentially the most achieved nonfiction books. Kurson’s portraits of the lads, in addition to their wives (all are nonetheless married to the ladies who watched them go into area), their households and space-program colleagues, are intimate and artfully drawn.
“These guys really don’t think of themselves as heroes,” says Kurson. “They believe the real heroes of the time were the young men fighting in Vietnam. These three could not be nicer and more humble. They are regular guys who were just doing their job.”
He is additionally hyper-aware of the instances, giving us a detailed image of a “United States (that) is fracturing. The year 1968 has seen killing, war, protest, and political unrest unlike any in the country’s history.”
No kidding. And the late December area journey was a very vivid spot, a hopeful finish to a darkish 12 months. Kurson tells of the astronauts receiving 1000’s of telegrams within the wake of their journey. “One stood out from the rest,” Kurson writes. “It read: THANKS. YOU SAVED 1968.”
I encountered my subsequent astronaut within the flesh. He was Scott Altman, higher often known as “Scooter,” and he was talking on the Union League Club of Chicago in entrance of a bunch of individuals on May three. A local of downstate Lincoln and a graduate of the University of Illinois and the Naval Postgraduate School, he is now a 58-year-old retired Navy captain. He has all method of awards for his skills with airplanes and for his 4 journeys into area, commanding two of these missions, included his last one in 2002 to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
He was charming and humorous and very a lot to the night’s level, which was to elucidate the work executed by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a corporation began in 1984 to offer monetary help and different nurturing to school college students targeted on science and expertise. To date the ASF has awarded almost $5 million to greater than 5,000 college students.
After his presentation, Altman relaxed with a couple of recent mates, a few bourbons and his youthful sister Sarah, a sensible and pleasant enterprise govt. He informed of spending a whole of 51 days in area and of engaged on lots of the aerial stunts in “Top Gun,” that 1986 Tom Cruise film wherein he (Altman and not Cruise) is seen famously “flipping the bird” on the enemy pilot.
Finally, there got here information of the dying of Tom Wolfe on May 14. A massively influential author, stylist and main pioneer within the journey that was New Journalism — my 20-page “senior project” in highschool was a detailed examination and crucial have a look at his 1968 “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” — he did greater than any ticker tape parade to honor and glorify astronauts (and the aviators who got here earlier than them) in his 1979 bestseller, “The Right Stuff.”
I reread his book and rewatched the 1983 movie primarily based on it. Both are as stirring as I remembered from way back first encounters. Be conscious, there are various astronauts within the book and film and there will likely be extra coming our means with subsequent 12 months’s 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon touchdown. I eagerly await their arrival.