Book Review: Apollo 11 – First Men on the Moon

The Apollo 11 flight put the first humans onto the Moon’s surface. This culmination of the space race between the USA and the USSR is the watershed in human space travel. Though a singularly exciting event in its own right, this mission was many years in the making and needed the contribution of tens of thousands across the country. As such, there was a deserved celebration when the Command Module slowly descended into the Pacific Ocean 8 days after launch.

Godwin’s space guide for this event is necessarily abbreviated and succinct, as it is just a guide. An historical overview begins with Miletus predicting a solar eclipse in 585 BCE, speeds past the Montgolfiers and their balloons, then plants the reader at the beginning of the space race. This was when both the US and USSR planned to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year of 1957. The guide continues with the Apollo program’s immediate predecessors, the Redstone program, the Gemini program and touches on the big decisions for Apollo itself, such as the rendezvous method. Brief backgrounds of the astronauts follow and then a step by step listing of major flight events, each aligned with a corroborating time line. The written section of the guide concludes with a description of the experimental equipment and other ancillary gear. Much is omitted but, for a guide, Godwin picks just the right amount of just the right facts to make it interesting and pertinent.

The remainder of the guide, nearly half, is filled with coloured drawings and photographs. There’s the rocket and the Command/Service Module in graphic detail. Artist’s imagery help visualize important points in Apollo 11’s flight, such as docking, separation and descent. Last, many wonderful photographs and video cuts position the reader back to this inspiring time as men first walked the lunar surface.

By being precise, Godwin has ably written a guide for space enthusiasts. Sufficient details allow the reader to grasp the immensity of the endeavour without being overpowered by minutiae. The historical lead-in smoothly sets the scene of the Apollo era. Facts and data corroborate the magnitude. And, the photographs leave no doubt that the program did have men successfully go to the Moon and return. Some shortcuts are evident; there’s no table of contents nor index. Also, many of the images don’t have credits, though we can safely guess that most if not all are direct from NASA. Nevertheless, given the hour or so to read, this guide will sit comfortably with many young space dreamers.

Also, as found on the review copy, there’s a slip cover advertising the IMAX film ‘Magnificent Desolation’. The film relives many of the moments from all the Apollo missions and is thus a great companion to the guide (or vice versa).

For many, short newsclips are the sole window to the ever changing world about them. Equally brief guides might be all that some can or want to invest into history, no matter how recent. Robert Godwin in his pocket space guide Apollo 11 satisfies this need in his clear and colourful review of the Apollo program’s first successful lunar lander.

Review by Mark Mortimer

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