Book Review: The All-American Boys

We all look upon space voyagers with awe and envy. They’ve reached out and touched that which we can only glimpse. Many have shared their experiences and Walter Cunningham does just that in his presentation entitled The All-American Boys. He first wrote this as a book in 2003, but now he’s made it available in audio. With this audio-book, we can listen to his words and connect in a much more personal and immediate way to this author’s space based thoughts.

Walter Cunningham flew on Apollo 7. He was part of the middle group of astronauts; post Mercury and pre shuttle. As tradition had it, he had fighter pilot training, was recruited as an astronaut trainee, had many eventful years with NASA and then went on to other activities. Yet, as is evident by this audio book, he remains close to the manned space program even today.

Entitled, The All-American Boys, Cunningham’s audio-book has a lot about the astronauts but also much about the programs that put and continue to place people into space. There’s depth and breadth that anyone would expect from an astronaut who participated in the Apollo program. Breadth wise, his audio book runs the timeline from the launch of the Mercury capsule to today’s mission to Mars. Depth is shown spanning technical discussions on the capsule design and on to wives’ shopping sprees in Moscow. He includes reminisces, critiques, appraisals and suggestions. Though he certainly does provide lots of insight into the all-American boys who flew and fly space vehicles, he adds much on the space programs, both of the United States and elsewhere in the world.

When talking about astronauts, Cunningham lays a huge amount of emotional and opinionated detail on the line. He recalls memories of his brother dying in a flying accident. As well, he wonders about the wisdom of female astronauts and astronaut-educators. He certainly believes that fighter pilots have the right stuff for flying in space, and he even tries to back this up with arguments. Though the listener may not agree with the opinions at least Cunningham doesn’t leave any doubt as to where he stands.

In considering space programs, this audio-book has much perspective, though almost all is what one would expect from an operator. Cunningham says he believes in the benefits of people in space machines as well as placing humans on Mars. He even rationalizes his beliefs so as to provide a basis to supporting these actions. Again, the listener may not agree with the rationality, but they will have no doubt as to what Cunningham thinks and why.

In overall consideration, this flow of Cunninghams’ thoughts and reasons continues through the CDs. He shares his moments explaining to astronauts’ children that their father isn’t coming home from work, ever. Later, he strenuously argues that people need to conquer space and that we should accept some cost, no matter how painful. In perhaps his greatest leap, he claims that humans flying into space is as great a step as when creatures first walked on land. He then goes on to argue that we must continue our efforts to advance our species off this world.

As can be deduced from this, Cunningham is very pro-space. This audio-book is positive about the effort, though critical about many steps taken and many of the people who took the steps. Unfortunately, with this, Cunningham sounds like an armchair quarterback who, after playing one game, is then very willing to tell everyone and anyone the best way to play. Certainly there’s lots of knowledge and experience behind his words, but still they are opinion.

Though Cunningham balances most of his opinions with arguments, he doesn’t always do the same with his critiques. One repeated concern seems to relate to crew assignments. In almost every second chapter/CD, he’s complaining about who flew which mission and how their assignment didn’t follow the rules. From this, it’s apparent that Cunningham likes rules and prefers to live in a well ordered, understandable world. As well, it sounds like he’s still bearing a chip on his shoulder. This can lead to some unbalanced flow in the recitation.

Yet, Cunningham easily has enough stories and subjects to hold the listener’s attention through all the 22 CDs. His voice is somewhat rough and lacking in strong emotion, as one would expect of a fighter pilot. But he’s obviously skilled at public speaking, as the CDs quickly pass by. A table of contents isn’t included and would have helped, but this isn’t a great detriment.

Anyone who enjoys space related presentations, especially from a first hand, authentic source would appreciate having and listening to these CDs. Fighter pilots and shuttle mechanics could listen and have a clearer understanding of why they are doing what they do. Those advocating the journey to Mars would also appreciate hearing the supportive words that arise throughout. This, together with knowing that the author wrote and spoke the words as well as lived the adventure, lends a lot of immediacy that any listener will appreciate.

Humankind’s space adventure is a great undertaking. Few may travel up high, but we all benefit with the accomplishment; knowing that we can achieve incredible challenges. Walter Cunningham in his audio-book The All-American Boys describes how we have been reaching out to the great unknown. He shares his memories and his vision of a future where we might continue to help a select few accomplish greater feats for everyone.

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