I am deeply uninterested in most science topics, and particularly space exploration. When my family* debates whether or not people have actually landed on the moon, I typically zone out, as I don't particularly care one way or the other.
So how odd that I'm suggesting a book like Francis French's and Colin Burgess's In the Shadow of the Moon: A Challenging Journey to Tranquility, 1965-1969. But suggesting it I am, particularly if you know a reader who likes a good science read with a few human interest stories thrown in. The format of the book is simple and well-organized; basically, the chapters describe each Gemini and Apollo mission leading up to the moon landing in 1969. In addition to describing the technical challenges overcome in each mission, the authors do a great job of describing the astronauts, their working relationships with one another, and their experiences in space.** These are not your typical astronaut stories--one of my favorites was learning about how Rusty Schweickart (on Apollo 9) suffered from nausea and "space sickness," and then volunteered to be tested so NASA could learn more about what caused it. This did not make him particularly popular with the rest of the astronaut crowd, who wanted to pretend that space sickness was no problem. Another astronaut, Bill Anders, had this to say about Schweickart's willingness to be studied:
"'But Rusty probably over-volunteered to research space sickness, and I don't think the general astronaut crowd appreciated that. I thought it was probably a pretty good idea. But as you know, fighter pilots never get sick, we all know that! And here was Rusty, more or less on his own, volunteering to be a space sickness guinea pig. That probably cost him any further missions.'" (p. 357.)
Typical: volunteer to be helpful, and get penalized for it. The book is full of fascinating stories like that, but it's still rigorous enough to please more hardcore science readers. And, in an added bonus, if you buy the paperback, you'll be getting an index that I created!*** That's right--that's why I read this book in the first place: not so I'd be better informed during my family's moon landing debates, but rather to do the index. What a treat--although I always enjoy indexing, not every book I index is as readable as this one was.
So who might like this book?
Science buffs, particularly those with an interest in the space program.
History buffs--I'm thinking of getting it for my brother, who is not a science reader per se, but who enjoys good history books and is also curious about technology.
*I mean my parents and siblings--Mr. CR thinks we're nuts for debating this issue. What he forgets is that my family likes to debate EVERYTHING.
**Also fascinating is learning how each astronaut felt about the "earth view" they got from space. It's one of those little human reaction stories that often gets lost in the broader science narrative.
***The hardcover edition doesn't have an index at all, which makes no sense, and which many reviewers at Amazon mentioned as a problem with the book. Kudos to the University of Nebraska Press for deciding to put an index in the paperback edition, although it should have been there all along.