I came across this summation of book reviews pertaining to our Apollo 11 Book yesterday, and it sums it up nicely.
The best astronomy and space books of 2019
Our pick of the top astronomy and space books we reviewed over the past 12 months.
By Iain Todd
December 4, 2019 at 12:43 pm
There is a wealth of books published each year covering all aspects of space, astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, from practical stargazing to histories of spaceflight, and from the latest burning cosmic questions to beginners’ guides explaining the basic principles of our Solar System, Galaxy and Universe.
In each issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine we pick the best astronomy and space books that have caught our eye that month and send them out to our expert reviewers for full scrutiny.
Below is a list of some of the top space and astronomy books we reviewed in 2019. If you’re on the hunt for a Christmas present to give to an astronomer in your life, or perhaps searching for a good read to escape the festive hubbub, look no further.
Our reviewer said: Kerss manages to cover a broad range of nitty-gritty lunar facts, ranging from the phases to the Apollo missions and a practical section on lunar photography using a smartphone or DSLR. The most exciting and informative segment is the ‘Introduction to the Lunar Atlas’, which divides the Moon into 16 sections and includes lunar photographs along with a map for the reader to learn the names of craters and mares. There is a two-page segment on the surface features and the categories they fall into, which ties in nicely with the maps and provides enough information for the observer to identify features on the Moon’s surface. There is much to learn from this instructive and enthusing book, which will appeal to selenophiles everywhere.
Reviewer Katrin Raynor Evans is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the librarian for Cardiff Astronomical Society.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions
Our reviewer said “How did it all begin? Is there other intelligent life in the Universe? Is time travel possible?” These are just a few of the big questions that Stephen Hawking discusses in his final book. Hawking does not simply give us one-word answers, but walks us through his own thinking and divergences on each subject. The language is easy to follow and each chapter’s length keeps you engaged. In places the book touches on some complicated physics, but you will never feel lost. There are many inspiring parts that will stay with you and shape the way you think about these big questions in the future.
Reviewer Laura Nuttall is a Senior Lecturer in Gravitational Waves at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth
Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos
Our reviewer said: Authors Dickinson and Cain are here to ease you into astronomy, providing a complex but highly readable guide for amateurs (or even veterans who need a refresher), introducing the night sky and the tools needed to observe it. They introduce us to stargazing, discuss software and equipment to aid our understanding, braving the minefield of choosing the right telescope, the right aperture, the right mount and the right eyepiece. They show us how to build a basic Newtonian refracting ‘scope for under $50. This is a companion for any astronomer at any level, but its main message is that we should not forget to simply revel in astronomy for the awe-inspiring experience that it is.
Reviewer Ben Evans is the author of several books on human spaceflight
Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide
Our reviewer said: Dunkley takes her readers on a grand tour of space and time, from our nearest planetary neighbours to the edge of the observable Universe. The book follows a well-trodden path, starting with an overview of the history of astronomy and a description of our Solar System. Stellar evolution is next, followed by galaxies, clusters and the mystery of dark matter. The birth, evolution and future of the Universe are discussed in the final chapters. Explanations are always clear, metaphors are to the point and arguments easy to follow. If you feel like refreshing your background knowledge, or are looking for a present for your curious niece or nephew, this little gem certainly won’t disappoint.
Reviewer Govert Schilling is an astronomy writer and author of the book Ripples in Spacetime.
Space Shuttle: A Photographic Journey
Our reviewer said: The Shuttle was the first reusable spacecraft. Its fleet of five flew 135 times into orbit. The many successful missions were, of course, marred by two tragic accidents that cost the lives of 14 astronauts in 1986 and 2003. Those dreadful events are indeed recalled in this book, but the photos focus on the positive aspects of the Shuttle project. The bulk of the pages are packed with colour images of the Shuttles, from launch preparations through lift-off and orbit, to landing. The book ends with a gallery of individual mission insignia, followed by pages listing key data for each flight. However, it is the splendid collection of Shuttle images that makes this book so special.
Reviewer Paul Sutherland is a space writer and journalist, author of Philip’s Essential Guide to Space
Mars: The Missions That Have Transformed Our Understanding of the Red Planet
Our reviewer said: Author and NASA consultant Rod Pyle has written a lot about the history of space exploration, but this book is a masterpiece. Pyle writes about the mission scientists and the emotions felt as they witnessed the first ever landing on the Red Planet. This book not only illustrates the brightest moments from different Mars missions, but also talks about failures and lost spacecraft, spelling out the history of our species’ curiosity with Mars and explorations of its surface. It’s an excellent read, both for those who know a lot about Mars and those who have only recently become fascinated by the Red Planet.
Reviewer Sandra Kropa is a science journalist and writer
Picturing Apollo 11
Our reviewer said: Historian JL Pickering and journalist John Bisney’s anthology of rare photographs, Picturing Apollo 11, honours the people who strove against all odds to land a man on the Moon. Only a handful of their chosen images are readily recognisable; most have not been seen before. The book covers January to August 1969, from crew selection to their emergence from quarantine onto the world stage. The authors avoid familiar images in favour of rarer ones, often quirky, including 7-year-old Andy Aldrin trying on his father’s helmet. The book conveys the sense of awe at Apollo’s monumental scale and the photographic clarity is profound.
Reviewer Ben Evans is the author of several books on human spaceflight and is a science and astronomy writer
No Shadow of a Doubt
Our reviewer said: At 2.13 GMT on 29th May 2019 it was exactly 100 years since Arthur Eddington and Frank Dyson stood before their telescopes ready to capture images of an eclipse they hoped would confirm Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The book tells of the lead up to the eclipse expeditions, details the expeditions themselves and looks at the aftermath: how Eddington and Dyson’s results were received at the time and the discussions regarding their validity up until the present day. It also discusses the role of this expedition in making Albert Einstein a household name. This is a fascinating book, full of insight into the relationship between theory and experimental proof.
Reviewer Dr Emily Winterburn is the author of The Stargazer’s Guide: How to Read our Night Sky.
The Secret Lives of Planets
Our reviewer said: Paul Murdin manages to compress billions of years of Solar System history into fewer than 300 pages, as well as providing a timeline and glossary of both our nearest and furthest neighbours. The details of each object’s classification, rotation, diameter and surface temperatures are given in helpful boxouts so the reader doesn’t get lost in all the information. The Secret Lives of Planets aims to be “a user’s guide to the Solar System”, but it also turns out to be an inspiration to look at the Solar System as a long cosmic journey, and find our place in it.
Reviewer Sandra Kropa is a science journalist and writer
The Crowd & the Cosmos
Our reviewer said: Over ten years ago, The Sky at Night’s Chris Lintott started Galaxy Zoo, a citizen science project to classify galaxies. It was an instant success. At present, the Zooniverse encompasses over 70 science projects. In his entertaining book, Lintott describes the origin and evolution of the Zooniverse, with a focus on the astronomy projects, including discoveries like Hanny’s Voorwerp and Tabby’s Star. The real strength of the book is in the accessible description of astronomical research and future big-data facilities like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Once you start reading, his book is hard to put down.
Reviewer Govert Schilling is an astronomy writer and author
Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System
Our reviewer said: If you fancy snowboarding off Pluto’s slopes and frozen mountains, experiencing ‘diamond’ rain on Uranus or taking a 20-year plane journey from the Moon to the Sun, you could take a family trip around the Solar System with space scientist and The Sky at Night presenter Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. In her book, aimed at older pre-teen children, a cartoonified Dr Maggie takes readers on an informative journey. It’s beautifully designed, with an appealing layout and plenty of illustrations. Packing in the entirety of the Solar System, its planets, objects, exploratory missions and history in 120 pages aimed at children is no easy task. Aderin-Pocock has made a valiant effort to do so.
Reviewer Shaoni Bhattacharya is a science writer and journalist
Curious Cosmic Compendium
Our reviewer said: Which is the biggest and the most massive star in the Universe? Where is it located and when was it born? All the answers to these questions and many more, plus maps of places of universal importance, can be found in this Curious Cosmic Compendium. The author, artist and internet sensation Martin Vargic displays the history and wonders of the Universe in the typically creative way that brought his Miscellany of Curious Maps and Map of the Internet such praise. In more than 100 pages filled with facts and illustrations he takes the reader on a journey through the history of the cosmos.
Reviewer Sandra Kropa is a science journalist and writer
Space: 10 Things You Should Know
Our reviewer said: Dr Becky Smethurst has a wonderful gift for communicating some extremely exciting but also tough astrophysics in 10 bite-sized essays. If you’d like to know about supermassive black holes, the hunt for exoplanets and the expanding Universe (plus a lot more), then this book is a nice starting point. I really enjoyed the conversational writing style and the divergences that come with this. It made me feel as though Dr Becky was sat next to me. My favourite chapter is the last, which touches on the importance of searching for the unknown knowns. There’s something wonderfully inspiring communicated through the pages, and I closed the book feeling a bit more excited about my own research.
Reviewer Laura Nuttall is a Senior Lecturer in Gravitational Waves in the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth
Dark Matter & Dark Energy
Our reviewer said: In the past few decades, it’s become clear that we have focussed on a mere 5% of the Universe – the rest remains almost entirely unknown. Astronomers divide this mysterious majority into two types of ‘stuff’: dark matter and dark energy. Brian Clegg’s book is a clear and compact look at the current state of knowledge about these twin cosmic mysteries. After an introductory account of the discovery of both phenomena, the first half of the book focuses on dark matter. The second half tackles dark energy, with some basic cosmological groundwork followed by a discussion of dark energy and what it could mean for the future of the cosmos. It’s hard to fault as a brief, easily digestible introduction to some of the biggest questions in the Universe.
Reviewer Giles Sparrow is a science writer and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society
Zwicky: The outcast genius who unmasked the Universe
Our reviewer said: Fritz Zwicky is a name most astronomers learn early their careers, due to both his scientific achievements and his combative personality. This biography explores the life of this world-renowned physicist. The book spans an eventful period in world history that formed the backdrop to Zwicky’s astronomy research along with his contributions to the US war effort and rocketry. It includes details of many of Zwicky’s personal encounters, putting his various feuds and confrontations in context. It’s very interesting to read and provides a fascinating insight into a rich, complicated character and his engagement with the world he was part of.
Reviewer Dr Chris North is an Odgen science lecturer and Science & Technologies Facilities Council public engagement fellow at Cardiff University
Our reviewer said: ‘Saturn’ is a detailed exploration of the most well-known of the ringed planets in our Solar System. It is an amazing account of how much we can learn from so little; how, over time, new things slowly reveal themselves, and how many questions we have yet to answer about this infamous giant world. As well as drawings from early observations of the planet, the book features some spectacular images taken by the Cassini orbiter and other missions, which combine with Sheehan’s writing to show how our understanding of Saturn has gradually deepened over the centuries. The book concludes with a detailed guide to observing Saturn in the hope that further monitoring, by both amateur and professional astronomers, will help to reveal the planet’s many remaining secrets.
Reviewer Hannah Wakeford is an astronomer who studies the atmospheres of exoplanets at Space Telescope Science Institute
Handprints on Hubble
Our reviewer said: Penned by America’s first female spacewalker, Handprints on Hubble tells the story of Kathy Sullivan, whose career took her from a pressurised space suit to the highest altitude ever reached by the Space Shuttle. As one of the first women picked by NASA for astronaut training, her memoir mixes autobiography with a solid appreciation of the Hubble Space Telescope, arguably the most important science instrument ever placed into orbit. As a ringside spectator of Challenger, Sullivan’s memories are tinged by tragedy and she remained soberly aware that she might never return from a mission. Behind every scene Hubble itself looms large – “like a beautiful silver gift from Tiffany’s” – whose contribution to understanding our place in the cosmos needs no qualification.
Reviewer Ben Evans is the author of several books on human spaceflight and is a science and astronomy writer.
By: JL Pickering
I receive quite a few photo related questions during the course of a year. I am going to use this space from time to time to start answering a few of them. Hopefully you will find some of them interesting.
To add a little to the story, Gordon is seen wearing red ID bands on May 12, 1971 as the back-up crew suited for an EVA training session at KSC. Gordon is assisted by suit tech (and artist) Ron Woods. Second photo shows Gordon on May 27 now with the yellow bands, which according to Ron was actually yellow tape wrapped over the red bands. Ron approached Dick Gordon a few years ago and showed him one of the “yellow ID band” photos. Neither one could remember anything about it. Obviously it was a long time ago.
Visit my website at http://www.retrospaceimages.com
By John Bisney
By John Bisney
For millions of older Americans, late November can often trigger a tragic memory from 1963. Almost everyone who is of retirement age can still recall how they first heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas on November 22.
Asked about his legacy 56 years later, today these same Americans may mention the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Bay of Pigs invasion, but most will also cite his bold goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Excerpts from his two “moon speeches” have become iconic visual moments in American history.
Kennedy also put his imprint on other aspects of the US space program during his three-and-a-half years in office, and his tenure saw many historic US firsts; among them, the first Americans in space and in orbit, the first communications and weather satellites, nuclear rocket propulsion development, and the first fly-by of another planet. With the passage of time, however, many have been forgotten.
The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy is dedicated to recalling these other aspects of his administration. It’s the first book, surprisingly, to visually document Kennedy’s interactions with the American space program: no-one has ever before compiled a chronological account of all of his activities from 1961-1963. Authors John Bisney and JL Pickering do so for the first time, drawing from rarely-seen or unpublished images from the Kennedy Library, NASA, Los Alamos Labs, and other sources to present a new look at Kennedy’s travels, briefings and speeches involving the Space Age and the Space Race with the Soviets. It’s a lasting legacy that should not and cannot be forgotten.
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Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable moments in American history: the day that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. The Apollo 11 mission remains one of NASA’s most incredible achievements, and photographs from the moon landing are some of the most recognizable images in the world.
If you’re interested in the stories behind the historic mission (or are the parent of a young space buff), there’s no shortage of reading material that will help you understand Apollo 11 and the turbulent history of the era in which it took place. Here are eight books inspired by the moonshot for readers of all ages.
“Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11,” James Donovan
Dallas author Donovan’s new book is a narrative chronicle of the famous NASA voyage set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins called the book “extensively researched and meticulously accurate” and “the best book on Apollo that I have read.”
“One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon,” Charles Fishman
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins tend to get all the glory, but the moonshot was the result of hard work by hundreds of people whose names aren’t as familiar to most Americans. Fishman’s 2019 book takes a look at the scientists, mathematicians and factory workers who helped make Apollo 11 a success.
“The NASA Archives: 60 Years in Space,” Piers Bizony, Andrew Chaikin and Roger Launius
Publisher Taschen is known for its elaborately constructed and gorgeous art books. Its new volume about NASA is an illustrated history of the space agency that features more than 400 photographs documenting America’s history in space. In a review for the L.A. Times, Drew Tewksbury wrote that the book “catalogs with beautiful detail the rapid pace of scientific and engineering advances during the 20th-century space race.”
“Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11,” Brian Floca
Kids with an interest in space will likely be fascinated by this story of the moon landing from award-winning children’s book author and artist Floca. The book tells the story of NASA’s historic mission, from takeoff to touchdown, using simple language and dramatic illustrations.
“Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson,” Katherine Johnson
Apollo 11 wouldn’t have been possible without Johnson, the mathematician whose work helped launch many of NASA’s most important projects. In her new autobiography for young readers, the 100-year-old Johnson (one of the subjects of the hit book and movie “Hidden Figures”) writes about her childhood and her remarkable career, when she was forced to deal with racism and sexism on a daily basis.
“The Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration: NASA and the Incredible Story of Human Spaceflight,” edited by John Logsdon
Space-obsessed readers will likely find plenty to hold their interest in this curated collection of historical documents dealing with Apollo 11 as well as other NASA missions. Edited by the founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, the book features a foreword by everyone’s favorite science guy, television personality Bill Nye.
“I Love You, Michael Collins,” Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Baratz-Logsted’s 2017 book for middle-grade readers follows 10-year-old Mamie Anderson, whose class is given an assignment to write letters to the Apollo 11 astronauts. Mamie, whose family is in the midst of an upheaval, chooses the space explorer she has the greatest connection with: Michael Collins, the only one of the three astronauts who didn’t get to set foot on the moon.
“Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments,” J.L. Pickering and John Bisney
The Apollo 11 moon landing was responsible for some of the most iconic images in American history. In their new book, Pickering and Bisney present a host of never-before-seen photographs of the mission, including images of the three astronauts, the Kennedy Space Center and spectators gathered to watch history being made before their eyes.
By J. L. Pickering, coauthor of Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments
This book is available at a discount price through July 31, 2019, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Order here and use code APOLLO.
How many photos of an historical event are “enough”? The answer likely depends on who you are. Let’s use the mission of Apollo 11, the first time humans landed on the moon, as an example. If you’re a casual student of history, the number of images that have been publicly available since 1969 are probably sufficient. If you’re more of space enthusiast, however, you want to see more, since they would add to your understanding and appreciation of what transpired.
But if you’re a true historian, the answer may be, “there are never enough!” That’s because each additional photo provides more detail and information, much like a movie showing the same scene from different angles. As someone who has been collecting, organizing, and archiving still photos from the U.S. manned space flight programs for 48 years, I fall into this category.
What is that astronaut holding during training? Who is the technician seen obliquely in one image but clearly in another (maybe his name can be deciphered by zooming in on his name badge)? But the desire to bring as many photos to light as possible goes beyond just factual reasons; sometimes, a more attractive version was overlooked or omitted.
The relatively small universe of photos released by NASA, however, was not nefarious but was determined by the demand. It’s important to remember that during the Apollo era, newspapers (almost all printing in black and white halftone) and general-interest magazines only needed so many photos; and digital reproduction and the Internet were still decades away.
In the intervening forty years, attention also turned to what would end up as something of a temporary future: the space shuttle program, lasting from 1981–2011. When digital photography arrived during the 1990s, the number of shuttle images exploded and “storing” them was not a problem. Meanwhile, however, tens of thousands of celluloid negatives and prints from the past Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were packed away and eventually sent from NASA’s field centers to the National Archives.
A significant cache of material ended up in a spare railroad boxcar parked in the Florida heat and humidity near the Launch Complex 39 Press Site, and after years of neglect, was headed to a local landfill. A few concerned retirees managed to save thousands of prints. Many of them, however, had already been released (or at least made available to the media) during the 1970s. The bulk of physical Apollo-era photography was eventually boxed up and sent to one of three National Archives facilities in Maryland, Texas, or Georgia. In the past few years I have spent many weeks and dollars at these facilities scanning and “liberating” images from color negatives that were never printed.
Many of these photos—and others I have obtained from private sources—form the core of the space history photo books I produce with my coauthor, former news correspondent John Bisney. Our goal is always to go beyond the “greatest hits” to bring readers a wealth of great new images they would never otherwise see. These locked-away photos, taken on the ground as opposed to the more famous (and fully released) in-flight images snapped by the astronauts, capture moments in time, split seconds in history that will never be repeated. They’re filled with far more than astronauts and spacecraft—instead they reveal the men and women behind the successes and failures of the early U.S. manned space program. We see their emotions, their workplaces, and glimpses of their everyday lives and culture on the job.
This is why I continue to persevere to try to overcome a less-than-helpful federal bureaucracy not particularly interested in devoting resources to releasing images from half a century ago, now languishing in government warehouses. John and I are always delighted to bring you the results.
J. L. Pickering, coauthor (with John Bisney) of Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments, has been archiving rare space images for some forty years. Drawing from NASA archives, retired NASA personnel, news photographers, and other sources, his collection numbers more than 120,000 high-resolution prints and images. He covered the final Apollo/Saturn launch in 1975 and attended numerous Space Shuttle launches. Today he serves as a resource and expert for authors, documentary filmmakers, museums, former astronauts, and even NASA. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois.
Fathers Day is June 16th.
Other Fathers Day suggestions from our collection.
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We are happy to participate in this event June 1st, from 8:30 to 10:00 pm, for a talk and book signing of Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments.
Science Night Live at Orlando Science Center is your chance to spark your curiosity through fun exhibits and programs… with some adult beverages, of course!
Bring your friends or make a date night of enjoying a unique experiences featuring workshops in The Hive, experiments in Dr. Dare’s Lab, special guest speakers, entertainment, and so much more!
Science Night Live Speakers
Each Science Night Live guests have the chance to hear from some of the greatest minds around!
From Boeing engineers who work on spacecrafts to professors talking about the species within your feces, these speakers are guaranteed to leave you with a new sense of knowledge each and every Science Night Live.
Featured This Event:
Joseph Donoghue, Coastal Marine Geologist, University of Central Florida
Dr. Donoghue, a faculty member of the Planetary Sciences Program in the Department of Physics at UCF presents Knowledge vs. Belief in Climate Change. This expert in climate change will examine coastal processes and climate misinformation and disinformation that have obscured the fact that climate has been changing constantly for most of Earth’s history.
Picturing Apollo 11 – Talks and book signing with authors J.L. Pickering and John Bisney
Journey through this unprecedented photographic history of the space mission that defined an era. Contribute to conversations with historian and authority J.L. Pickering who has archived rare space images for more than 40 years and journalist John Bisney who has covered the space program for CNN, the Discovery Science Channel, and SiriusXM Radio.
Science Night Live Workshops
Step into The Hive: A Makerspace and walk out with a new sense of creativity. Whether you’re making friendship bracelets or recycled costumes – you and your friends will create lasting memories during Science Night Live Workshops.
Then, make your way to Dr. Dare’s Lab, strap on a pair of goggles and a lab coat and become the scientist in these self-led experiments.
Featured This Event:
Head to The Hive to create your own unique fish printed re-usable tote bags.
Have you ever dissected a squid? Now’s your chance! Need we say more?
Science Night Live Programs
Whether it’s the interactive Science Live! Show, competitive Science Trivia, or looking to the stars on the terrace, the Orlando Science Center staff prepares unique and exciting programs for your to enjoy during Science Night Live.
Featured This Event:
Don’t miss the all-new Science Live! Show, enter the Dojo and learn about the science of ninjas, take part in special Science Trivia, attend a Reef Talk in NatureWorks, and more.
Science Night Live Exhibits
Explore the science center without the kids! From KineticZone to our traveling exhibit, there’s no age limit on fun and curiosity.
Featured This Event:
Be one of the first to explore the Orlando Science Center’s newest traveling exhibit: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secrets of the Sewer!
Plus, explore all four floors of the Science Center, and enjoy food and adult beverages!
Tickets to Science Night Live at the Orlando Science Center are are available now for ONLY $16, and guests must be 21 to attend.
Thank you Dr. Brian Laslie for the review!
J.L. Pickering and John Bisney, Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2019. Hbk. 264 pp.
A different type of book necessitates a different type of book review. Herein you will not find an author’s argument or a critique thereof since the book being discussed today is a collection of photographs and an excellent one at that. J.L. Pickering and John Bisney have brought us Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments. As we approach the 50thanniversary of the first moon landing, there is sure to be a proliferation of all sorts of materials, merchandise, and collectables celebrating one of, if not the defining moment of the 20th Century and in what will undoubtedly be a crowded field, it will be difficult for printed works to stand out. Pickering and Bisney have accomplished just that, a unique look at the Apollo 11 mission through photographs: both official and candid – many of which have never been published before.
It is common practice for me that when a book arrives in my mailbox, I will take a few minutes and flip through it. It should be noted that when Picturing Apollo 11arrived on my doorstep, I stopped what I was doing, sat down, and read the entire book (insert joke here about my ‘reading’ a picture book). However, this extremely well-done book did what few other works can do, it stopped me in my tracks. Divided into nine chapters, the book covers everything from the assembly of their Saturn V, training for the mission, all the way through the triumphant return home. Rather than review the book as you might typically find on the site, I have decided to highlight some of my favourite photographs from the book.
Any of the shots of the Saturn V rocket, Service Module, Command Module, or Lunar Module arriving at the Cape and being ‘processed’ and stacked are compelling. However, I found myself especially drawn to photos of the Command Module (CM) wrapped in the protective blue plastic covering (p. 51) – this was how Apollo Nine’s CM came to be known as ‘Gumdrop.’ If you have ever viewed one of the Apollo CMs in a museum setting – I am currently trying to see them all – you have only ever seen the scorched and burned relic after its re-entry. There is something inexplicably ‘technological’ when you view the CM as it was before being mounted on the Service Module; the newness and perfection of the CM in its original state are fascinating. It is also especially entertaining to see the many ‘Remove Before Flight’ banners hanging about the CM as if it has been decorated with red sprinkles in addition to its blue wrapping.
I also enjoyed many of the candid shots of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins during training (pp. 71-80) or visiting (pp. 82-8) the Apollo support sites around the country. Sixties fashion is on full display in these pages and as representative of the times as the astronaut’s moon suits! In this vein, there is an excellent shot of a group of the Apollo Astronauts at the US Navy Diving School in Key West, Florida; love the paisley shirt, Neil!
Military pilots love the T-38, and NASA used the versatile training aircraft to keep up the astronaut’s proficiencies, but also as a way for the astronauts to travel rapidly across the country from Texas to Florida, California, and Missouri. Here, there is an excellent shot of Armstrong and NASA’s Flight Crew Operations Director Deke Slayton (p. 95) strolling away from their parked T-38; while Armstrong looks conservative in his blue flight suit, Slayton looks every bit the fighter pilot and a bit more devil-may-care. Their personalities come forth in the photograph: Armstrong the Engineer, Slayton, the tough-as-nails director.
The pictures from all the moon landings are amazing, but as better equipment was sent up on later missions, those shots became increasingly more precise and crisper. Armstrong and Aldrin suffered from being the first in this regard, but modern photographic enhancement has brought the Apollo 11 shots into better relief. In this regard, my favourite photograph in the book is a shot of Aldrin and the American Flag (p. 193), where if you look close enough, you can clearly see Aldrin’s face inside the suit looking towards Armstrong. As you may know the pictures of Armstrong on the lunar surface are limited, but a great photograph of a relaxed looking Armstrong back inside the Eagle smiling after the EVA was completed sums up his feelings after landing and walking on the moon.
Picturing Apollo 11 is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is a truly unique work and a compelling collection of photographs that is sure to fire the imagination of those who remember the mission and those looking retrospectively at an event they were not around to see. As I closed the book, I again wondered, when will we return?
After you have ordered Picturing Apollo 11, I also highly encourage you to pick up a copy of Apollo VII-XVII a photographic journey through all the Apollo missions.
Dr Brian Laslie is an Air Force Historian and currently the Deputy Command Historian at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). A 2001 graduate of The Citadel and a historian of air power studies, he received his PhD from Kansas State University in 2013. His first book The Air Force Way of War (2015) was selected for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s and the Royal Air Force’s Chief of the Air Staff professional reading lists. His recently published Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the US Air Force. He lives in Colorado Springs. He can be found on Twitter at @BrianLaslie.
Header Image: On 1 March 1968, the Saturn S-IC-6 arrived at the Mississippi Test Facility – today’s NASA Stennis Space Center – from the Michoud Assembly Facility. The was the first stage section of the Saturn V rocket the took Apollo 11 into space. (Source: NASA)