“Destination Moon: The Remarkable and Improbable Voyage of Apollo 11” by Richard Mauer, Roaring Brook Press, 2019, 400 pages, $19.99
Mankind first reached the moon 50 years ago. It was widely considered one of the greatest accomplishments of all time.
“Destination Moon: The Remarkable and Improbable Voyage of Apollo 11” by Richard Mauer tells how we got there.
The book takes a different approach than most recent books appearing on the subject. Mauer starts the story in World War II and the Korean War.
His thesis is the Apollo program had roots back to World War II. The major players were largely veterans of those two conflicts. This included the administrators like Thomas Paine and James Webb, astronauts, including Deke Slayton and Neil Armstrong, and engineers as Max Faget and Wernher Von Braun (albeit on the other side).
Even many individuals key to Apollo’s success not in uniform during World War II played important roles during those earlier wars. One example was Charles Stark Draper. He developed a critical gyroscopic gunsight (among other accomplishments) during World War II, and played an important role in developing the onboard guidance, navigation and control computers used by Apollo.
Mauer follows six key figures: Paine, Web, Slayton, Faget, Von Braun, and Samuel C. Phillips (a WWII fighter pilot who demonstrated a talent for successfully running high-tech development projects in the 1950s) from their World War II experiences through the landing on the moon. He shows how these six, and others used their prior experiences to develop the plan used for Apollo and then successfully executed them.
Mauer takes readers through the nuts and bolts development of the Apollo program, placing it in a historical, political and technical context. He shows the influence Soviet rivalry in space played in the development of America’s manned space program. He also shows how close the race to the moon was. (Yes, the Soviets were trying to get to the moon before the United States.)
“Destination Moon” is a refreshing take on the moon landing. It shows how a unique combination of circumstance and experiences permitted a long-shot program to succeed. It’s worth reading both as a history of the moon program and a guide to accomplishing difficult technology programs.