Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon by Andrew Chaikin and Alan Bean
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: There are many fine books this year commemorating the July 20, 1969 landing on the moon and I have enjoyed them all. Mission Control, This is Apollo (Penguin/Viking, 2009) may be my favorite. We all have those personal memories of pivotal moments and one of mine is sitting in front of our black and white TV on that steamy July evening watching Neil Armstrong step down onto the moon’s surface. I was a senior in college unsure of my path, the war in Vietnam was raging, racial tension was high and yet in that one moment, anything seemed possible.
This excellent book, while doing an outstanding job of recounting the history of the Apollo missions, also gives readers a sense of the wonder we all felt as each mission brought new discoveries. Some of this comes from the astronauts’ personal comments woven into the text and some comes from Andrew Bean’s glorious art work that is at once meticulous and soaring. Chaikin, author of the acclaimed book, A Man on the Moon, interviewed 23 of the 24 astronauts, flight directors, geologists and others who worked on the Apollo project. He read thousands of pages of transcripts of mission communications and debriefings. The result is an up close and intimate view of the Apollo effort. He begins with an overview of the Mercury and Gemini missions and then subsequent chapters feature each Apollo mission. Guaranteed to captivate young readers are the full page inserts that add fascinating tidbits about space flight: food, space motion sickness, the last minute crew swap on Apollo 13 and the details of how to go to the bathroom.
This is a book to explore leisurely. There are detailed technical drawings of the rocket, capsules, and propulsion systems and historical photographs as well as the glorious paintings. Alan Bean wrote the captions for his work and they are filled with interesting recollections about the people and the events as well as his art. I closed this book with a sense of sadness. Apollo was an effort that united us as a people if only for a short while and helped us to see the beauty and fragility of our planet. This not-to-be-missed book gives teens a sense of that amazing experience.
Cindy: Lynn’s been waiting for me to finish reading this book, but I’ve been sidetracked by all the celebrations in the news and spent the anniversary watching Mythbusters defend NASA against the conspiracy hoax theorists. But even all of that fun couldn’t keep me away from this engaging book. I tend to look at book flaps before reading a book, and was immediately moved by the photo of author Chaikin at age 12 meeting astronaut Alan Bean in April 1969 when Bean was training for his Apollo 12 mission. Forty years later they collaborated as author/illustrator. How cool is that?
Bean’s paintings are a valuable addition to this nonfiction book. His captions reveal his humbleness at his art. He claims that “being an artist is a very demanding profession. Work and time and dedication are all needed in abundance.” I’m guessing that surviving as an astronaut might be good on the job training! In each painting Bean has preserved some lunar history. He has taken apart his framed mission sets and collected the moon dust from the patches that were on his spacesuit and cut tiny fragments from the mission patches. He includes a little of those along with tiny pieces from the heat shield and foil from his spaceship under the paint in every painting.
In addition to all I learned in reading this book, the book design and layout is perfect. Mission patches and details about each flight start the chapters, photos are expertly selected and well placed, and the text is engaging, including Bean’s captions. A must purchase for elementary through high school, here’s a book that is sure to spur on a few more future astronauts.
P.S. If you are curious to know what the women were doing during this decade race to the moon, check out our archives for our post on Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts.