Did you know that John F. Kennedy was, in some respects, responsible for the moon landing? In 1961 he told reporters at a press conference that Americans would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In part, this was a reaction to the Cold War space race: Russians had just sent the first man into space, and Europeans were mocking the Americans. Kennedy’s advisors and NASA scientists had first confirmed to him that putting a man on the moon was the only way to beat the Russians.
This was an incredible achievement. In 1961 NASA had not done even the preliminary researh for travel to the moon, so hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers, MIT geniuses, seamstresses, computer whizzes, craftsmen, and builders worked together. The craftsmanship was prodigious. The spaceship was built by hand, women were hired to knit the wires for the computer by hand, the Playtex bra company designed the space suits and women sewed them by hand , and the parachutes were also sewed by hand. And eight years the first men landed on the moon.
Fishman stresses that the Apollo missions had a revolutionary effect on the culture of the ‘60s, which simultaneously embraced rock music, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, the environmental movement, protests against the war in Vietnam, science, science fiction, popular TV shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Laugh-in. It was a time of daring and boldness, as well as a time of the terrible tragedies of the assassinations of JFK, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.
And NASA drove the computer chip business, which powered the space shuttle computers and drove the price of chips way down, which drove the market for home computers eventually. The chips began to be used in electronic appliances. Before Apollo 11, transistors were cheaper.
The trip to the moon was hailed by some as thrilling and necessary, by others a waste of money. But Fishman points out that the money spent on Apollo 11 would never have gone to the fighting of poverty and other important issues anyway.
Did you approve of putting men on the moon, or resent it because you thought the funds would be better-spent elsewhere?
I learned so much from Fishman’s book. An excellent page-turner!
2 thoughts on “A Space Odyssey: Reading Charles Fishman’s “One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon””
I bought this yesterday, will try to finish before the Anniversary. It does look thorough! thanks for your review!
It’s such an absorbing book, with so many strange, fascinating details about the work and the preparations!