There are lots of great programmes on the TV at the moment celebrating the 40th anniversary of landing on the moon. I was nine when it happened, and remember watching the landing on the telly and being entranced by the whole event. I will still watch anything about space and I have many books on the subject, so I am loving it. The astronauts were so brave, it’s amazing they got there – and back. The whole golden age of space travel is hugely romantic, so I’ve trawled through my library to share some classic titles with you…
It took Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, and then all the pioneering test pilots of the Mercury programme to get the space race going. Tom Wolfe’s wonderful book The Right Stuff tells the story of the men involved wonderfully, it was a marvellous film too.
Then by the time we were ready for a moon landing, Gene Kranz was in charge, in his marvellous white waistcoat, running his team in with real leadership under extreme pressure. The title of his 2000 memoir Failure is not an option turns out to be not something he ever said, but reflects his view about running Mission Control. Of course in the film Apollo 13, played by the brilliant Ed Harris, he does say, “We’ve never lost an American in space, we’re sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.”
A couple of other space books of interest that I have include :
– A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin which tells the story of the Apollo programme.
– Moon Dust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith which tells the stories of the nine surviving men who have walked on the moon and how it affected them.
I’d also like to mention a wonderful film – For All Mankind. Released in 1992, this film is a montage of real footage from NASA, much of it previously unseen, from the various Apollo missions to make a record of a space flight. It really is the ‘right stuff’ and together with an ethereal soundtrack by Brian Eno, is an inspiring record of the era.
… and finally, if all these heroes are getting to much for you, and you’d like to read something fictional from the other camp, that is from the Russian point of view, Jed Mercurio’s novel Ascent tells the story of a Russian pilot who goes to the moon. Written in a thoughtful, ever so slightly detached style, this short novel is a joy, and for me had a real Russian feel (although I have no experience to back that up!). Mercurio is not afraid to use technical jargon without explanation, but that makes it more real, and totally without unnecessary padding.
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I bought all my copies. To explore the above further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Right Stuff  [DVD] 
Failure is Not an Option by Gene Krantz
Apollo 13 (2 Disc Special Edition)  [DVD]
A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith
For All Mankind [Masters of Cinema [DVD]
Ascent by Jed Mercurio