Story: Unusually for a book which concerns itself with events that were directly experienced by one of the writers, the entire story is told in the third person perspective, switching back and forth from the spacecraft to Lovell’s home, Mission Control in Houston, and even leaping around in time from Lovell’s early fascination with rocketry, the Apollo 1 fire and its demoralizing effect on the astronaut corps, Lovell’s earlier groundbreaking flight to the moon aboard Apollo 8, and so on. Of course, the book’s primary focus is the doomed April 1970 flight of Apollo 13, and how astronauts and ground controllers alike fought valiantly to bring the crew home safely.
Review: I missed “Lost Moon” when it was originally released just a year before the movie that it spawned. When I went looking for the autobiographical “Lost Moon”, I instead saw numerous books bearing Tom Hanks’ face and the title “Apollo 13”. Thank goodness the small print beneath the title mentioned that this was, in fact, the book that started it all – for a moment, I feared a ridiculous repeat of the Alan Dean Foster novelization of Total Recall, which itself was based on a Philip K. Dick short story! That’s a roundabout way to tell one story. This book, however, is another story entirely, and it’s well worth a read or two. For about the same price as a movie ticket, there’s a lot more story.
The unique perspective allows the cast of characters to include everyone from the spacecraft designers to NASA’s flight conctrollers, technicians, and earthbound astronauts to their families, the media, two or three Presidents…you name it.
“Lost Moon”, er, that is, “Apollo 13”, gives what is probably a more detailed, honest and interesting look into the space program than anything else in print. While highly technical, it stops to explain things on a down-to-Earth level in the context of both a normal lunar flight and the rather more urgent circumstances surrounding Apollo 13 specifically. The tech talk is not incomprehensible, and appendices in the back are handily available in case you need to remind yourself who the EECOM or TELMU was, what they did, and who was working those jobs on which shifts.
Reading Lovell’s own account of events, we find out that the animosity between Haise and Swigert existed only on celluloid and not during the troubled mission, which was more technically troubled than even the film could account for. Examples of further problems encountered during the mission include two more explosive events on the way back from the moon – both of these in the landing module, not the service module; severe communications problems, and numberous public relations crises on the ground. Lovell declares almost everyone in the book a hero (well, aside from Dick Cavett, but this just proves that the commander of Apollo 13 has taste), sometimes downplaying his own involvement. Yet it was Lovell who was awarded a medal by President Clinton 25 years after the fact – a strangely obvious ploy to cash in on the public’s sudden awareness of the Apollo 13 astronauts as heroes.
Don’t stop with the movie alone. Pick up this book and get yourself an education in the more-thrills-in-a-minute-than-any-sane-individual-could-handle voyage of Apollo 13, and in the pioneering spirit of America’s space program that transcended its politicized origins and now awaits a wake-up call in our present era of orbital courier missions.
Author: Jim Lovell, Jeffrey Kluger
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 418 pages