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Subject: Re: Book on history of Apollo program
From: (Henry Spencer) 
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 1995 13:29:34 -0700

In article <> writes:
>Having just read the excellent book about the history of the Mercury
>Program - "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe, I would like to know if
>anyone knows of a similar book on the history of the Apollo program

A note of caution:  The Right Stuff is not reliable as history.  It's
interesting reading but is not always a complete and accurate account.

The best book on Apollo is Andrew Chaikin's "A Man On The Moon".

The problem is, every time something goes wrong,   |       Henry Spencer
the paperwork is found in order... -Walker on NASA |

From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Apollo histories (was Re: "Space Shuttle" by D. Jenkins; new edition)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 1996 15:17:29 GMT

> : One of the most annoying things about the NASA History books
> : on Apollo is how little coverage they have of the technical side, except
> : in cases where it impinged on the management and politics. . . . . 
> : Information about the technical history of Apollo is
> : scattered here and there, hard to find and incomplete.
> Oh, this is just so much bunk.  Try any of the Apollo, Skylab or earlier 
> program chronologies, for instance.  Look at the history of Lunar Orbiter 
> and Ranger.  Or look at Stages to Saturn...

I have.  The chronologies record when things happened, but say very little
about what or why.  Stages to Saturn is useful, but often excessively
sketchy; for example, it talks about how serious the F-1 combustion-
instability problems were, but the description of the investigations and
the fixes is so vague as to be quite uninformative.  (Contrast its
coverage to that in the Sept-Oct 1993 Journal of Propulsion and Power --
the JP&P paper is perhaps more detailed than one would really want except
in a specialist publication, since it specifically aims at exhaustive
coverage, but a shorter version would still be far more informative than
StS.  Above all, the JP&P paper not only discusses the technical details,
but talks about *why* decisions were made and why certain solutions were
explored and others weren't.  For example, the StS discussion never even
mentions that the stability people were fighting with one foot in a
bucket, because things that improve stability often hurt performance, and
the F-1 did not have any performance to give away.)

> Or look at David Baker's books Manned Spaceflight and The Rocket...

I have.  In fact, I own the former.  Definitely useful, and much heavier
on technical coverage than most other sources... but still far from
definitive.  One thing I find particularly annoying about Baker's books is
that his coverage is inconsistent -- he'll discuss how an issue affected
one Apollo mission, and then not even mention it when he talks about the
next one.

Question for you, Dwayne:  why did the Saturn V second-stage center engine
shut down early on Apollo 13, what was the history of the underlying
problem, and why was the early shutdown extremely fortunate?  You won't
find the answers in any of the cited books. 

(I suppose I shouldn't keep people in suspense...  It shut down early
because its low-chamber-pressure sensor tripped.  The underlying problem
was a pogo oscillation, specific to that engine, which had been seen on
several previous flights.  The sensor was not designed to detect this, and
just happened to trip as an incidental side effect of the oscillation.
And this was extremely fortunate because while the oscillation seen on
previous flights had been mild, on Apollo 13 it made a quantum leap to a
previously-unsuspected form, so violent that the stage structure would
not have survived more than a few seconds of it.)
 ...the truly fundamental discoveries seldom       |       Henry Spencer
occur where we have decided to look.  --B. Forman  |

From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: best apollo book?
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 17:34:57 GMT

In article <>,
Lawrence Bullock <> wrote:
>> >ANGLE OF ATTACK: Harrison Storms and the Race To The Moon
>> I'm afraid I have to disagree.  Angle Of Attack is basically a movie
>> script, and not for a documentary either...
>> While it is interesting, and worth reading if you're into the history of
>> the program, an accurate and unbiased treatment it isn't.
>...But seriously, what's inaccurate about it? What's biased about it?

Almost everything.  NAA (North American) in general, and Harrison Storms
in particular, are the Good Guys.  NASA are the Bad Guys.  Dramatic
moments abound.  Issues like the real and serious problems at NAA that
developed under Storms's management are swept under the rug -- the Good
Guys would never do such things, so they can't be mentioned in the script.
The problems that can't be swept aside must be the fault of the Bad Guys,
and never mind that Storms's job was to see that things got done right
even if the circumstances were not favorable.

It is nevertheless worth reading, because if you can stomach the hype and
strip away the over-dramatization, it's an interesting view of how things
looked from the industry side of the fence.  But you really have to bear
in mind that it is a movie script, not a history.  (It's not the only
such book about Apollo, mind you, but it's much the most prominent.)

I didn't quite throw the book against the wall after reading it.  But the
temptation was there.  It doesn't make my Books To Avoid list mostly
because there are others which are so much worse.  I will say that I
don't remember finding any outright lies in it -- not quite -- and that's
not true of all Apollo books.

>Do you know the author?

Nope, never even met him.  Note that his biggest credit is having written
The China Syndrome, which is not exactly an endorsement of his ability to
write accurately about technical subjects.

>...just really curious. You seem to have a special distaste for
>the book...

Not really.  If you want to see special distaste, ask me about "Moon Shot".
Being the last man on the Moon                  |     Henry Spencer
is a very dubious honor. -- Gene Cernan         |

From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: best apollo book?
Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 00:07:17 GMT

In article <>,
John Beaderstadt  <> wrote:
>> ...If you want to see special distaste, ask me about "Moon Shot".
> can at least claim ... to have some input ... from Deke and Alan...

Precious little, I fear... and how do you tell what bits of it came from
that input?

I can't help on the Shepard side, but if you want to see something done
with real input from Slayton, "Deke!" clearly qualifies.
Being the last man on the Moon                  |     Henry Spencer
is a very dubious honor. -- Gene Cernan         |

From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: Inaccuracies in "Moon Shot"? (was: best apollo book?
Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 13:02:04 GMT

In article <>,
Terry Carroll <> wrote:
>My take on it was that it was highly biased to make Shepard and
>Slayton look like total wartless heroes.  Okay, that's to be expected,
>and was part of the grain of salt with which I read it.  However, I've
>seen several comments in this newsgroup alluding to its inaccuracies.
>What were those?

Well, put it this way:  when I encountered the book for the first time in
a store, opened it at a random page, read two paragraphs, and said "now
waiiit a minute, that's not right...", this was Not A Good Sign.

Nor was noticing that one of the photos (the golf shot) is a cut-and-paste
job, and a fairly clumsy one at that.  This one isn't just a case of the
real authors being careless.  They went out of their way to get it wrong.

Life is too short to spend it cataloging the mistakes in a book like
this.  It's best just treated as fiction.

>By the way, as long as we're weighing in on favorite books, mine is
>Michael Collins's "Carrying The Fire."

Collins's books are very good.  Now *he* can be forgiven an occasional
minor error.  (He got the LM descent-engine throttling scheme wrong in
"Liftoff" -- the helium-injection scheme was the rejected alternative --
but that may have been just bad memory on his part, since both schemes
were carried a fair way into development, and he stopped LM training
fairly early.)
Being the last man on the Moon                  |     Henry Spencer
is a very dubious honor. -- Gene Cernan         |

From: (Henry Spencer)
Subject: Re: Upcoming Space Books
Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 15:01:50 GMT

In article <>,
Ry Alford <> wrote:
>Got the following letter from Rich Orloff, author of "Apollo By The
>Numbers" ...
>My statistical reference book, "Apollo By The Numbers" is now in
>print. I don't make a dime on this but I want to make sure that
>everybody who wants a copy gets one before they're gone. It's a
>government publication with a very small printing.
>Title: Apollo By The Numbers - A Statistical Reference
>Pages: 334
>NASA No.: SP-2000-4029
>Author: Richard W. Orloff

I just got my copy of this today.  Good stuff!  Apollo fans, this one is
worth having...

(By the way, a note about the GPO web site:  the lists you get under the
"browse a topic" option are sometimes quite out of date.  For example, the
"space exploration" list doesn't appear to have been updated since 1999.
The individual books are available if you know what to search for.)
When failure is not an option, success  |  Henry Spencer
can get expensive.   -- Peter Stibrany  |      (aka

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