Histories of the 1960s space race typically focus on the technology and determination that allowed America to meet President Kennedy's 1961 challenge. Others cover the heroic efforts of the astronauts, engineers, technicians, and specialists who made the first Moon landing possible. Rarely is the actual recovery of the spacecraft and crew covered in any detail.
However, it was the extraordinary planning and achievement of NASA and the military that made it possible to return those first Moon walkers "safely to Earth" by plucking them from the ocean and bringing them to a waiting aircraft carrier.
All of us who grew up during those incredible years can remember watching the returning Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules swaying under the huge parachutes, splashing into the ocean, and bobbing while helicopters and Navy divers retrieved the crews. But few of us had any idea of the planning, coordination, and resourcefulness required to make those recoveries look so easy.
Author Bob Fish, in "Hornet Plus Three," describes in detail how the recovery missions were planned, rehearsed, and accomplished...but goes much farther. As with most well-done histories, the book brings its story to life through first-person remembrances of many people who participated in these momentous events, including the commander of the USS Hornet.
Fish has certainly done his homework, and his love of the subject matter shines through the 288 pages and dozens of archival photos, maps, and drawings. He traces how the U.S. military joined with NASA to support the landing and recovery of spacecraft, beginning with the first Mercury capsules and concluding with the unprecedented recovery of the first men to walk on the Moon - the Apollo 11 astronauts - and their cargo of priceless Moon rocks. From the initial recovery concepts through planning, training, and mission simulations to the actual recovery of American spacecraft and crews from the oceans, Fish tells it all. He covers the successes, problems, errors, and innovative solutions. Highlighted with quotes and stories from people we've never before heard from, Hornet Plus Three will entertain, educate, and enthrall you.
Step by step, Fish takes the reader through the recovery lessons learned during the one-man Mercury flights, two-man Gemini flights, and three-man Apollo missions. He describes how, as the capsules grew larger and heavier, NASA and the Navy had to revise both recovery procedures and the equipment used. Many of the photographs in Hornet Plus Three have never before been published and illustrate the personnel, Navy ships, Navy and Air Force aircraft, capsules, astronauts, and equipment.
Fish describes each step of the spacecraft's descent and splashdown and the transport of the crew and capsule to the deck of the Hornet. Although the story of the Apollo 11 recovery ends with the return of the USS Hornet to Pearl Harbor with its full complement of crew, plus three astronauts, Bob Fish's outstanding contribution to aviation, military, and space history includes several valuable appendices.
"Hornet Plus Three" represents an important and unique addition to the vast library of books about the early NASA space programs. I guarantee you won't be bored and, whether you think you know a lot about the Apollo program or not, you'll learn something and gain some insights into the challenges faced by those who ensured a safe conclusion to every space mission.
Our last manned mission to the Moon, Apollo 17, splashed down December 19, 1972. Thirty-seven years later, no other Earthlings have ventured beyond Earth orbit.
Could we repeat the Apollo program today? Could we do it in less than 10 years?