on 3 May 2006
I've been waiting for this book since I was a kid watching the first landing on the Moon on TV. It is something completely different from what I read till now about the space program. To say that Mike Mullane is the Bill Bryson of space travel is to underestimate him. You will not only appreciate the story, the inside view on the US space program (including the permanent mismanagement). You will also learn about a real dream love: the one with his wife, Donna. What is really outstanding in Mike is the chase for the "ultimate honesty". He constantly refuse the "politically correct" approach and goes straigth to the core of our relations to space travels, dreams, technology, relation with... women, with his boss and with... the girl of his dream, in this case another Astronaut tragically dead in the Challenger accident. The last pages in particular are surprisingly good and poetic. I would never expect something like that from a funny book like this.
Thanks, Mike, for your honesty.
on 2 August 2013
It's not about an astronaut, but alot more. Mike's opening gambit of an enema to produce "dazzling pipes" for astronaut selection shows someone so singularly focussed to do whatever it takes to be successful, that I read on. From life in the Mullane household, early military life and then fast forward to NASA, I too shared Mike's adventure and dream to get into space.
Brontë, Mike's book is NOT. The language ranges from crude `Merican schoolboy, to political incorrectness/AD and inner stream of consciousness of a locker room e.g. Viet pilot, "Better Dead than Look Bad", scepticism of female astronauts, passengers, etc. yet times eventually catch up during Mike's transition to PC personified (East German sauna - hunter becomes the hunted) - engaging and even charming. The technical language (SRBs, ET, MECO, ATL, etc.) is easily absorbed.
Like Shakespeare, important characters are offstage, such as omnipotent George Abbey or Donna and, call me a romantic, but it seems that Mike's all-consuming dream becomes Donna's as she raises the family. Through physical aspects, such as liaisons with Donna show the human side of astronauts and seizing possible final moments. We also picture the other astronauts as we share the minutiae of comradeship, smells, intimacy and reality of space preparation.
The book shows the emotional rollercoaster, with fear and frustration as close cousins. We witness Mike going from hero (when times are good) to zero (passed over or mission aborted, like a rejected bridesmaid) and the emotional drain upon the families. Just as demanding seem to be the physical toll e.g. medical, kit tests, Gs, the Vomit Comet, etc., and while bolted to a chair with 7million lbs of thrust underneath with a gambler's luck, uncontrollable bodily functions, making last minute promises to God, focussing on T-9, then fear/danger of T- ...5 .... 4 we share the exhilaration at heading skywards "at last" or dull dread of abort.
The book is living history. After an era of (US/USSR) Space Race and Apollo (dangerous and experimental yet culminating in man on the moon), Mike was part of the Space Shuttle (STS) and ISS. Seeing backstage at the nuts-and-bolts (and politics) of NASA could take the shine off the glamour of the space programme, yet this account is the closest some of us will get to space, because though space tourism has begun (Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace) (pats pockets, "Nope, don't have a spare million pounds"), Mike's account reminds us of the importance and danger of early space programmes, where the research, technology (e.g. iPhone more advanced than the Eagle), tests, daring-do (chutzpah and style), self-sacrifice and lives lost, got us where we are today.
An irony is that the comms satellites put into space are probably the very same satellites that keep kids glued to a keyboard, phone and ignoring the great world we live in, whereas Mike was possibly brought up with little/no TV or internet, and a kid probably had to find his own hobbies, interests and adventure. I've heard astronauts say one of the best things on the STS during its 1.5 hourly orbit, is the window overlooking Earth, watching the lightning, deserts, oceans, etc. so Mike should not knock us mere mortals (passengers) who are inspired by his space experience and want to see the real thing for ourselves.
The book shows why the space programme was costly and accountable to the public purse e.g. a returned STS had an MOT of one million checks, but also interesting to see a saving e.g. an STS cannibalised to reuse on others. But for the glory of it all, you cannot put a price.
The book is one viewpoint (with its gripes), so detail, timescales and aspects I have taken to be 98%-ish accurate, but Mike's book is authentic because it is a first hand account. Though a product of NASA, we can see the difficulty to adjust to NASA afterlife, yet Mike managed three space missions (in addition to aborted ones) and perhaps God kept him safe to tell the tale and make us feel a little more mortal.
I hope Mike never grows up and still enjoys a challenge. Though retired the sharing of his tale in this book can still inspire, so while bumpy, what a glorious ride. It is human, warm, vitriolic, sufficiently technical yet basic and down-to-earth. I feel lucky to have read the book, and feel it can be summed up as "Dazzling" (Mike and STS).
on 7 January 2012
From modest beginnings dreaming of rockets and space in the desert, to reaching the pinnacle of all boyhood dreams, Mike Mullane gives a 'warts and all' account of the twists and turns of life in the 1980s US space programme.
The story is set-up as the ultimate adventure tale, a few great men and women training for years to strap themselves onto millions of tons of high explosive - at the mercy of rubber O rings and fragile panels. He builds up the tension from the selection process to sitting waiting for the countdown, and the sense of appreciation and wonder at entering space is evident. Along with the serious adventure comes a healthy dose of juvenile humour, especially relating to the performing of bodily functions in a weightless environment.
Mullane remains modest and self-deprecating in spite of his enormous achievements and is big enough to admit his failings as a human-being. He categorically rails against PC, which is refreshing and unexpected and in doing so shines a light on the dog-eat-dog world of high achievers effectively queuing up and competing to get into space.
The only clumsy part of the story is what I took to be his unresolved feelings for his colleague Judy, although it is given some poignancy by her ultimate fate.
As the book progresses it becomes more sober, as a reflection of his growing awareness of deficiencies in leadership of the organisation and of the failings of the shuttle programme which lead to such tragic outcomes - this only puts into sharp perspective what a precarious occupation they pursued.
In summary this is an entertaining, accessible adventure story that really gave me an appreciation and admiration for the heroes of the space programme.
on 31 January 2010
This book is simply fascinating. I am not one to read books often but this has had me hooked.
I bought In the Shadow of the Moon on Blu Ray as I have always been interested in space. I enjoyed Mike Collins and then bought and read his book Carrying the Fire. At the same time Amazon recommended this book by Mike Mullane, so I got both.
I read Carrying the Fire first as it was the one I really wanted. And I really enjoyed that, very interesting and serious about getting to the moon. Once finished I moved onto Mike Mullanes book.
I have always been a big fan of space, but not a big book reader, most has been gained by watching TV and visiting the Kennedy space Centre 7 times! I grew up with the Space Shuttle, having been born in 69 and missing the Apollo era. I distinctly remember watching STS-1 launching with John Young and Bob Crippen in her.
The book by Mike is truly fascinating. If Tim Moore ever wrote a book about going to space then this would be like that book.
There is so much humour it makes the reading of the book so enjoyable. The drive to get into space I thought was a fantastic idea but the drive that people show to fulfil that ideal is so much more than I could ever give it credit, and Mike displays this with such humour it's a joy to read.
I enjoyed being able to relate to the Shuttle as it was and still is my space era, to see it evolve and the book fills in the gap of the program, how people became Astronauts and what it took to get there. It also showed how being an Astronaut was so much fun, it enlightened me that being an Astronaut was much like any other office job to a point, you went to work, you had a laugh, did some work and came home, they just did different things, and they endured office politics. That I think is the most overwhelming thing from the book. You just expect the elite not to suffer from such things but the Astronaut selection program for getting to become the `Prime Crew' became such a superb process to read and witness as office politics affects not just everyone but NASA as well !
Then the Challenger disaster occurred and then you realise these people in order to fulfil their dream were walking the tightrope of disaster every minute on the countdown to re entry to landing. The aftermath of the disaster is really well brought home by mike and his interactions with other certain Astronauts beggars belief, and this was probably one of the biggest revelations in the book. Something you don't expect from the NASA management.
The other thing I enjoyed was the scrubbed launches and how that must have felt, which Mike goes through very well, but the main thing for me was the insight of how it all bolted together, and then watching again the `Dream is Alive' DVD about the Space Shuttle missions you see Mike and his crew on board the Shuttle, the first mission Mike flew on and then you see all his crew mates that he talked about and it gives them much more substance. To see Judy and Hank, Steve on that mission, just made it all come together.
If I ever visit Kennedy Space Centre again, I will make sure that I visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame, because after reading this book, it has made me realise that along with Mike Collins book that the feats these people did to get into space is as amazing than the technological achievements to create the Apollo moon rocket or the Space Shuttle.
If you're vaguely interested in space you will enjoy this book, if like me your are interested in space travel and the NASA stuff you won't be able to put it down.
Revealing, hilarious, dry humour and a brilliant insight in being an Astronaut, working for NASA, and the realisation that being an Astronaut has all the same problems and good and bad days at work like any other job we all do. They just work in a different space to the rest of us ...
on 23 February 2006
This is a wonderful book.
The next nearest 'Deke', is very good.
Mike Mullane pulls out all of the stops. If I have a criticism it could be that he almost seems to push himself as definitely *not* the NASA puppet. Well, I'm sure he's not.
I think this is an honest work, Mullane's references to (for example) Judith Resnik really weighed on my heart. I hadn't shed a tear for Challenger for a long time.
There's fascinating stuff about how Mullane learns how not to be a sexist pig (read it!), how he learned how wonderful his wife is. There's a lot about the terror of a shuttle launch, (Space Truck? Dangerous experimental spaceplane?), pointing out the problems of that vehicle and management difficulties.
Just read it. There are amazingly honest references to emotional issues. Physiological issues (how do you pee (etc)in space?), what happens when the space toilet breaks?
This is good. I've read loads of space-related bios and they often seem full of irrelevent 'pre-space' detail. The 'pre-space' detail here is fascinating and is very relevant to what comes