on 20 August 2010
Walt Cunningham flew on Apollo 7, the first flight after the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts on the launchpad. A controversy has raged ever since on whether the bad temper displayed to Mission Control by his commander on that flight, Wally Schirra, cast a cloud over Cunningham's contribution and his later career. Although he was subsequently lined up for command of one of the Skylab missions, he lost out in the jockeying within the astronaut corps and never flew in space again. He's not therefore one of the better known astronauts from that era, but don't let that put you off. I found this book to be an intelligent, revealing (without attempting to be sensationalist) and thoughtful account of his experiences, both in space and within NASA. I've read most of the (auto)biographies published by or about the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts, and while all of them are remarkable men and enjoyable reads, some of the more recent accounts suffer from well-worn repetition of a few favourite stories over the years, or from inaccuracies and cliches contributed by poorly-informed ghostwriters. But this book by Walt Cunningham is one of the best, up there with 'Carrying the Fire' by Michael Collins, which was also written in the 1970s quite soon after the events it describes. Cunningham's own personality and views come through strongly. It's not the ideal book for your first introduction to the Apollo story, but definitely worth reading if you want to dig a little deeper.
on 6 November 2013
This book is a rather unusual take on the astronaut biography genre. Cunningham was part of the Apollo 7 crew for the first manned flight of the Apollo spacecraft. This was an interesting mission, not least because of what some have referred to as the crew's "mutiny" that ended their spaceflight careers. So there is an interesting background to a book written differently from the usual: Cunningham sets out to document the personalities and politics as much as the missions and omits the usual early life biographical details. This is great background interest for those interested in the space programme and it's well written too.
Unfortunately, for this reader at least, the book goes on to discuss the US space programme in more recent years, when Cunningham had left NASA and was no longer directly involved. His views on the conduct of the shuttle programme and the future for NASA are interesting but presented at far too much length and with some repetition, making the last 150 pages very dull for me. This is the reason for my 3 star rating; the first part of the book merits 4 stars even when the axes can be heard being ground!
Finally, the book's physical presentation (I have the paperback 2010 second edition) does it no favours. The entire cover along with all the (black and white) photos within the book have been printed at far too low a resolution, leaving them looking like something from a 1980s home printer. The main text and paper stock are fine and the book does include an index.
Conclusion: Worth reading but be prepared to start skimming when you reach the last quarter of the book.
on 4 January 2013
This book is a great account of Walter Cunningham's journey through the Apollo program and beyond. If you've read Andrew Chaikin's fantastic book then you're unlikely to learn very much that is new, but you will get an alternate and somewhat more personal take on the events. The book is extremely well written and highly recommended - it's up there with Michael Collins' "Carrying The Fire" in the field of astronaut autobiographies.
NOTE: The poor Kindle formatting that Steven Whitworth complained about in his review appears to have been fixed. I know I purchased this with some trepidation after reading that review, and was pleasantly relieved!
on 5 May 2016
I will not repeat what other reviewers have said, but rather jump into it! I rate this only four star, mainly because of the last third of the book. The story including the closure of the Apollo moonlandings; indeed, also the treatment of the Skylab and ASTP missions is superb. No other astronaut book - not even Michael Collins "Carrying the Fire" - comes this close to the real story about the NASA astronaut corps. Do not expect to find much mission details here. The gist of the book is this look "inside" the astronau corps and a ruthless (but very charming) look inside their mindsets! The "downside" is (as have said other reviewers) the lengthy treatment of the post ASTP program, including the shutle and the ISS. There is much in this part that is very, very interesting, but it is all too long. There are phrases that clearly were copied from elsewhere in the text and repeated and so on! Still, it is worth reading (although you skim some parts) because it is hard to find another book that gives such a penetrating critique of "post apollo NASA". Cunningham takes special issue with the cooperation of the USSR and present Russia (and may be even with ESA, Canada and Japan? although he rarely mentions that). He does not hide that he is politically conservative, but his points are well argued and worthy of consideration. What has the US, NASA and the ISS in general really gained by the joint venture with Russia, including the shuttle flight to MIR. Cunningham's point is that it delayed the ISS, several times unduly endangered astronaut lives and has been a very substantial financial support of Russias space agency. He does not believe it has in any way acted politically to keep Russia from sliding even further away from the "West". He has a point for sure and the matter is still up for debate! If you are a space fan, you need this book, but be prepared to skip, skim or be somewhat bored with the last third!