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The other iconic Apollo mission story
on 14 September 2009
The book on which the 1994 film "Apollo 13" was based is a rather wonderful read. Jeffrey Kluger has turned Jim Lovell's fascinating take on the four-and-a-bit days he spent surviving a near catastrophe in the spaceship he commanded into a very entertainingly written book which never falls into swathes of dull technospeak.
Much of the material had to be by necessity compacted or omitted from the screenplay and so it is an enormous pleasure to be able to read the full story "warts and all", including a NASA insider's take on the dreadful Apollo 1 fire and the final report into the events that led up to the failures of the Apollo 13 capsule. Mostly, however, the negatives are not dwelt upon, and it is the successful return of Astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise and how that was made possible that is rightly the main focus of this story.
Jim Lovell comes across as a truly level-headed guy and precisely the person you would want as your Commander in a spaceship that's gone wrong a quarter of a million miles from Earth. Some aspects of his life before and after the experiences of 13 - 17 April 1970 are also mentioned, as well as those of his worried Earthbound family at the time, but it is the story of mission itself and the terrific support of those ever-so-clever folk at NASA which grips and fascinates the reader for the bulk of this book.
There is a real sense of Jim Lovell's personal loss at missing his one chance at ever walking on the Moon after all his years of training, but the triumph of the story of their survival against incredible odds will probably outlast that of some of the later Moon missions in the public memory and, after the first lunar landing, in many ways this has become the other iconic story from all the Apollo missions.
A very impressive book indeed.