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Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon Paperback – 29 Apr 2010
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Author Sara Howard, was one of only two women employed as engineers of the Apollo Program. She describes amusing anecdotes, such as water fights among the staff, and alternates them with the daunting facts about the project'the companies, buildings, people, technologies, divisions, and of course, the rockets, with which she fell in love as a child. Included, to help the reader grasp the enormity of the project, are photographs by NASA.
As Howard notes, the story she enthusiastically presents, and the people involved, were skipped over and forgotten in the hype over the fantastic success of this project for America. Its time to remember who's work was responsible, and consider what it must have been like for those countless workers at that time'as they dreamed of putting men safely on the moon, and patiently worked towards fulfilment.
To consider them and grant them due appreciation. Read the book! Its fascinating!
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One of the fascinating aspects of the memoir is that it does not read like a feminist tract, though one would think that a woman engineer in the man's world of the Apollo program would certainly count as a feminist icon. There is not a hint of any discrimination or even slight suffered by Howard because of her gender. That may be because the Apollo program was the ultimate meritocracy. One could either do the job assigned or not. Boy or girl, it seems not to have mattered, at least among the engineers.
One thing that does shine through in the memoir is Howard's fierce, protective pride in the Apollo program and her small but crucial part in it. Most people still remember the astronauts who walked on the moon. Many even can name a flight controller or two. Very few indeed remember any of the other 400 thousand plus people who toiled long hours in the 1960s to make that one small step happen.
Even after Apollo, Howard did some remarkable things, like fly private planes in an era where female pilots were a curiosity, even a generation after Amelia Earhart. She also helped to build the Trident missile submarine, one of the weapons platforms that kept the peace during the latter days of the Cold War.
It is a custom, and a good one, to, when seeing someone in uniform, to thank them for their service, to buy him or her a drink perhaps. It might be a good idea to expand that custom to include anyone who ever worked on Apollo, especially the anonymous, largely unappreciated worker bees whose efforts all too often got them a pink slip as the country lost interest in lunar voyages.
Apollo was a thing of wonder, something that proves that the history of humankind from the time the first hunter gatherers built towns to this very moment, has a purpose more than just survival. Apollo helped to win the Cold War, by proving the superiority of freedom over tyranny. More than that, it provided beauty and even transcendence. It was a message to God, that said, "The universe that you brought into being is wonderful and we thank you for it."
So, Sarah Howard, thank you for your service. It was a great and glorious thing.
I was born during the time that the space race began, and the Apollo program inspired me to study engineering in college. I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. von Braun and several Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle astronauts and mission controllers, but I never had a chance to meet or know anything about the thousands of technicians, engineers, and assembly workers who built the flying machines that took our astronauts into space.
Sara Howard's book, "Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon" is the first time I've been able to learn about those nameless, faceless, and unsung heroes who worked in Top Secret installations around the country to build the greatest machine ever conceived by humans: the Saturn V rocket. For years, I have had a 1/200 scale model of the Saturn V on my desk. Now, I also have the book written by one of the engineers who actually helped build this amazing piece of history.
Sara Howard's book, which is written conversationally, chronicles her involvement at the Louisiana facility where the first and second stages of the Saturn V were assembled. Sara Howard was part of the team responsible for the first stage, the largest and most powerful rocket system ever built. But rather than a technical dissertation of the mechanics and physics involved in lifting a 7 million pound rocket into space, Sara Howard lets us in on the very human aspect of what it took to take von Braun's vision for a launch vehicle and translate that into something that would fulfil his vision.
Sara Howard chronicles the events in her life that led her to eventually be one of the first rocket-women in the world, and what happened after the Apollo missions were over. But most of the book is focused on what it was like working on the greatest endeavour mankind has ever undertaken - sending humans to another celestial body and returning them safely home. Reading this book provides unparalleled insight into those amazing days in the mid-1960's when we proved that "impossible" is simply a state of mind. Using technology that seems primitive by today's standards, these engineers, assemblers, testers, supervisors, managers, administrative staff, and transportation specialists built fourteen rockets that did what no machine has done since. They did the impossible because they believed it was possible, and history has proven that they were right.
Sara Howard's book pays tribute to those true heroes who were never thanked, never acknowledged, never even remembered for their efforts, but who are the reason we went to the moon and returned safely home. Without rockets, there are no astronauts, and while we remember the astronauts because they were the most visible members of the team, Sara Howard reminds us of the invisible members of the team who made the Apollo missions possible and paved the way for the future of the United States space program.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the people who changed history and built the most beautiful rocket and the greatest machine ever conceived by human beings.