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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

on 14 July 2013
Three and a half years after buying the 2009 reprint of this book I finally got around to reading it, and am glad I did as it turned out to be very readable, detailed and packed full of interesting facts and background information on the Apollo project and the sequence of events in an Apollo mission, from before lift-off all the way to splash-down.

This book must have been a labour of love for the author and taken ages to complete, as he has crammed so much detail into the book. And yet he still managed to make it palatable and understandable to the non-specialist. It's not light reading, mind you, but I found it griping nonetheless. I did have to re-read some of the explanations to make sure I understood them correctly, but I take off my hat to the author for his explanations of some complex concepts and engineering solutions in ways that do not lose the reader. He even addresses the practicalities of ablution, eating, urinating and defecating with which the Apollo crewmen had to contend. I already knew some of the facts in this book, but many others were new to me (for example I had wondered how the Command Module was guided to its splash-down site with such precision).

I only have a couple of minor quibbles with the book: a) the descriptions of the rocket stages given in Chapter 1 would have been better had there been a large diagram of the Saturn V indicating the different stages and interstage rings (something like e.g. the diagram in Chapter 4 showing the third stage, Service Module and Command Module), spread over two whole pages or even as a pull-out; b) the Glossary at the end of the book is missing a few of the abbreviations and acronyms mentioned in the chapters. Also, I could be mistaken, but I have a feeling the author mentions the '8-ball' before explaining what is is later in the book. Anyway, it's a super book and well worth reading. Since I bought my copy in 2009 a second edition has been released. The new edition may well address some of my comments and indeed improve the book in other areas, so make sure you buy the latest edition.

Highly recommended if you've ever wondered how the scientists, engineers and others of the several hundred thousand professionals involved in the Apollo programme got men to the Moon and back, how the voyage actually progressed and how the astronauts felt.
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on 9 July 2016
If you are (like me) fascinated by the subject of Apollo, you will NOT be disappointed by this book. It's packed with information that I hadn't known about before and is extremely detailed and accurate about how this remarkable event in history was achieved. Not so much why (cold war, politics, Kennedy etc) but how. The methods NASA invented to overcome certain obstacles were often remarkable (and occasionally rather Heath-Robinson) and they are all revealed here in fascinating detail. It's highly technical in parts but don't be put off, Woods is a good explainer. Now I've read it, I shall use it to refer back to, almost like a reference book.
Thoroughly recommended.
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on 4 January 2015
I grew up with a fascination for the Apollo space programme and remember as a child staring at the moon with wonder and thinking that a man had walked about up there. Despite this early interest, I have never read that much about the history of the race to the moon. Of course I watched the movie Apollo 13 and I also collected the ‘Observers‘ books of manned spaceflight, written by Reginald Turnill, when I was young. My interest was rekindled just over a year ago by an Apollo 11 ‘Haynes’ manual I received as a Christmas gift and this led to a desire to explore the history of this programme in more detail.

While there are plenty of books full of great photographs, I found it harder to find the more descriptive book I was looking for. In the end I decided that (despite the awful cover art) the book How Apollo Flew to the Moon by W. David Woods appeared to suit my needs. This is quite a technical book and the diagrams and photographs — although they get the job done — are not great. On the other hand the text is well-written and well researched. This is clearly an author who knows his subject well enough to present it quite simply while omitting little of the essential detail.

The book starts conventionally enough with a short history of the space race and each of the Apollo missions. I found it really interesting to learn that, while the later Apollo missions were viewed with public apathy and the budget was cut, NASA was actually quite ambitious with a series of ‘J’ missions that utilised upgraded hardware and software to support extended visits to the moon that could carry far more scientific hardware.

What made this book outstanding for me is the step-by-step description of a moon flight given in the section from chapter 3 onwards. The content is rather complex (but still readable), covering principles of inertial navigation, celestial mechanics and the communication systems used. If I have one criticism, it is that the author often re-explains something covered in an earlier chapter as if this were a book for dipping in to. I think this description of a space flight is best read as a single narrative from launch to touch-down.

The great achievement of this book is that the insights gained do not diminish any of the sense of awe and wonder at what was the apogee of the manned space exploration programme.
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on 3 January 2011
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in a little more detail about the technology that took Apollo to the Moon. It will actually give you quite a lot more detail than most other books but it's well written and the technical material is always digestible. The book loosely follows a typical Apollo mission but happily, and seamlessly, digresses to cover many related topics and various specifics of different missions. The structure of the book helps if you don't want to read a particular section: you can skip it and rejoin the mission in the next section. However, I doubt you'll skip much as the book repeatedly raises fascinating questions and promptly answers them.

This is not the place to start learning about the Apollo programme (that would probably be Andrew Chaikin's equally excellent A Man on the Moon) but if you've ever pondered on "How did they do..." then this is the book to go to. As you watch video of an Apollo launch, have you ever wondered what "Guidance is Internal" actually means, or why an orbiting spacecraft has to slow down, not speed up, to catch another, or how much safety NASA was able to engineer into these amazing machines? There are many answers in this great book.

The author, David Woods, is deeply credible on the subject of Apollo. He edits NASA's web-based Apollo Flight Journal which really does go deeply into Apollo technicalities. The book brings it all together and makes it readable, the web site is there if there are still questions to answer.

And the cover? It's best quickly passed over: the rest of the book is very professionally presented with good diagrams and photos (there's even a colour section that took me entirely by surprise). I can only think that someone ran out of time and had to improvise something really quickly. The book is better than the cover suggests... a lot better.
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on 16 January 2010
If you want to know how Apollo actually worked, then this is the book for you.

Without descending into arcane technicalities (the book does not contain a single equation) the author manages to describe the key aspects of the Apollo spacecraft: their construction, how they were propelled, how they were navigated, how they achieved rendezvous in orbit, how they communicated, their life support systems, and much more.

The book is well written, and is not just a technical tome. Snippets of dialogue between astronauts and ground are included to illustrate particular points of interest, and the humour and courage often shine through. The author also does a good job of explaining how it was a combined effort of everyone who designed, built and administered Apollo that got it to the moon; not just astronauts and the mission control specialists.

As a professional engineer I have often wondered how various aspects of spaceflight are managed, and when reading this book I repeatedly found myself thinking "so that's how they did it". There are also lessons within for anyone who has any part in managing large and critical projects, as the author explains how at each critical juncture NASA had a plan ... and a backup if that didn't work, and often a backup for the backup.

In short brilliant. I got this for Christmas, was absolutely riveted when reading it, and am now (mid January) reading it again in an attempt to grasp the details I missed the first time around. I too would give it 10 stars if the Amazon system allowed me to do so.

Incidentally if you want a more "personal" account of the Apollo missions then I would recommend Mike Collins' book "Carrying the Fire", and Eugene Cernan's "The last man on the moon". For an overview of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo series then Andrew Chaikin's "A man on the moon" is excellent.
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on 24 June 2015
Terrific read if you lived through the Apollo era or are interested in space flight. It takes you though every stage of a mission - and as you read this one's appreciation of the risks the Apollo team confronted simply grows and grows. It provides a great insight into the technology employed, and the critical design parameters - and then what it was like on board or in mission control as the missions progressed. An absorbing read - if you like this sort of thing!
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on 6 November 2014
I've been interested in Apollo since I was a kid and have read a number of books on the program over the years. Each one made me long for something else that was just out of reach regarding the subject. I didn't ever expect to find a book that would cover the things that I had questions about. Or even have answers to questions I had never thought of. But - this is that book.

"How Apollo Flew to the Moon" takes one of the most complex undertakings in the history of civilization and makes it graspable. It explains everything from the types of film in the cameras onboard to the wheels on the lunar rover. With diagrams and hundreds of photos it is an absolute joy to read and has given me an unbelievable amount of new insight on a subject I have read about for years. (Who could wish for more from a book!)

The author obviously knows his material but more importantly he knows his audience. He keeps the technical jargon down to a minimum (which is quite an accomplishment considering the subject) and lends a human dimension when explaining very complex ideas and mathematics.

This is the nuts and bolts of how the US put men on the moon - from Kennedy's proclamation to splashdown - and as far as I know it is the best book available when it comes to explaining it.

Essential reading for anyone interested in the Apollo missions.
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on 8 February 2010
I was looking at the Haynes Lunar Module book, when I spotted this little gem.

How Apollo Flew to the Moon by W. David Woods is just a masterpiece of a read. It flows through the missions on a step by step basis, with really good explanations of space travel and gravity, etc. As an Aircraft Engineer I didn't find the book complicated, but neither is it patronising to 'non technical' types.

It was exactly what I wanted for a deeper understanding of the Apollo missions. And now when I watch film extracts from those missions I have a better understanding of what they mean when they talk about "..verb 11" and "..Noun 69"

My daughter recently came home from school saying that her teacher told her that the men "didn't really go to the moon". I was livid! I watched the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Missions as a fascinated youngster, and here I was being told that my heroes were fakes! I showed my daughter some of the videos I've got and stuff from the NASA website and she changed her mind, but if I'd had this book then it would have changed her teachers' mind. I could have hit her with it!
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on 1 May 2016
A great book with an excellent detailed step by step description of how the Apollo programme built up to and achieved the moon landings. It increases your admiration of the engineers and astronauts when you have a better understanding of the challenges they faced. The contingency planning to handle systems failure and have abort plans to return the crew whenever possible are striking. I'm particularly amazed by the capabilities of the on board computers, they were more sophisticated than I had realised. There will be challenges you hadn't even thought about. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 30 June 2016
A superb book that I had to buy on both kindle, and paperback, in sight into all aspects of the Apollo set up and Program. One for those wanting to understand just how we got the moon, and for those that need that extra detail it's all in here. Brilliant book.
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