I read this book whilst on summer vacation in 2009 and it was a truly compulsive read. I veritably devoured all 261 pages within two days! DeGroot shares an alternative perspective on the much celebrated achievement of the USA space programme that saw Apollo 11 land Neil Armstrong on the moon.
In the course of his narrative, DeGroot reveals that the `manned' flights to the moon in the 1960's were a consequence of `Cold War' politics. He argues that the drive to land a man on the moon was in large part to satisfy the `US public's' psychology and demonstrate US technological superiority. The Soviet Union had stunned the West with its own space programme by making headline catching events such as launching first Sputnik and then Laika (a dog) into orbit around earth. America's nervousness of inferiority to the USSR surfaced again when Yuri Gagarin was launched into space. These insecurities, argues De Groot, were the factors that launched the US on its costly mission to take a man to the moon. However, as De Groot shows, the US were already significantly more technologically advanced than the Soviets and the men in the White House suspected they were.
Hence, the politics for hearts and minds amid public hysteria took root. DeGroot surfaces other uncomfortable realities of the programme. He traces the development of rocket history from its inauspicious Nazi origins and use of slave labour to develop the V-bombs in 1945. He explores how once the US programme was launched the contracts to develop and manufacture components for the Apollo missions sustained the economies of many localities within the US and introduced a lot of dependents on US public funding. Hence, the sustaining of the Apollo mission programme became highly politicised.
He demonstrates that the decision to make the missions `manned' flights was unnecessary from a technological point of view, yet added enormously to the development cost of the programme as life support systems had to be built. He explores the profiles of the men chosen to be astronauts and how their `ego's' often clashed with those of the technicians that were developing the technology. It really is a fascinating and provocative insight into the history of space flight.
Prior to reading this book I have travelled on holiday to Florida on two separate occasions with my family and on both occasions for me the personal highlight of the trip was our visit to the Kennedy Space Centre. Whether touring the facilities of the preserved `launch control' centre for Apollo 7, or standing in the shadow of the huge Saturn V rocket, I have always felt an immense sense of awe, pride and respect those early pioneers in manned space-flight. Their achievement in taking a man to the moon and bringing him back is truly awe-inspiring. Despite the observations made by DeGroot I still retain that high level of admiration and respect for all the men and women who contributed to the success of taking man to the moon.
DeGroot's book provides a very well written alternative view on the achievement. It is a tremendous read and provides some great historical insight and context to the challenges and successes of manned missions is Space. What the book does perfectly to my mind, is that it illustrates the complex nature of human beings; how our emotions, fears and perceptions of self-interest are equally important drivers to attain our dreams; equally as important as the noble and heroic motives that we also choose to inspire us.