Title: Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module
Author: Thomas J. Kelly
Release Date: March 17, 2001
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the dust jacket:
In 1961, only a few weeks after Alan Shepherd completed the first American suborbital flight, President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The next year, NASA awarded the right to meet the extraordinary challenge of building a lunar excursion module to a small airplane company called Grumman from Long Island, New York. Chief engineer Thomas J. Kelly gives a first-hand account of designing, building, testing, and flying the Apollo lunar module. It was, he writes, “and aerospace engineer’s dream job of the century.” Kelly’s account begins with the imaginative process of sketching solutions to a host of technical challenges with an emphasis on safety, reliability, and maintainability. He catalogs numerous test failures, including propulsion-system leaks, ascent-engine instability, stress corrosion of the aluminum allow parts, and battery problems, as well as their fixes under the ever-present constraints of budget and schedule. He also recaptures the anticipation of the first unmanned lunar module flight with Apollo 5 in 1968, the exhilaration of hearing Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong report that “The Eagle has Landed,” and the pride of having inadvertently provided a vital “lifeboat” for the crew of the disabled Apollo 13.
I’ve always been very interested in NASA and the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions. One of my favorite TV programs is the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, which is an extremely well crafted and beautifully made account of the Apollo program. One of the best episodes of From the Earth to the Moon is “Spider”,” which is the story of how the Lunar Module (LM), which was the vehicle that actually landed on the moon, was created. Inspired by this amazing episode, I went and found the book written by the head of the LM program, Tom Kelly, which is his account of how the module was created. That story is contained in Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Moon Module.
While Moon Lander isn’t quite as fascinating as the miniseries episode, it’s a very engaging look at the process of building something completely new and unexpected. How do you even propose a design for a ship that is supposed to land on the moon when humans haven’t yet been there and have no idea what it’s like? Their design process was very interesting. It was really eye opening to see how many flaws they had to work through before they got it right. In this age of technology, we expect things to be done quickly and correctly the first time. We forget sometimes that the trial and error process is what brought us to where we are now.
I also loved the excitement that permeated through Moon Lander. You can tell that these guys were incredibly excited about being a part of something like the Apollo program. They really believed in what they were doing and were inspired by its successes.
Let me be clear: Moon Lander is a engineering book, more than anything else. While it isn’t too technical, this book is definitely written for those who are fans of the Apollo program and are already familiar with it. If you are looking for an introduction to books on this fascinating time period, I’d recommend A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. While I haven’t read this popular tome, it’s the book that the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon was based on. Still, Moon Lander is very interesting read that I recommend to any fans of the Apollo program, or anyone who is interested in engineering!