Project Apollo: The Early Years, 1961-1967, by Eugen Reichl (2016)

13 to Adult
Project Apollo: The Early Years 1961-1967, by Eugen ReichlHow sadly appropriate that I’m writing this on the day American astronaut and space pioneer John Glenn passed away, Dec. 8. You don’t have to be too much of a space geek to enjoy this introduction to the unmanned Apollo missions that preceded Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s steps on the moon. This is the third book in the America in Space series (after Project Mercury and Project Gemini), all authored by Reichl, an aerospace expert who works for the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS). The book was originally written and published in German, which surprised me given the topic. Reichl writes in clear, accessible language. He touches on technical topics in enough detail to appeal to enthusiasts but doesn’t lose readers in the process. We learn about the amazing development of the Saturn rockets and the Apollo program from the time President John F. Kennedy threw down the challenge in 1961 through the ensuing technical challenges to the tragic fire that claimed the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White during a routine test before the launch of what would have been Apollo 1, the first of the manned Apollo missions. (Expect a follow-up book on the rest of the Apollo program’s manned missions.) Along with narrative, chronological chapters that take the reader through each aspect of the program, the book includes feature pages on each of the 20+ missions, providing details and data such as mission purpose, payload, engine info, duration and distance, and burn and orbit information when appropriate. The historical information is well researched, informative and fascinating. I was delighted to learn that early ideas included the so called one way mission, a contingency that truly reveals the “space race” competition between the US and the USSR. In this plan, NASA would use its limited technology to send a single astronaut to the moon with supplies. There he (it was of course going to be a man) would stay until technology permitted sending a manned rocket that could provide them all a ride back to earth. Much attention is spent on the development of the descent engine for the lunar lander, described by Reichl as “probably the most significant technical achievement of the entire Apollo program” (p. 84). While Reichl refers to the US-Russia space race, the book suffers, in my view, by a lack of contextual information on the Cold War that pitted the two nations against each other and ultimately led the US to reach for the moon in less than a decade. The e-edition I had provided a short table of contents and a one-page chronology, but lacked an index, which is a shame. Recommended for teens and adults; younger readers are likely to struggle with the highly detailed technical aspects.
My thanks to Schiffer Publishing for the advance copy provided through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.


About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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