July 5, 2013

Book: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kruger

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:32 pm

imagesI have not seen the Apollo 13 movie but I know it is a hit and a well made movie. Before reading the book, I wondered how a movie can be made and that too, made so interestingly that it makes it to the best movies of the year list. After all, how much can you tell about a problem in a space craft and how it was brought down safely? The book tells you how it should be done, very effectively.


The story is told by one of the astronauts, Jim Lowell, who was the captain of the flight, and he has engaged Jeffrey Kruger as his co-author to do the word craft. The result is immensely satisfying. The partnership works very well.


The story starts with the space flight but employs the interesting technique of going back and forth on the Lowell’s life, and captures the enthusiasm and love of space flights that permeated the NASA crew of the old days and how Jim was chosen to join NASA from the air force. His childhood was spent in launching home made rockets and so NASA was the perfect place for him.


Apollo 13 was his fourth space flight, his swan song, his chance to land on the moon – even if he was not the first to do so. It all went awry fast, and the story is told brilliantly, alternating between the thngs that went wrong in the spacecraft, the reactions of the NASA engineers, the full might of the NASA employed in figuring out how to get the ship back to earth on the one hand, and the personal lives of the astronauts, the reaction of the wives, how they coped, how they protected the children from the anguish on the other. All well told.


It is hard to make a technical subject as the internals of the space craft, which the reader needs to know a little bit of to understand the import of the disaster and the solution, engrossing but the authors manage to do it brilliantly. The language is just right for a lay reader to not only comprehend the issue but also get immersed in the enthusiasm and avid interest of all the players in the space program of that time.


The various measures suggested to ensure that the space craft stays on course are interesting, when the reader realizes that not only have they lost an oxygen tank and the venting of the oxygen was moving the ship off course dangerously, but also some of the jets were lost and some of the other equipment did not work properly. For instance, the heating system could not heat up the space ship and so the astronauts spent the last hours (days?) of their travel  in the lunar module which would have not been there had they been able to land on the moon successfully.


The story keeps the interest, and even the prolog on what happened afterwards to the crew and their friends over the years, the glimpse of Lowell as the grandfather of a growing family, the moving out of the space crew and friends to careers outside of NASA – only partly due to the budget cuts after this flight and the investigation into what exactly went wrong – without the modules to examine are all told fascinatingly.


Even if you are not a space program enthusiast, I would recommend that this book be read by all, as this is one well written yarn, guaranteed to keep you turning the pages until the end, and also sure to leave you satisfied at the end of having read a very good book! The fact that you know the ending already takes nothing away from the suspense and tension. Well done.


I think this one deserves a 9/10


— Krishna


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