Hit Movie Renews Interest In Books About Space Missions During The ‘60s And Early ‘70s, When America Was In Love With Its Astronauts, Many Of Them Wrote Books, Sometimes In Collaborative Efforts.
Interest in NASA and ‘70s space heroes has soared, thanks to the hit movie “Apollo 13.”
TV has been dusting off old documentaries about the aborted moon mission. And the book “Apollo 13” had been No. 1 on The New York Times paperback bestseller list (it slipped to No. 2 this week). Who knows, maybe people are even tuning into the NASA Channel instead of watching summer reruns.
“Apollo 13” is the summer’s hottest nonfiction beach book. Written by Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell and journalist Jeffrey Kluger and published in hardcover last year under the title “Lost Moon,” “Apollo 13” (Pocket, $6.50) details the dramatic effort to get the crippled spacecraft back home in 1970.
Lovell’s book is one of dozens on space flight that have been published since America decided to pour its energies and resources into beating the Soviet Union to the moon.
Last year - the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing - saw the publication of several major books that are newly available in paperback. Andrew Chaikin’s “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts” (Penguin, $15.95, paperback) and “Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon” (Turner, $12.95, paperback) by astronauts Alan Shepard and Donald K. Slayton (with Jay Barbree and Howard Benedict) were called “lively and readable” by The New York Times Book Review last year.
If you’re eager to read more about the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo or space shuttle programs, libraries and bookstores are happy to oblige.
Consider the classics of the genre. Tom Wolfe’s jaunty “The Right Stuff” (Bantam, $5.95, paperback) has more than 2 million copies in print. Published in 1979, “The Right Stuff” is a raucous ride through the early days of the space program, when guys like John Glenn and Gus Grissom were the brave Mercury pilots willing to sit atop rockets that “always blew up!”
Stormin’ Norman Mailer took on the space program in the heady days after the first moon landing in 1970’s “Of a Fire on the Moon.” Michael Collins, the command module pilot on Apollo 11, brought an I-was-there authenticity to his books about space, “Carrying the Fire” (1974) and “Liftoff: The Story of America’s Adventure in Space” (1988).
During the ‘60s and early ‘70s, when America was in love with its astronauts, many of them wrote books, sometimes in collaborative efforts. When I was a kid, my parents had a copy of “We Seven,” the 1962 book about the Mercury program “by the Astronauts Themselves” (Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Walter Schirra, Shepard and Slayton). In 1970, the Apollo 11 astronauts - Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Collins - co-wrote “First on the Moon.” Even Grissom, who died in the horrible launching-pad fire aboard Apollo 1, wrote a book called “Gemini!”
The astronaut-as-author trend has continued. Recently published in paperback is “Deke!” (Forge, $14.95), an autobiography by Slayton (with Michael Cassutt), one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts who went on to become chief of the astronaut corps.
Scientists also have written books about NASA. “Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program” by Howard E. McCurdy (Johns Hopkins, $32.95, 1993) is a title in the New Series in NASA History line. “To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist’s History of Lunar Exploration” by Don E. Wilhelms (Arizona, 1993, $19.95, paperback) explains why we were so eager to get our hands on those moon rocks.
The Smithsonian Institution and the National Air and Space Museum are the folks behind the coffee-table book “Space: Discovery and Exploration” (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, $75, 1993). “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Space” by Michael Rycroft (Cambridge University Press, $84.95, 1991) is a comprehensive guide to man’s efforts to travel beyond Earth’s confines.
There are plenty of children’s books about the space program. These include the “interactive” title “Exploring Space” (Scholastic, $19.95), Dorling Kindersley’s “Look Inside Cross-Section Space” ($5.95, paperback) and the illustrated “Inside Outside Space” by David Shayler (Random House, $16).
Grosset & Dunlap has also published several children’s “Apollo 13” movie tie-in books, including a junior novelization and “Apollo 13: The Movie Storybook” by Jane B. Mason ($7.95, paperback).
Older fans of the movie can check out “The Apollo Adventure: The Making of the Apollo Space Program and the Movie ‘Apollo 13’ ” by Jeffrey Kluger (Pocket, $12, paperback).