(photo credit: NASA)
Quiz 3: The Mercury 7 again! Name ’em!***
Quiz 3: The Mercury 7 again! Name ’em!***
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
Evidence of a benevolent universe: I picked this book for the Read-a-Thon. First book of the day, and it just plain blissed me out.
Yes, I’m a confirmed space geek.
But I’m here to tell you, you don’t gotta be that wild about space to really like this book. It’s got those intangibles that make a nonfiction book loveable even for people who don’t care about the subject matter. I’ll name one of those intangibles: intelligent good humor. There are authors out there, people, who lack this variety of Right Stuff. But Roach has it in spades.
Speaking of the Right Stuff, Roach describes the way that Stuff has changed over the years. She writes that, “America’s first astronauts were selected by balls and charisma” (p. 28), but these days they gotta be sensitive team players who ooze empathy.
These two sentences had me busting a gut: “Today’s space agency doesn’t want guts and swagger. They want Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe.” (p. 32)
This probably explains why I get all swept away by the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, but feel pretty darn iggis about the astronauts of today. I like some swagger in my astronauts. I just do.
There’s also entertaining stuff here about what the astronauts eat, and also about what happens once they’re done digesting it.
And Roach got to ride on the Vomit Comet!
Which brings us to other gross biological stuff, like nausea in space and BO. But… it almost sounds like boredom, isolation, and confined spaces are more insidious enemies to today’s astronauts. It ain’t very glamorous up there.
But it sure as hell is entertaining to read about.
Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad
How did this book miss my radar for 2 years? It’s a remarkable story, gorgeously and simply told, and as an audiobook it’s simply stunning. And I’m rather appalled that I missed knowing about it till now.
We know I can’t keep away from plane crash stories. This is such a story.
But it’s really a father-son story, told by the grown son, who’s looking back at his childhood and the influence of his charismatic father. Ollestad’s dad really pushed his son to excel athletically—dragging him out of bed for hockey practice, taking him surfing in waves he found frightening, and skiing with him down icy mountains. And all that adventure travel and extreme sport stuff prepared him for February 1979, when the worst happened.
Eleven-year-old Norman, his dad, his dad’s girlfriend, and a pilot were flying in the mountains, and they crashed.
The plane crash story is interwoven with the story of Norman’s life in the year or so leading up the crash. Obviously we know Norman survived, but it’s still surprisingly suspenseful to read the passages about the crash and its aftermath. It’s pretty amazing that an 11-year-old could have the strength and the presence of mind to take the steps necessary for his survival, but he was kind of an extraordinary kid.
He’s grown up to be an extraordinary writer.
Other notes: The author reads the audiobook himself, and I can’t imagine anyone else reading it. His intonation adds so much to the story that I actually can’t even imagine reading it on the page. It’s rare that an audiobook is powerful enough for me to say that. (Audiobook: 7.5 hours)
BTW, Amazon has an essay the author wrote about enticing his young son into reading. I love it.
This fine book, which has more history than insider stuff, is the closest thing I could find in book form (especially the glorious chapter 9: “Behind the Scenes with the Blue Angels,” which is like candy to a baby).
The thing is: There is no shortage of videos about the Blue Angels, and that makes perfect sense. The drama is really in the visual. And I’ll be the first to confess that I saw every last one of those DVDs that I could get my hands on, before ever thinking to seek out a book.
In fact, let’s pause—shall we?—for a brief video interruption:
In this book’s favor:
1. Written by Noah Adams (of NPR), who has a pleasant speaking voice (not that that has anything to do with one’s writing ability, but I get a calming feeling when I see the name Noah Adams)
2. It is about the fathers of powered flight!!
On the other end of the stick: This book sure sounds like it’s one of them travelogues.
And, as stated before, I’m not keen on the travelogues, particularly when they are predicated on a gimmick (a la, I’ve always wanted to do this thing, and so now I’ll do this thing and write about it!!)
So this book was a mixed bag for me.
I’ll admit it was Noah Adams’ name that made me pick it up; when I saw the Adams and Wright names together, I thought, “Here’s my book.”
And I liked that he started the book with a visit to the Wrights’ graves. I think a cemetery visit is always good.
In spite of plenty of aviation reading over the years (from the 1980s on), I confess I’ve neglected the Wright brothers Until Now. Poor fellas. Not only ignored by the likes of me, but then Wilbur went and died all young, and Orville was a spinster his whole life and was meaner than mean to his sister when she deserted him to get married at age 50-something. It was a bit troubled, all that business.
But really, for me, it’s all about the humans and their aeroplanes.
Check out this picture, peoples:
How can you not get all verklempt?
That’s Orville flying the machine and Wilbur standing to the right.
Can anyone name the date and place? Aviation geeks, step forward!*
So here’s the best part of this book: It provides good details about the Wrights’ lives and their flights—to such an extent that I am feeling all sentimental about the wonders of flight. Adams makes the Wrights human and he shows them to be remarkable.
The part I didn’t love was the travelogue part—the interviewing people who work at, or live near, the various Wright sites. I like the biographer to step out of the picture and just give us the guys. But that’s just me. I imagine there are people who would be liking the I-went-here-and-talked-with-this-local-expert approach. Not so much my style, but still this book worked for me overall.
*December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Apollo: Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox
This book = Triumph of the Geeks
There are hardly any astronauts in this book, which may seem weird. But.
There are tons and tons of engineers and such-like people. And they’re not nearly as exciting as astronauts, yet still this was a good book. So: happy days!
This is the book in which I first learned truly to appreciate Christ(opher Columbus) Kraft and Glynn Lunney. In most of the Apollo documentaries I’ve seen, Gene Kranz is the talking head representing the flight directors (the dudes referred to simply as “Flight” during a mission), and Glynn Lunney gets short shrift, poor fella. And Chris Kraft was the grand poobah, and here we get to know about him. And, speak of the devil, here he is:
(Oh, please note: Big news: John Glenn Himself introduces this segment, and he is cute as a button.)
In the first few pages of this book, I knew I would like it, because the writing is lovely: it doesn’t get in your way, and it just purrs along nicely. When this happens, I know the author knows what he/she is doing; I actually stop and notice—and I appreciate it.
So, even though the astronauts are sort of afterthoughts in this book (and I love those astronauts), this book really makes the guys (and the one or two women) on the ground seem heroic, too.