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How Apollo Flew to the Moon

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Stung by the pioneering space successes of the Soviet Union - in particular, Gagarin being the first man in space, the United States gathered the best of its engineers and set itself the goal of reaching the Moon within a decade. In an expanding 2nd edition of How Apollo Flew to the Moon, David Woods tells the exciting story of how the resulting Apollo flights were conducted by following a virtual flight to the Moon and its exploration of the surface. From launch to splashdown, he hitches a ride in the incredible spaceships that took men to another world, exploring each step of the journey and detailing the enormous range of disciplines, techniques, and procedures the Apollo crews had to master. While describing the tremendous technological accomplishment involved, he adds the human dimension by calling on the testimony of the people who were there at the time. He provides a wealth of fascinating and accessible material: the role of the powerful Saturn V, the reasoning behind trajectories, the day-to-day concerns of human and spacecraft health between two worlds, the exploration of the lunar surface and the sheer daring involved in traveling to the Moon and the mid-twentieth century. Given the tremendous success of the original edition of How Apollo Flew to the Moon, the second edition will have a new chapter on surface activities, inspired by reader's comment on Amazon.com. There will also be additional detail in the existing chapters to incorporate all the feedback from the original edition, and will include larger illustrations.

555 pages, Paperback

First published October 31, 2007

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W. David Woods

2 books4 followers

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5 stars
326 (71%)
4 stars
101 (22%)
3 stars
23 (5%)
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5 (1%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Gary Schroeder.
126 reviews9 followers
December 31, 2012
You're likely reading this review because you're interested in the Apollo program...really interested. More interested than the average interested person. You've read the popular accounts. You know who the LMP was on Apollo 14. You know what a SLA panel is. Your friends are tired of hearing about your little tid bits of Apollo knowledge. You wish they shared your enthusiasm. More importantly, you wish there was more to read, more to know. I have good news for you: there is. Much more. David Woods' excellent "How Apollo Flew to the Moon" fills an important void in the Apollo canon in that it skips the personalities and the typical hagiography covered in copious detail elsewhere and goes straight to the mechanics of the machines that once carried humans to another world and back.

It all looks so simple on film from across the decades--you suit up, you get on top of a rocket, you fly your ship to the moon, fly down in a lander and hop back up. Simple. I'm being absurd here, of course, but this is how many people recall the Apollo landings, one of the single greatest technical and engineering feats in human history. If you're even remotely jaded about this accomplishment, Woods will remind you--in great detail--of just how awe inspiring the machines and their underlying technology were. He takes the reader on a methodical journey from the earliest moments of lift-off to the (surprisingly) complex sequence of events preceding splash down, breaking each into their constituent parts. Along the way, you will learn about telemetry, orbital mechanics, computer science and engineering. You will appreciate the technological wall that must be scaled in order to reach the moon and return...and you will marvel that it was ever accomplished at all.

What would I change about the book? Only one thing. The rather amateur cover. The newer edition has better cover art, but it's still a little lame. I know that authors have little if anything to say about the cover their publisher chooses to slap on their books but for those who do judge a book by its cover, I hope it gets better treatment in the future.
Profile Image for Roberto Selbach.
15 reviews2 followers
January 20, 2014
If you are interested in the Apollo program from an engineering standpoint, this book is for you. It is essentially a description of systems and operations for each step of the Apollo/Saturn stack.

Prior to reading this book I had read about the Saturn V in general, I knew about its propulsion system, the guidance, the gimbals, the fuel mix. But after reading this book, I was amazed by how much I did not know about it. The book goes through every detail of what happened to each stage, including things that went wrong and why. Things like how they made sure the fuel was kept "below" so bubbles wouldn't go into the turbopumps, etc.

It is a technical book but not overwhelming. The author goes to great lengths to explain things in layperson's terms.

If you are more interested in the Apollo/Saturn V than the average person, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Profile Image for Daniel.
19 reviews
July 5, 2014
Typical sentence in this book: 'Of course, Earth does have an atmosphere and any spacecraft on a trajectory with a 40-kilometer perigee is bound to plough into its gases where the immense kinetic energy will be dissipated as heat' (p. 467). This book inspires me to learn more about space/rocketry. The Apollo missions were absolutely amazing considering the technology they utilized. This book celebrates the engineers, mathematicians, and physicists who built the system just as much as it focuses on the astronauts who rode the Saturn V and the Saturn I into space. This book is pretty technical but is within reach of an enthusiast like me....the author acknowledges that it is his goal to not include even one formula & he succeeds.
10 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2015
This is an outstanding book describing and explaining the technology of the Apollo space program. I've read dozens and dozens of books on the Apollo-era manned space program (including Mercury and Gemini), and when I started reading this, I didn't really expect to learn much I hadn't already encountered. I was very wrong about that.

Mr. Woods provides an exacting level of detail, sure to make sure you learn something you didn't know. A representative example is his discussion of why Apollo 8 leapfrogged earth-orbital testing and went directly to the Moon in 1968. It's well known that the lunar module (LM) was not yet ready for manned spaceflight, and most texts say pretty much that. Here's Woods's statement (pp 36-37):

Apollo 8 had originally been planned as the D-mission, a test of the entire Apollo system including a lunar module in low Earth orbit, on the assumption that Apollo 7 would successfully carry out the C-mission. However, the first man-capable LM was not ready for flight owing to a litany of problems: stress fractures had appeared in some of its structural components; the type of wiring used on the intended spacecraft was prone to breakage; and the engine for the ascent stage was prone to combustion instability. Bereft of a LM, managers were unwilling to simply repeat Apollo 7, so they altered the mission sequence and brought the deep-space goals of the E-mission forward, but without a lander.

This is typical of the level of detail that Woods artfully supplies: instead of just saying the LM wasn't ready, he describes why: stress fractures, wiring breakage and ascent stage instability. This is the only book I've ever read that provided this level of detail, and it's worth noting that Woods does so without turning the passage into a drudgerous recitation of facts. This is typical of his approach throughout the book.

There's a lot I learned in this book, that I'd never encountered elsewhere. I never realized the Saturn stages had retro rockets and ullage rockets; the retros used on a dropped stage to pull it away from the still-moving rocket; and the ullage rockets (in the early Saturns) giving a light boost to settle the propellants in their tanks before igniting the upper stages; or that the stages were separated with explosive cord that actually cut through the metal, rather than explosive bolts as I'd always assumed. Also, the details of the Hohmann transfer orbit, a two-burn maneuver used to change from a lower orbit to a higher one; I'm pretty surprised I'd not encountered that one before.

And errors? I usually spot a small number of errors in just about every book of this nature, but not in this book. I thought I'd caught one: Woods refers to the VAB, the huge building in which the Saturn stages were vertically assembled, as the "Vehicle Assembly Building," and my understanding was that that name did not come about until the 1980s and the Shuttle program; during the Apollo program, I thought, it was called the "Vertical Assembly Building." But when I attempted to verify that, I found that that I was wrong: yes, it was indeed the Vertical Assembly Building when it was first built, but the rename to Vehicle Assembly Building occurred in 1965, well before the first Apollo flight; even then, NASA had its eyes on post-Apollo operations.

Woods is British (making his level of knowledge and detail about this US space program even more admirable), so it's a bit disconcerting to have British spelling used throughout, but one quickly adapts to that. The only area of improvement I would suggest deals in his use of the metric system. As he is British, use of metric is understandable, and he addresses this in the preface of the book. However, given that the text of the book is interspersed with references to 1960s NASA documents and quotes, all of which use the English system of feet, pounds, etc., it would have been nice to have also seen the English units added parenthetically.

But this is a quibble. The bottom line is that this is an extraordinary and excellent book for anyone interested in the details of the Apollo program, and I recommend it with no reservations whatsoever.
160 reviews2 followers
March 18, 2018
This is a spectacular book if you really want to know the details of the Apollo program. If you are not interested you may find it a little dry. My only criticism is that the book is so good I wish it was in hardcover, in a bigger format that would allow for some larger photographs and diagrams. The book would get a solid five stars in this case. As it is, this seems to be the definitive book on the technical and logistics aspects of this important and historic event.
One final note, I got the 2008 version… when I ordered the book their was already a 2011 update out that I somehow missed. I recently got the updated version - and it is even more complete (I now reviewed this under the new listing).
Profile Image for Jake Cooper.
393 reviews16 followers
July 8, 2020
I bought it as a reference to poke through, but I ended up reading it cover-to-cover. Learn about Apollo issues like the necessity of ullage thrusters in 0g (to force the contents of partially-full tanks to the desired side).

Fun fact: One of the onboard sighting systems had a "unity-power telescope". That's a 1x zoom, like holding a paper towel tube to your eye.
Profile Image for Ben.
219 reviews9 followers
October 31, 2018
Inspiring and incredibly interesting.
Profile Image for Jim.
136 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2014
If you are a space buff this is the book for you. Like an episode of "How it's Made," this book confines itself to providing a technical, but not overly complicated explanation of how Apollo got to the moon and back. Distilling the thousands of moving parts that comprised the Apollo program into a very well written one volume description, the author takes such concepts as gravity, orbital dynamics, weightlessness, and computer theory, and explains them as they applied to Apollo in a way even the non-scientifically inclined can get their brains around.

Really enjoyable!
42 reviews
October 24, 2015
This book is a treasure trove of technical details on the Apollo moon flights. It starts with a brief history of the Apollo program and then gives a detailed mission profile amalgamated from all of the flights. From orbital insertion burns, to EVA, to reentry, the book covers everything in enough detail to satisfy the most demanding Apollo nerd. The author also highlight differences between the missions as the technology evolved and gives plenty of quotes from the astronauts to illustrate how exhausting the missions were for the men involved. Highly recommended.
160 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2016
The definitive book on the moon program. Even better than the original- more and larger pictures and slightly expanded text in most chapters. In the end, over 120 pages of additional pictures and text. Two greatly expanded chapter, "Down in the Dust", and "Exploration at its Greatest" replace the chapter "Orbital Sojourn" in the original. Eliminates the center color section and puts color pictures throughout the text.
Only negative in that like the original it is a Softcover and like the original it has a somewhat goofy cover.
Profile Image for Micah Siegmund.
156 reviews
September 22, 2016
Fascinating and very thorough account of the Apollo missions to the moon, covering everything from the building of the various rockets/modules, preparation, launch, orbit, landing, scientific activity on the lunar surface, re-acquisition of the lunar module, return to earth, re-entry into the atmosphere, retrieval in the ocean and dozens of other minor tasks and procedures. Most of the book was over my head quite frankly but it was still amazing to try to absorb how many brave and intelligent people it took to pull this off.
Profile Image for Rick Parker.
1 review
December 5, 2013
For space geeks who like to know all the technical details of precisely how the Apollo program managed to land 2 men on the moon and return them to the earth using a single booster, this is the one! I've read it twice and I could (and will) read it again and pick up new information each time.
Profile Image for Luiz Fellipe.
4 reviews2 followers
March 24, 2016
Very good description in details of the Apollo program. The author tells step by step how a mission works, from the preparations to launch to the splashdown. The book also features nice photographs and astronauts quotes, that helps the reader to feel the ambience of moon missions.
Profile Image for Antonio Santoyo.
125 reviews1 follower
September 5, 2017
Great book. An extraordinary source of information for anyone interested in the technical generalities of NASA's greatest achievement. Easy to read and very insightful, it's a must read for the space aficionado and the public in general.
Profile Image for Burke.
11 reviews
September 17, 2017
This is an outstanding book on the technical aspects on the Apollo missions to the moon, but it's written so clearly that a layperson can grasp it. This is one of the best books on the Apollo program - a must-read for anyone interested in those missions.
4 reviews1 follower
July 11, 2010
A must read for anyone seriously interested in the history of Apollo.
60 reviews14 followers
March 17, 2011
Do not judge this book by its unfortunate cover! By far the best narrative about the engineering side of the Space Race, and Woods' passion for the subject is evident on every page.
Profile Image for Barry.
25 reviews
July 5, 2015
Rich in technical detail yet quite readable, "How Apollo Flew to the Moon" is an essential part of any space nerd's library.
25 reviews3 followers
May 13, 2022
This book is seriously dense. When it says "How", it really means it, in an unbelievably meticulous way.

I'm an extremely curious person and have been interested in space and astronomy for a long time, but nonetheless, while I found most of the detail interesting, I found some sections a bit of a struggle to engage with. The result was, I felt some parts of the book were a chore to get through. So if I were rating for personal enjoyment, I would probably give it four stars. I see the vast majority rated it five and seem to be craving the amount of detail it provides—I find myself really jealous I don't have the same attention span!

However, if I take a step back and consider it more objectively, I think it's great that someone has taken the time to research and present all the detail here. From that perspective, it would be really unfair to give this book anything other than five. In the epilogue, the author alludes to the fact that the Moon landing may be the most important event in the history of mankind, not just to the present, but perhaps for all time. Thus, his book is an extremely important historical document that should be useful for hundreds, or even possibly thousands of years in the future.
August 4, 2019
Short review:

A highly detailed look at the progress of all the Apollo missions to the moon, overlaid as if one large composite mission. This book describes all the events in great and satisfying detail.

The strongest impression I got from it is that space travel in TV and movies is but a fantasy. Three men cannot go to the Moon and come back as if driving to the local mall. The spaceship can’t even go by itself; it sends telemetry to the ground and receives guidance back. No, it takes careful planning, budgeting resources, hundreds of people on the ground with more computer resources than the spaceship can carry precisely calculating complicated trajectories. And the whole program is backed up by the hundreds of thousands who helped design and build the spacecraft, did all the science and engineering work to make it happen.

Miss one step, have one accident, get the trajectory off by a few degrees, and the mission is fatal.

Incredibly, after the tragedy of Apollo One, the program had not one single further fatality. Even more, the program learned from its errors.

If you want to know what a monumental achievement it was to land on the moon six times, read this book.
Profile Image for Andreas.
Author 2 books26 followers
May 1, 2019
A technical overview of the Apollo program, from hardware to missions, set at a level suitable for the interested layman. The author wisely starts discussions from first principles, from a basic explanation of orbits to the intricacies of stellar navigation.

The book is extremely well researched and clearly written. Mr. Wood has sprinkled the text with actual radio chatter and interviews with the protagonists. This elevates the chapters from a dry, textbook style discussion into something far more real.

A must read for any space program enthusiast.

14 reviews
May 1, 2021
This is an older book that was recently gifted to me. Unlike the personal stories of the astronauts, this is the technical story of the spacecraft and the mission. It is one of the best books on the Apollo program I have read. It explains the technical details in a way this layman could understand. Although it is very detailed, it didn’t become tedious and boring. A great glossary is included but I found I didn’t need it most of the time because the information was contained in the narrative. I recommend this book to anyone interested in space flight an in the Apollo program in particular.
90 reviews
January 4, 2020
In one way, thanks to the ingenuity and intelligence of the thousands of people involved (and the bare-naked bravery of those at the pointy end), this explains exactly how the Apollo missions achieved what they did. And yet, given the technology employed at the time and the pressure placed on the programme by JFK, it’s an absolute miracle what was achieved in such a (relatively) short span of time, and with such repeated mission success. Truly awe-inspiring stuff, indeed.
Profile Image for Nikky.
176 reviews3 followers
July 9, 2019
How Apollo Flew to the Moon is the best book on the nitty-gritty details of how the Saturn V, Command Module, and Lunar Module all worked to land three humans on the Moon and brought them back alive again. Details on guidance, navigation, computer operations, life support systems, and others abound. It's the kind of book that's written by nerds, for nerds.
Profile Image for Dan Cohen.
394 reviews13 followers
October 20, 2019
Good book with lots of technical and other details from the Apollo programme. The main thrust of the book (pardon the pun) is to explain the various systems and procedures for flying Apollo missions. There's also a bit of celestial mechanics that I found useful. Keeping the book from being too dense there's lots of narrative of the missions and anecdotes covering the human side.
July 16, 2017
- Very good introduction, but the difficult narrative content inside.
- Too much technical to read while sleepy.
- Too less technical to follow in science and engineering.
- Having prior knowledge from somewhere such as Wikipedia is preferable.
June 3, 2021
If you're really interested in the details about how Apollo flew to the Moon down to switches dials subsystems and computer programming, then this is the book for you More detail than you can get almost anywhere else.
9 reviews
March 29, 2018
Really enjoyed this. A bit more tech so I would have given 5 stars. Or perhaps I'm too hard. Really good book. I can recommend it to anyone interested in the moon missions.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews

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