Catherine Puma's Reviews > The Man Who Knew The Way to the Moon

The Man Who Knew The Way to the Moon by Todd Zwillich
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really liked it

This 3.5 hour Audible Original production is about the NASA engineer John Houbolt, who was the earliest advocator for lunar orbital rendezvous. While he did not invent the concept, he was a champion for getting the idea considered by upper level NASA decision-making management personnel. Houbolt distributed memos, sent off frustrated letters, gave pitching proposal presentations, and was on a team that wrote a 100+ page report detailing how to pull off the engineering and funding for the strategy.

A lot of space exploration fans are aware of different missions and astronauts, and many are aware that JFK's charismatic speech about getting an American man on the moon by the end of the decade came as a shock to the NASA community. While many were studying theories behind how to get men on the moon, accomplishing the feat within a specific time-frame (even with a large budget) was extremely challenging. This work is important because not everyone is aware of how we decided to get to the moon in the way that we did.

This audio performance is put together in a scientific journalism style with discussions from people who knew Houbolt (including his now 92 year old wife) and clips from Houbolt's interviews with the news media. This is good at telling a story that kids aren't really taught in school when learning about the space race. This focuses on the politics happening within NASA and the people skills needed that lead to deciding the strategy for getting USA astronauts on the moon.

Houbolt is a complicated hero. He was dogmatic, stubborn, and he stepped out of line because he believed in lunar orbital rendezvous so much. His proposal was really good and ended up being the strategy that we used to get to the moon. His story wouldn't be as important if his proposal wasn't approved, and he wouldn't be celebrated at all if it hadn't worked. Houbolt's proposal is estimated to have saved the government billions of dollars in program costs, and every other plan on the table probably would have gotten us there later than when JFK wanted.

I wish that this had focused a bit more on the science. Also, during his years at NASA advocating for this before anyone listened to him, what else was he working on? And while he wasn't the only one to write that 100+ page report on how to actually accomplish this idea, no one else on his team is mentioned. Did any lower level engineers he managed stay at NASA after he quit to help see his ideas through to completion?

This was really interesting and a great read for the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. I just wish it was a little tighter on the technical logistics of how stuff got done, and less about random human relation impressions.
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Reading Progress

July 15, 2019 – Started Reading
July 15, 2019 – Shelved
July 15, 2019 – Finished Reading

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