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Liftoff: The Story of America's Adventure in Space

by Michael Collins, James Dean (Illustrator)

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1404155,375 (4.14)4
Recounts the events that launched man into space, from supersonic aircraft to spacecraft to shuttle.

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Collins, fellow astronaut on the 1969 mission where Neil Armstrong took mankind's first walk on the moon, tells the complete story of America's space program--from the first faltering steps in 1960 to the crisis that befell NASA in 1986. Over 100 illustrations.

KIRKUS REVIEW: Lively, intelligent, richly detailed history of the US space program by an astronaut who made it to the moon. Collins (Carrying the Fire, 1974) begins his account just after WW II, when the RAND report called for an ""Experimental World. Circling Spaceship."" A decade later, this visionary machine came into being as the Mercury space capsule, chariot for John Glenn's round-the-world joy ride. This, of course, was just a preamble to the real adventure, the race to the moon, which spawned the Gemini and Apollo programs and their spacious offspring, Skylab and the Space Shuttle. Collins meticulously recounts NASA's many engineering coups (how to deal with radiation, acceleration, weightlessness, bodily functions, meteor strikes); at the same time, he tactfully describes the quirky personalities of his fellow spaceman: of Scott Carpenter, for example, Collins notes that ""he was so taken with his new playground that at times he had to be reminded to perform his routine duties."" There are vivid memories, too, of Collins' own flights, including his stint as commander of the Apollo 11 Lunar Orbitor (""flying solo at its finest""). He wraps it up with a report on NASA's low post-Challenger morale (""the magic is disappearing"") and a call for a national Mars program to reinvigorate our sense of wonder. Not just a compact and thorough history, this splendid volume also answers many of those weird questions that nag armchair astronauts in the middle of the night: Is the moon gray or brown? How's the food up there? What's it like to turn a screwdriver while wearing those stay-puff spacesuit gloves? A treat for scholars and thrill-seekers.
  MasseyLibrary | Mar 14, 2018 |
Astronaut Michael Collins' 1988 followup to his excellent Carrying the Fire. The first half of this book covers a lot of the same general ground as the earlier one -- the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs -- but does so more succinctly, and with less focus on Collins' personal story and more on the development and the workings of the technology involved. Like Carrying the Fire, it's surprisingly well-written. Collins is very good at relating technological details clearly and well, and at odd moments he can become downright eloquent. I read this book for the first time many, many years ago, not long after it first came out, and there's one line that has stuck with me ever since. Collins is talking about watching the lunar lander approach him on its way back from the moon: "I can't see Neil or Buzz, or the 3 billion people on the small blue blob just behind them, but I know they are there -- and that's all there are in the entire universe, framed in my window." Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a sense of perspective.

Once finished with Apollo, Collins goes on to devote most of a chapter to Skylab, an interesting but often forgotten piece of America's space history. Then he tackles the space shuttle, from its early planning stages up through the Challenger accident in 1986. This chapter is particularly interesting, I think, for the way it offers us a pilot's perspective on the shuttle. Finally, the last chapter looks towards the future, including plans for what would eventually become the International Space Station, a brief survey of possible destinations in the solar system, and some speculative discussion about manned missions to Mars. While Collins is ultimately optimistic about humanity's future in space, the unsettledness and uncertainty that marked the US space program in the wake of Challenger is very evident here, and I found it more than a little depressing to contemplate how little things have really changed since.

While this book is a bit dated -- it's odd to hear Collins talking about the future of the Soviet Union's space program, knowing that very soon the Soviet Union would cease to exist -- it's still very much worth reading, and I recommend it to anyone who is truly interested in space. ( )
3 vote bragan | Nov 21, 2012 |
"The boundary line between a blue and white planet, and one that is gray and tan, is fragile. Is the riverbank a delight or an obscenity, a place for diving ducks or greasy truck tires? I cry that the technology that produced this marvelous machine we call Columbia leaves in its wake the detritus of a century of industrial abuse. It need not be that way. We can use technology to cleanse, to repair, to maintain – even as we build, as we spiral out into the universe."

Written by Michael Collins, the often forgotten third astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission who didn’t get to land on the moon, this book spans the years of the beginnings of NASA, to the start of the space shuttle program. It encompasses the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions as well as the various men involved in the program from the astronauts to the engineers and includes drawings and diagrams of various vehicles, spacecraft and characters. It was fascinating to learn about the inner workings of the agency, from the original module designs to the disagreements over policy to all of the complexities of such an ambitious undertaking as going to the moon.

The idealism and passion behind the program was palpable in the writing. It didn’t hurt that the book was peppered with quotes from various people of the period, including employees which created atmosphere and a sense of urgency. They make the story of the space program come alive and show that the agency was the optimistic hope of a younger nation with hopes that stretched out beyond the boundaries of the Earth. As time wore on you could see and feel how NASA changed, adapting to a changing world and ever evolving technology. I liked how we got to see how NASA matured as an agency and how the original aspirations and plans changed over time due to budget constraints and political opinion. I also found the section concerning Apollo 1 very educational. I was aware of the troubles that Apollo 13 had faced thanks to the movie but was unaware of the tragic ending of the first Apollo mission. It was interesting to see how NASA handled the situation and how the world reacted.

Collins is very good at detail. The problem is he’s too good. While I was trying to work my way through the book I was constantly bogged down by all of the numbers and figures Collins peppers throughout the book. At one point I was so frustrated I didn’t want to finish the book. I understand the book was written by an analytical mind about a real time in history but the main point to take into consideration is that it’s a book first. If it’s not readable, people won’t read it and then instead of being a book it’s just tree pulp sitting on a shelf somewhere. My other complaint is that there isn’t an addendum to this book with an update of NASA over the past twenty years. So much has changed in that span of time that the space shuttle program isn’t even running anymore.

I will say that there were some dramatic moments that made for some good reading. I wasn’t even aware that SkyLab existed until reading this book. Overall it was a fascinating read.
Whether prescient or not, Collins does have a section where he says that Mars is the next frontier, which appears to be where some think we should be heading next. Others want to head back to the moon, whether to mine it for materials such as helium or water or whether to set up a permanent base. Whatever we decide to do, we’re still fascinated by space and I hope we continue to look up and wonder about what might be out there, just waiting to be discovered.

If you are interested in the history of NASA’s space program and don’t mind extra detail included with the narrative, pick up this book. ( )
  theduckthief | Jun 27, 2012 |
kid book; good nonetheless ( )
  NAFR | Jun 19, 2007 |
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Michael Collinsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dean, JamesIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Recounts the events that launched man into space, from supersonic aircraft to spacecraft to shuttle.

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