[Plus, it turns out to be day 13 of this meme, and I'm feeling vaguely amused by the coincidence.]
61. A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin:
A decade in the making, this book is based on hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews with each of the twenty-four moon voyagers, as well as those who contributed their brain power, training and teamwork on Earth. In his preface Chaikin writes, "We touched the face of another world and became a people without limits."
What follows are thrilling accounts of such remarkable experiences as the rush of a liftoff, the heart-stopping touchdown on the moon, the final hurdle of re-entry, competition for a seat on a moon flight, the tragic spacecraft fire, and the search for clues to the origin of the solar system on the slopes of lunar mountains
Why you should read it: I'm going to tell you a secret. My childhood dream was to become an astronaut. This lasted until, oh, I was about 12 or so, when I realized that this was unrealistic regarding my particular gifts - at which point I wanted to be an astrophysist, which lasted until my first biology class sophomore year of High School. Anyway, as a result I've read just about every book about spaceflight out there, and this is one of the best. A highly detailed account of all eight moon voyages, it is the book to read about the Apollo Program - and the basis for the highly acclaimed (and wonderful and tearjerking) documentary From the Earth to the Moon. It makes the astronauts come alive in a way few other books have, and shows a side of NASA few get the chance to see.
"It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
[There aren't any quotes from this available, so I took one from Neil Armstrong.]
62. Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 And Beyond by Gene Kranz:
In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik and the ensuing space race. Three years later, Gene Kranz left his aircraft testing job to join NASA and champion the American cause. What he found was an embryonic department run by whiz kids (such as himself), sharp engineers and technicians who had to create the Mercury mission rules and procedure from the ground up. As he says, "Since there were no books written on the actual methodology of space flight, we had to write them as we went along."
Kranz was part of the mission control team that, in January 1961, launched a chimpanzee into space and successfully retrieved him, and made Alan Shepard the first American in space in May 1961. Just two months later they launched Gus Grissom for a space orbit, John Glenn orbited Earth three times in February 1962, and in May of 1963 Gordon Cooper completed the final Project Mercury launch with 22 Earth orbits. And through them all, and the many Apollo missions that followed, Gene Kranz was one of the integral inside men--one of those who bore the responsibility for the Apollo 1 tragedy, and the leader of the "tiger team" that saved the Apollo 13 astronauts.
Moviegoers know Gene Kranz through Ed Harris's Oscar-nominated portrayal of him in Apollo 13, but Kranz provides a more detailed insider's perspective in his book Failure Is Not an Option. You see NASA through his eyes, from its primitive days when he first joined up, through the 1993 shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, his last mission control project. His memoir, however, is not high literature. Kranz has many accomplishments and honors to his credit, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but this is his first book, and he's not a polished author. There are, perhaps, more behind-the-scenes details and more paragraphs devoted to what Cape Canaveral looked like than the general public demands. If, however, you have a long-standing fascination with aeronautics, if you watched Apollo 13 and wanted more, Failure Is Not an Option will fill the bill.
Why you should read this: Because I read this book in the car on a family trip to Williamsburg for Thanksgiving and was so enthralled by it I started writting inspired by it by hand on a notebook I just happened to have with me in a moving car over the course of 8 hours. Granted, I never finished that fic - I became too enthralled by SGA to continue that particular ST:XI one - but the fact remains that this is a beautiful, wonderful, powerful story of the mission controller. The guy who brought Apollo 13 home. Granted, he didn't do it alone, but he practically created mission control as we know it. He is... well, there aren't words for guys like Gene Kranz, who honestly deserve more honours than we could ever possibly give them.
“To recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in trying, we did not give it our best effort.”
“You can not operate in this room unless you believe that you are Superman, and whatever happens, you're capable of solving the problem.”
63. Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffery Kluger and Jim Lovell:
In April 1970, during the glory days of the Apollo space program, NASA sent Navy Captain Jim Lovell and two other astronauts on America's fifth mission to the moon. Only fifty-five hours into the flight of Apollo 13, disaster struck: a mysterious explosion rocked the ship, and soon its oxygen and power began draining away. Written with all the color and drama of the best fiction, APOLLO 13 (previously published as Lost Moon) tells the full story of the moon shot that almost ended in catastrophe. Minutes after the explosion, the three astronauts are forced to abandon the main ship for the lunar module, a tiny craft designed to keep two men alive for just two days. As the hours tick away, the narrative shifts from the crippled spacecraft to Mission Control, from engineers searching desperately for a way to fix the ship to Lovell's wife and children praying for his safe return. The entire nation watches as one crisis after another is met and overcome. By the time the ship splashes down in the Pacific, we understand why the heroic effort to rescue Lovell and his crew is considered by many to be NASA's finest hour.
Why you should read it: Because if you loved the movie, the book is just.... it and more. Because this is NASA's finest hour, and the book expains, in clear and uncoloured words, just why that is. Because Jim Lovell is kinda my hero and this is as much his story as it is the story of Apollo 13. Because heroics aren't always suceeding; heroics are surviving in the face of impossible odds. Because, for a handful of days, the entire world was united in an effort to bring these three men back home - a world fragmented by war and poltical idology and so much else. Because just thinking about this story makes me start tearing up, despite the fact I know that everyone returned home safe and sound. Because these men returned home safe and sound.
"From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it's not a miracle, we just decided to go."
"I watched other men walk on the Moon, and return safely, all from the confines of Mission Control and our house in Houston. I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?"
[I can't find any quotes from the book, but the movie is based upon it, so quotes from the movie you get.]
64. Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku:
Well-known physicist and author Kaku (Hyperspace) tells readers in this latest exploration of the far reaches of scientific speculation that another universe may be floating just a millimeter away on a "brane" (membrane) parallel to our own. We can't pop our heads in and have a look around because it exists in hyperspace, beyond our four dimensions. However, Kaku writes, scientists conjecture that branes—a creation of M theory, marketed as possibly the long-sought "theory of everything"—may eventually collide, annihilating each other. Such a collision may even have caused what we call the big bang. In his usual reader-friendly style, Kaku discusses the spooky objects conjured up from the equations of relativity and quantum physics: wormholes, black holes and the "white holes" on the other side; universes budding off from one another; and alternate quantum realities in which the 2004 elections turned out differently. As he delves into the past, present and possible future of this universe, Kaku will excite readers with his vision of realms that may exist just beyond the tip of our noses and, in what he admits is a highly speculative section, the possibilities our progeny may enjoy countless millennia from now; for instance, as this universe dies (in a "big freeze"), humans may be able to escape into other universes.
Why you should read it: Remeber that guy I was telling you about a couple recs ago? The one who built a supercollider in his garage over Christmas break one year? This is him. And if that's not enough to get you to read this book, this is cosmology, quantum mechanics, and M-theory on an understandable level - not 101, but maybe a second-year physics course. Worth a read if you ever wanted to know how the universe began and how it might end.
"Physicists are made of atoms. A physicist is an attempt by an atom to understand itself".
65. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins:
A preeminent scientist -- and the world's most prominent atheist -- asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.
With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight into the advantages of atheism to the individual and society, not the least of which is a clearer, truer appreciation of the universe's wonders than any faith could ever muster.
Why you should read it: Okay, I know I'm going to get some flack for this one, but here me out. I don't care what your personal beliefs are, I'm always of the opinion that you should know your enemies. Not only is it stunningly well-written and solid, it's amazingly witty - this book, I believe, is the one he dedicated to Douglas Adams, who not only introduced him to his current wife, but "converted" him to atheism. And, yes, I realize this doesn't fit in with today's theme, but it has God in it's title, so I'm counting it.
“We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
“To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.”
“I am thrilled to be alive at time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.”