On the evening of April 13, 1970, the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13 were just hours from the third lunar landing in history. But as they soared through space, two hundred thousand miles from earth, an explosion badly damaged their spacecraft. With compromised engines and failing life-support systems, the crew was in incomparably grave danger. Faced with below-freezing temperatures, a seriously ill crew member, and a dwindling water supply, a safe return seemed unlikely.
Thirteen is the shocking, miraculous, and entirely true story of how the astronauts and ground crew guided Apollo 13 to a safe landing on earth. Expanding on dispatches written for the New Yorker, Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. brings listeners unparalleled detail on the moment-by-moment developments of one of NASA's most dramatic missions.
©1972 Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. (P)2014 Audible Inc.
This is, quite literally, a detailed description of the events that happened between liftoff and splashdown. It's not a story about how the astronauts prepared, how they felt during the flight, or things NASA improved upon afterwards. That's something I happen to like in a book, but not all will.
The author has an odd obsession with comparing space events to boating terms and procedures.
A good telling of the story, quite detailed but stops abruptly. Could have done with a chapter on the post mission actions. Given it was written in 1972 this may not have actually been possible.
In his focus on the Houston ground team as well as the three Apollo astronauts in their broken space ship, Cooper builds a steady drum beat of drama steeped in engineering rigor. This really happened. Cooper's dive into it began immediately after the event. He was a staff writer for "The New Yorker" magazine which turned over a whole issue to this story in 1972. So it was originally a very very long magazine piece. Audible prepared this recording in 2014. J. Paul Guimont reflects the solid integrity of the men -- it was all men -- and the determined, icy nail-biting push to bring the astronauts home. He understands the rhythm of the book.
It is hard to listen in modern times without recalling Ron Howard's "Apollo 13". I was surprised how much of Cooper's story made a way to the script. But the movie brought in the lead-up and the families, and had to condense and shift and dramatize, and it also had James Lovell's own story to fill in and correct some events. But in the 20 years between Cooper and Lovell there was no other authority for the story of "Apollo 13."
Henry S.F. Cooper's ancestor was James Fennimore. Cooperstown, the baseball hall-of-fame place, is not coincidentally named. It isn't relevant but perhaps there is some authority and weight Cooper brings to the story. I felt in good hands.
I really enjoyed the book because it provided details that I didn't know about. Specifically about the reason the oxygen container malfunctioned and why it took them so long on re-entry. As I listened to the book, I also thought about the movie Apollo 13 and why they had certain lines in the movie.
I just finished rereading Rocket Men, which is about Apollo 11 and the history of the space program, this book follows it beautifully even thought it was released years earlier. Great read!
For me, reliving these few days from the past was a reminder of what makes our country great.
Thirteen's journey was launched by a visionary leader eight years earlier... "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade, do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win ...."
That vision was accomplished by our brightest and best. Men and women in the private sector and military working together to solve the challenges as they came. We were, and still are, a nation of innovators. Those same innovators were there to coax the wounded spacecraft home.
That same spirit still lives today, though you would be hard pressed to see it in the headlines. We are still a country that will choose to do the hard things. "Thirteen" reminded me of that.
A good mixture of many of my interests.
The mission control folks as a whole
Probably the fact that listening to some of the technical items read out gives you a better grasp on things whereas I might have skipped over them as details and missed the point of the whole reason for the book.
I almost did!
I've read Jim Lovell's "Lost Moon" book so many times and have enjoyed it a lot. I went into this book thinking I wouldn't learn too much more that I already knew. This would have the position of telling the story from an objective POV rather than an autobiographical one - both types have pros and cons.
I was actually surprised at this take on the event of Apollo 13. This book takes the outlook from the control room and the men on the ground. This book is also a little bit more on the technical side but not so much so that a person who has an interest in the subject would get lost. This is the nerd's perspective of the events of Apollo 13. It was super enjoyable to read about all the events from that engineering/logical/control room POV. It doesn't divorce itself completely from the astronauts but it's not the main focus.
This book was going to rise or fall on what information it presented - would I learn something that I didn't get from "Lost Moon" - boy howdy, did I. Where "Lost Moon" is astronaut focused, this one shows a larger group of people working on a mission and dealing with problems. The events would lend itself to a movie without having to write too much into it that didn't take place - and we see that in the film version.
There are two small flaws with the book. The first is that it ends abruptly. The reason for it stems from the second flaw in that it puts the investigation and improvement after the return almost in the middle of the book rather than the end. While the place they covered it made sense, it feels out of place not having it at the end to tie it up. It would have been nice to talk about the cultural impact of the events and the impact it had on future missions.
These flaws do not affect the fact that this book is a great nerd read and added to my understanding of a great moment in space history. Final Grade - A+
It reads like a mission report, which is cool, and briefly technical; which is also nice. Unfortunately the narrator's voice is too deep and raspy, drowning out the will to listen.
Gripping, at least for those who are technically minded. A brush up beforehand, on the design and construction of the Apollo service, command and lunar modules, would benefit the reader.
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