Rocket Men

The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon
Narrated by: Ray Porter, Robert Kurson
Length: 12 hrs and 20 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.8 out of 5 stars (1,473 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller

The riveting inside story of three heroic astronauts who took on the challenge of mankind's historic first mission to the moon, from the best-selling author of Shadow Divers

"Robert Kurson tells the tale of Apollo 8 with novelistic detail and immediacy." (Andy Weir, number one New York Times best-selling author of The Martian and Artemis

By August 1968, the American space program was in danger of failing in its two most important objectives: to land a man on the moon by President Kennedy's end-of-decade deadline and to triumph over the Soviets in space. With its back against the wall, NASA made an almost unimaginable leap: It would scrap its usual methodical approach and risk everything on a sudden launch, sending the first men in history to the moon - in just four months. And it would all happen at Christmas. 

In a year of historic violence and discord - the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago - the Apollo 8 mission would be the boldest, riskiest test of America's greatness under pressure. In this gripping insider account, Robert Kurson puts the focus on the three astronauts and their families: the commander, Frank Borman, a conflicted man on his final mission; idealistic Jim Lovell, who'd dreamed since boyhood of riding a rocket to the moon; and Bill Anders, a young nuclear engineer and hotshot fighter pilot making his first space flight. 

Drawn from hundreds of hours of one-on-one interviews with the astronauts, their loved ones, NASA personnel, and myriad experts, and filled with vivid and unforgettable detail, Rocket Men is the definitive account of one of America's finest hours. In this real-life thriller, Kurson reveals the epic dangers involved and the singular bravery it took for mankind to leave Earth for the first time - and arrive at a new world. 

"Rocket Men is a riveting introduction to the [Apollo 8] flight.... Kurson details the mission in crisp, suspenseful scenes.... [A] gripping book." (The New York Times Book Review)

©2018 Robert Kurson (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Kurson’s first-rate account of this remarkable spaceflight starts by reminding us what a gamble it was, a revelatory wake-up nudge for anyone who thinks moon flights were routine....There are many pieces to the Apollo 8 story, but Kurson brings them together effortlessly.” (USA Today)

Rocket Men is close-to-the-bone adventure-telling on a par with Alfred Lansing’s Endurance and Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. It’s as close to a movie as writing gets.” (Mary Roach, The Washington Post)

Featured Article: The Moments That Shaped a Nation


There are important events in American history that you learn about in school, or over the dinner table at home. There are moments you live through, fully aware of their historical importance, while others you only recognize as turning points in American history with time and hindsight. What’s easy to forget is that these moments are made up of people, either leading the way or caught up in the storm. Let’s take a look into a few such people and moments from America’s 20th century, and learn more about the path toward our continued fight for freedom and equality.

What listeners say about Rocket Men

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The Men Who Saved 1968

Okay, so Rocket Men isn't actually a full 5-stars--after all, to me it wasn't a cover-to-cover listen... at first. Once it hit its stride, however, I couldn't stop listening. I was but a toddler in '68, was just a little kid snuggled with my brothers and sister, all of us clad in pajamas, as we watched later space launches, never knowing the complete and utter hell that went on behind the scenes. If I had known how much could go wrong, I think I would've had nightmares rather than daydreams.
Enter Rocket Men--where almost anything can go wrong... and it usually does. I had no idea. And I was thrilled with that.
Juxtaposed against Vietnam, riots at home, women threatening to burn their bras, the revelation that 10 million Americans suffer hunger, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, simply one person mistrusting or outright hating another, the three astronauts and the crews at mission control brought absolute peace, absolute sunshine (or maybe moonshine would be a better word?) to a world, a country, dark with despair and anger. They brought a sense of patriotism to young v. old, to left v. right (where, oh where, is OUR Apollo 8? We could very much use something).
Here is a book of the men who carried it all out, of the wives and children who stood beside them the whole way. It is heavy on humanity with an in-depth look at the social and political environment it took place in. While it is chock full of heroes, there are no villains here (no, not even the Soviets)--individuals, groups, were just caught up in huge sweeping tides, and it's tough to swim against the current.
Mostly, you'll find yourself cheering, even if you're of an age that actually remembers the actual orbiting of the moon. There's so much here, you'd never guess.
So here, where our country feels so terribly fractured, so red v. blue, it's such a nice thing, such a blessed relief, to look back and remember such cooperation, such courage.
Such hope.

34 people found this helpful

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  • JG
  • 04-06-18

Incredible story about real American heroes

If you could sum up Rocket Men in three words, what would they be?

They saved 1968. This story about the Apollo 8 mission - the first to go to the moon - is about so much more too. The country was in turmoil, we were losing an existential battle to our biggest adversary, great leaders were being assasinated, we were in the midst of an unpopular war... it seemed like the country would never be the same. Enter “Rocket Men”. I don’t want to give away too much, but you will be amazed by this story, and so drawn to these heroes (and all the others surrounding them)

Who was your favorite character and why?

Completely impossible to choose a favorite character.

What about Ray Porter and Robert Kurson ’s performance did you like?

The reading was top (top) notch! I felt like Porter was enjoying the story along with me. His pace was fantastic. I’m not certain, but it felt like he slowed down a teeny bit for the somewhat technical details to help absorb the concepts which was great (I must note however that Kurson did a phenomenal job in explaining the technical stuff at exactly the right level - not too complicated, but with great detail)

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes - I laughed and cried at different times.

Any additional comments?

I listened to this book with my husband, and it was such a fun way to hear the story. We stopped the audio so many times just to look at each other and say “can you believe they did that?” I recommend this book as high as I possible can. You won’t be disappointed.

11 people found this helpful

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Robert Kurson Has Done it Again

Master researcher, storyteller and writer Robert Kurson vividly tells the amazing and surprisingly somewhat forgotten story of Apollo 8, man’s first trip to the moon. Apollo 8 came to be overshadowed by Apollo 11, the expedition that put men on the moon but was the most daring Apollo of them all and laid the groundwork for everything that came after. This is a story of audacity, heroics, science and how the mission brought together a country that in 1968 was tearing itself apart. The story of the men and women who made this happen will keep you reading well into the night. Kurson’s third book, like the first two, is a winner.

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A rousing tale--even if you know how it ends

Would you consider the audio edition of Rocket Men to be better than the print version?

This is a terrific tale, whether you read it or listen to it. History has already told us how Apollo 8 fared, nevertheless the story has an edge-of-your-seat quality to the writing and the performance that makes this a terrific read. Even though you know how the mission ended, there were moments where you almost want to double-check the record just to be sure.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The crew of Apollo 8, of course. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders had their own motivations for becoming astronauts, and they meshed well together as a crew, and in the midst of the Space Race. All of the figures in the book were compelling for their own reasons, but the trio going where no human had ever been were great to be with, if only for a short time.

What does Ray Porter and Robert Kurson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Ray Porter does an excellent job teasing out the characters in the story, changing his voice to render Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, for example, satisfyingly close to their actual voices. Also, his rendering of Robert Kurson's written word made for a nice performance all around.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Of course it was! But, I parceled it out over a few days, as long as I could...

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I thought it was going to be boring..I was wrong!

No detail was spared in this exciting account of Apollo 8. Robert Kurson did an outstanding job of telling this story from every angle, and from the viewpoint of everyone involved. Everyone remembers Apollo 11 (first lunar landing) and Apollo 13 (near disaster), but few know much about Apollo 8, the mission that won the space race. I was 14 in 1968, so I don't remember much about it. I mostly remember the assassinations, the politics and the music of the day. It was a great history lesson for me! And, much more thrilling than I thought it would be when I started listening. And, of course, you cant' go wrong with Ray Porter!!

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Unexpected Delight

I have no idea why I chose a book about Apollo 8 or space exploration,it is not a topic I normally an interested in (until now). Thanks to audible for curating this book into my recommended queue. Of all the historical books I have listened to, this was by far my favorite not only because of the story telling but the amount of detail and attention to accuracy. The timing of this story could not be more perfect, wonderful book and am looking to listen to more from this author. I’ve spent days retelling what I’ve heard to anyone willing to listen and would recommend this book to anyone interested in American or any history.

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Outstanding !

Would you listen to Rocket Men again? Why?

YES! This story of the Apollo 8 is one I could listen to several time.

Who was your favorite character and why?

All characters were a major part of this story.

Which scene was your favorite?

So many good ones, but the re-entry was the best.

Any additional comments?

Robert Kurson did an outstanding job gathering all the information and interviewing the astronauts and NASA staff along with going through all the info he could find on this mission. I felt like I was right there on that flight with them. Robert Kurson has done a great job on all of his books as he does one thing so well...research!

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The best book I’ve read in a long time!

I loved this book. At times I wept from the horrific chaos that was 1968, and which threatens again in 2018. I used to have a poster of Earthrise on my wall, and revisiting its history gives me hope. I dreaded finishing the book, because it was so compelling, but it turned out to have a lovely, soft landing. I recommend it to all!

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Very good book; especially the first half of the audio book

Great book overall. I loved the pre-history and setup for the quick planning and prep in the race in space. And the short bios on each astronaut and his wife and their personal strengths and weaknesses. And how the families prepared their children for the flight. The NASA bosses and others doubts and overcoming them after seeing the possibilities of a great success was also very interesting. The description of getting into the Saturn 5 rocket powered space craft and description of the sounds, vibrations and fear of the unknown was the best I’ve ever heard or read about Apollo launches. I felt like I was in the rocket before and during launch. What a feeling! The trip to and orbits around the moon was also very good. As was the history of how bad things were in the U.S. during 1968. I was 10 years old then and remember the turmoil of that year well and thought it was the beginning of the end of my country. And this trip to the moon during Christmas helped change the mood for the country and world; at least for the moment. The trip home from the moon was also very good. Especially the accidental reset of the astronauts place in space. But the rest of the trip home seemed a bit short, brief and rushed. I wish there was more substance there. Nevertheless, the trip was a great success after a horrible year. And these men have been heroes of mine my whole life. And like the book, I think this flight was overshadowed by the later moon landing flights. But like others, I think these three astronauts were truly the leading pioneers. And this audio book was hard to stop listening to when I had to. And I would listen to it again. Especially the launch prep and launch sequence, liftoff and entry into space. I highly recommended this audio book!

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Amazing Journey

Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you were alive in 1968, just be prepared I will ask you if remember where you were Christmas Day. And then I will recommend that you must read this book. Brilliant in so many ways. Chills, tears, smiles, and pride to be felt throughout.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Angus Fitton
  • 08-09-18

Best Apollo book I've listened to

You know those audiobooks that, within a few minutes, you just know you'll listen to it more than once? This is one of those. Packed with information, really well researched - it doesn't forget the human side and is accessible. The tension, the context, the characters - all superbly written and treated with great care. Recommended.

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  • Ian M
  • 04-29-18

the greatest moon shot

a remarkable telling of an overlooked mission, comprehensively researched, totally engaging and superbly told, this book should serve as testiment to the bravery and commitment to the people involved in this incredibly dangerous objective. This is the standout reference work to any Apollo mission, take a bow Robert Kurson

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-23-20

An truly epic story

Forget Apollo 11. Forget Apollo 13. This is the story of the greatest space voyage. Expertly researched and narrated. Didn’t want it to end.

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  • rimmer99
  • 07-22-20

Not just a story about moon travel.

in depth background, history and personal lives of the astronauts. and the civil/political background of a nation at the time. a great read/listen, Any book narrated by Ray Porter is a must.

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  • Alan Grehan
  • 11-28-19

Fantastic

An amazing book on what is probably the most daring adventure mankind has ever undertaken.

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  • Trevsan
  • 09-11-19

The best Apollo mission

Loved this book and the narration I will listen to it again at some point

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  • N. Kennedy
  • 06-03-19

A must for any space fan.

Loved it. For any Apollo fan or any space fan. It's a must! I couldn't get enough.

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  • Simon Davidson
  • 05-10-19

Fantastic

Thoroughly researched book written recently combining contemporary sources and recent interviews with the astronauts and some of the NASA personel involved in the mission. This was by far the most talented crew who pulled off a uniquely ambitious and dangerous journey in an untested spacecraft. All three men had outstanding careers post NASA. The book to read about Apollo

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  • Rossano Nocera
  • 05-05-19

Unbelievable story! Really well narrated

Brilliant book, narrated so well, gripping from start to finish!! Couldn’t stop listening to this superb story.

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  • RussH9
  • 04-19-19

A fantastic and enthralling book

A fantastic must read/listen book for anyone interested in the Apollo mission. Absolutely fascinating and contains some real inside insight to the Apollo 8 mission which I’d not read elsewhere. Only slight disappointment was the authors references to Bormans wife which I found odd, irrelevant and unnecessarily intrusive - but it doesn’t spoil the book at all. Buy it! You won’t be disappointed!

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  • Peter
  • 05-13-18

A familiar story, well told

The insignia for Apollo 8 was the infinity symbol: the Saturn 5 took the three astronauts into earth orbit then took them on a trajectory looping round the moon and back to earth. Issues during the flight were minor and cleared the way for the lunar landing flights the next year, in 1969. The Apollo 8 flight program was cobbled together at very short notice, for fear the Soviets would beat the US to a round the moon trip. The Saturn rocket had never flown with men aboard before, and the flight broke numerous records including the first lunar orbit injection and the first human transit of the far side of the moon. The risks of curtailing the Apollo program in this way were huge: NASA itself put the odds of a complete mission and safe return at no better than 50%. Kurson tells this story with extreme clarity and vigour, though it appears to be based entirely on popular, published sources. He is good on setting the voyage into the context of US and world events in the key year of 1968, and there is plenty of human detail about the astronauts and their families: too much for me, as in truth apart from their incredible bravery the men were not in truth very interesting people. The account is very thin, even for the layman, on the technical and engineering side of the mission.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-23-20

A surprising book

I listened to this book as I was unfamiliar with the story of Apollo 8. I was significantly surprised with how enjoyable the book was and would recommend it to those both familiar and unfamiliar with the history of the space race.

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  • James Taylor
  • 12-28-19

excellent and riveting story

Absolutely fantastic story with excellent details. Well worth the time to listen to. As with many of these space race stories we know what's going to happen but as they say 'the devil is in the details' and the extra anecdotes and interviews that have gone into this book are extraordinary.

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  • Kylie McPhie
  • 02-14-19

Fantastic read

Best book on space travel ever. A pure pleasure to listen to. Even if one wasn't a space buff so to say, it's a wonderful story of adventure and daring

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-12-19

A must for all space enthusiasts.

With a possible new space exploration era in the winds, this book is not only a glimpse into the golden years but also a fascinating insight into what could be again.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-22-18

Enthralling

I was hooked from start to finish. Expertly researched and well structured, really highlights the drama of that year.

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  • Beau
  • 07-30-18

Mindblowing!!!

Never has my stomach been twisted in anxiety as much as listening to the brave souls out there pushing our species to the stars! Epic book and makes you proud to be human!!!