An overlooked achievement in the initial series of moon landings gets a well-deserved spotlight.
Though the later landings are often overshadowed by the first, journalist Swift shows us their significant accomplishments. He reminds readers that during the first three landings, the moon walkers literally walked, wearing clunky spacesuits that limited their mobility and kept them close to the lander. Each of the final three missions arrived with a truly extraordinary vehicle, a superlight, four-wheeled, battery-powered rover capable of carrying two astronauts over an area the size of Manhattan. A footnote in thick histories of space travel, the rover was designed with the primitive technology of the time, blew through its budget, and threatened to overshoot its deadline by months. Still, it changed everything about the missions. In the enthusiasm following the 1962 announcement of Apollo, NASA assumed that Americans would go to the moon, stay, and explore. Swift delivers a long, often hair-raising description of the technical marvels—transporter, fliers, mobile laboratories, and even jetpacks—that planners considered, many of which would require a separate rocket launch. By 1967, in an ominous forecast of what was to follow, Congressional budget-cutters had regained their influence, and all were cancelled. Recognizing that astronauts wouldn’t accomplish much on foot, engineers proposed a miniature vehicle, folded up and stored under the lunar lander. Work did not begin until 1969, months after the first landing, and the contract required completion in 18 months. This was not nearly enough time. Nothing (schedule, budget, weight, design) went as planned, and Swift describes the mad scramble that followed. This section contains more technical details than readers require, but few will give up, and their reward is a happy ending. The vehicles worked beautifully, and the three final missions produced an avalanche of findings that would have been impossible without them.
An expert account heavy on technical details but still a pleasurable reading experience.