Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hornet Plus Three: The Apollo 11 Recovery by Bob Fish

Hornet Plus Three

Hornet Plus Three:
The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery
by Bob Fish

Hardback: 213 pages
Publisher: Creative Minds Press
First Released: 2009

USS Hornet Museum Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Most of us know a lot about Apollo 11, the first time humans walked on the Moon. It started with heroic astronauts with the right stuff, teamed with NASA engineers who made the mission possible. We all recall the rocket arcing into the sky, the grainy black and white TV pictures of the first steps on the Moon, and the president greeting the astronauts on their return. What many don’t know is how Columbia and the three astronauts were recovered after the mission. That took many U.S. Navy ships and planes and literally thousands of servicemen!

Hornet Plus Three: The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery reviews the evolution of the DoD recovery process for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. Then, in fascinating detail, it provides new insights into the epic Apollo 11 operation that fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s national challenge to “put men on the Moon in this decade and bring them safely back to Earth.” The book chronicles:

-The various Navy and Air Force units that effected the recovery—most of whom had recently served combat tours in the Vietnam War.

-The added complications of getting President Nixon aboard ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

-Coordinating the media so that 500 million people world-wide could watch on TV as the President welcomed the astronauts back to Earth.

-The careful consideration and implementation of quarantine procedures to deal with “Moon germs.”

-The Primary Recovery Ship, USS Hornet, did such an extraordinary job, it was pressed into service four months later to recover Apollo 12.

-Personal reflections from those who were there.

-Never-before seen photographs.

You’ll gain a new appreciation for the complexity of this aspect of the Apollo 11 mission!

This nonfiction book covers the history of astronaut ocean recovery efforts by NASA and the navy. The history of NASA and early space program flights and recoveries are covered, but most of the book details the recovery of Columbia and the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission.

Hornet Plus Three was well-written, very interesting, and easy for me to follow. It contained a lot of information I'd wondered about before but had never heard the answers to. The book did get a little facty at times, listing precisely where every asset was, but the wonderful accompanying photos kept these facts from ever getting boring. The maps, photos, and charts were very nice and useful.

The author used information from interviews of those involved to bring the events vividly alive. These details made me feel like I was on the Hornet watching the events unfold. (The full interviews are included in the appendix along with timelines, key speeches, a glossary, and other useful information.)

Overall, it's a very enjoyable book. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in the space program, especially those (like me) who weren't alive at the time or weren't old enough to remember.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Many aspects of Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, have been well documented in news articles, TV documentaries, radio programs and web-based commentaries. With very few exceptions, this information focuses on the space flight itself, covering the period from the Saturn V rocket launch, the three-day flights to and from the Moon, and the few hours spent on the lunar surface by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The public record is virtually silent about the splashdown and recovery activities that occurred on July 24, 1969 in the South Pacific. Although over 500 million TV viewers worldwide watched the retrieval process--and many more listened via radio--most only remember the short commentary from President Nixon as he welcomed these space voyagers back to Earth.

Much of this can be traced to disparate public relations efforts between NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD). While humans had sailed ships on the sea for millennia, and had flown aircraft in the sky for a century, they had never walked on another heavenly body before and global interest was intense. Additionally, NASA was a civilian agency, and not in direct line for national defense funding, so they had to keep fueling the public's interest in lunar exploration, which in turn would keep the taxpayer dollars flowing into their coffers. They tasked an elaborate Public Relations machine with keeping their accomplishments in the public eyes--and ensuring that most nations were aware of the technological prowess of our democratic system.

The DoD, on the other hand, viewed its support role of the manned space flight program--from Mercury through Skylab--as an important, but secondary, effort to their primary mission of maintaining national security. The Cuban Missile Crisis, war in Vietnam, the Pueblo incident, and various hostilities in the Middle East simply took precedence.

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