Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"We Seven" by The Mercury Astronauts

If you were over 5 or 6 years old in 1960 you will remember the first Mercury flights that presaged our landing on the Moon in 1969. Theses were 1 man capsules designed solely to test whether man could break through the atmosphere, orbit the earth, perform various mechanical jobs outside the capsule and return safely. These were all the same elements required to land on the Moon.

The Russians had already beat us with the first man in space by some 6 months. We were bound and determined to catch up and pass them in the “Space Race.” The ultimate goal was a manned landing on the surface of the Moon before the end of the decade.

7 men were deemed qualified to undertake the rigorous training that would be required to perform these initial missions. They would work closely with the engineers and scientists who would develop the capsules and the gear required for them.

I remember the first blast off from Cape Canaveral, later Kennedy Space Center, by Alan B. Shepard in April of 1961. I was in 1st grade and on split sessions. So I got to watch the event on TV before heading off to school in the afternoon. That first flight was 15 minutes up and back down, just enough time to punch through the atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean. There the capsule and Shepard were both retrieved by an aircraft carrier. It was all so dramatic and scary. It was the unknown. And we got to watch it live.

The charm of this book is the telling of the story by the 7 men who lived it. They worked together to perfect the mission they would be tasked to perform. The stories they relate here are both anecdotal and scientific in nature. One moment you are learning about spacecraft attitude adjustments and the next you are reading about weightlessness and its’ effects on the human nervous system.

Everything had to be designed specifically for the mission. This was new ground being broken and there were no real rules.

The book is written in such a way that each astronaut takes his turn writing about a particular subject. This gives the reader a good overview of the subject from 7 different perspectives. The book traces the story of the 7 men from the selection process and on through to each of their individual flights.

It’s hard to write a book about such a complex subject and still have it remain “readable.” And these guys do a great job of it. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton were 7 men whose extraordinary courage changed history. And now they have given us a superb, inside look at the work behind those achievements.

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