Lynn: This is a soaring triumph—stellar in every way!
John Rocco set out in How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure (Crown, 2020) to explain how every part of the Apollo/Saturn machine worked and how it was built. He especially wanted to show young readers the science and problem solving that was involved along the way. And he wanted to introduce some of the thousands of unsung people who contributed to this monumental achievement. He does all that in this fascinating, detailed, and visually magnificent chronicle.
He begins with the origins of the Space Race in 1957 and a brief history of rocketry and then plunges into the nitty-gritty of designing, building, testing, and flying to the moon with all the steps, problems, and triumphs along the way. As someone who has read many histories of this period AND lived through it, the early history was bit slow but I understand the necessity for young readers. The book becomes deeply interesting quickly in Chapter 2 with the discussion of the process of designing a rocket.
While this is a solid historical account of the Apollo effort, the focus is on the science, technology, and engineering achievements. Rocco’s prose is clear and understandable as he carefully distilled oceans of information for young readers. He does an excellent job of providing a thorough explanation without overwhelming the text. The tone is just right: informative, concise, and filled with wonderful tidbits of related topics to heighten interest even for those only generally interested in the technical details. Space food, the disgusting but imperative issue of going to the bathroom in space, the history of the “human computers,” and, something I always wondered about, what are all those people in the command center doing at all those monitors.
A wonderful feature of the book is the many sections that show some of the scientific problems faced along the way and the solution. Often these also include a simple experiment that kids can do that demonstrates the science behind the solution.
A highlight for me is the many short biographical inserts that feature some of the people involved in the effort who contributed important ideas, developments, or work along the way. So many of these people were critical to the success of the mission but received very little public attention. Rocco includes people like Ann Montgomery, an engineer, and the only woman allowed on the launchpad, Charles Draper who developed the Guidance system, or Eleanor Foraker, the Seamstress Manager for the Apollo Spacesuits.
Rocco explains in an Author’s Note in the back matter that although there are a plethora of photographs, blueprints, and drawings available, he chose to create all the illustrations himself. He did that in order to make the concepts more accessible and understandable for readers without being overwhelmed by extraneous details. He also chose to use color as most of the original photographs and visual materials are black and white. The result is visually stunning as well as being deeply absorbing.
I read this in galley with only some of the planned back matter included. The Note on the Research was extremely interesting and even in galley form the visual impact of the book is outstanding. I am eager to see it in the finished copy. This is a must purchase for every library collection and a perfect choice as a gift book for every science-loving student.