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Book Review: Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control From Mercury To Apollo 13 And Beyond by Gene Kranz

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It's been forty years since Neil Armstrong took "one giant leap for mankind" by stepping out onto the Moon in the first successful landing on the lunar surface. While his story and those of his fellow astronauts may be more familiar to most people, Failure Is Not An Option offers flight director Gene Kranz's first-person recollection of the events that led to one of mankind's greatest achievements.

Kranz was an Air Force fighter pilot and after discharge from the military joined up with the fledgling National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) that was trying to catch up to the already-successful Russian space program in the race to the Moon. He documents with great detail the drama involved in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs which of course culminated with the Moon landing on July 20, 1969. 

Kranz offers the reader an insider's perspective on the operations in Mission Control and the numerous decisions that had to be made throughout each mission to ensure total success. This is not a whitewashed history, either, as Kranz deals very honestly with the failures of the space program. His recollection, for example, of the Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, puts us right in the middle of the emotional turmoil of the launchpad fire. The reader feels the tensions of the controllers during various flights particularly Apollo 13 which was (up until that time) the closest that we had ever come to losing a crew in space. The heroic efforts of all the Mission Control flight crews are thoroughly documented.

Kranz, who was portrayed wonderfully by Ed Harris in Apollo 13, comes across in print much as Harris portrayed him. Kranz was so successfully as a flight director because of his ability to drive his team to give him their very best to ensure the success of the mission.

There are only two major drawbacks to this book. First, there are so many individuals introduced that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of who's who. That's not necessarily Kranz's fault but merely a reflection of the sheer number of people it took to pull off any single mission much less a trip to the moon.

The other drawback is that the text sometimes gets a little technical. To the uninitiated, it may seem a little foreign to try to wade through all the space terminology. To Kranz's credit, he does provide a glossary of terms and goes to great lengths to provide explanations so that the reader can fully understand the implications of various problems that the controllers encounter.

While this is a book that is likely to appeal only to devotees of space and space history, it is an important addition to the canon of literature available about America's space program. We are indebted to Mr. Kranz for being willing to commit to print his recollections of the Apollo program. For anyone who wants to understand more about the history of America's adventure to the Moon and Mission Control's role in the program should read Failure Is Not An Option.

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