Apollo Pilot (Review)

In the late 1960s, the immediate fate of American manned spaceflight was in question.  The craft billed as Apollo One was in a launch rehearsal when a fire in the capsule killed Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967.

Prior to the tragic fire, Donn F. Eisele had been selected for the Apollo One crew, but was not allowed to participate because he had dislocated a shoulder twice during his training.  Roger Chaffee took his place.

On October 11, 1968, the first manned space mission since the disaster was launched.  Apollo Seven’s crew was commanded by Walter Schirra; engineered by R. Walter Cunningham; and navigated by senior pilot Donn Eisele.  The mission lasted more than ten days and completed 163 orbits of the Earth. The nearly eleven day mission was to check out the redesigned capsule and was the first time a Saturn 1B rocket placed humans into Space. It was also the first time three Americans were launched into orbit at the same time.

After splash-down on October 22nd, Apollo Seven was judged to be a total technical success.  This gave NASA the impetus and confidence to go ahead with Apollo 8 and eventually the history making Apollo 11 Moon landing mission. The successes and publicity of the Moon mission relegated the accomplishments of the prior missions to the dustbin of history.

What about the lesser known astronauts and the less famous space shots?  All of them have been vitally important in the advancement of the exploration of Space. Fortunately we have the posthumous publication of Donn F. Eisele’s memoirs.

Following his retirement from NASA, Eisele began the process of gathering his notes and composing his autobiography.  It wasn’t until after Eisele’s fatal heart attack in Tokyo that his second wife, Susie Eisele-Black discovered Eisele’s extensive writings.

Thanks to the editing skills of Francis French and the perseverance of Eisele-Black we have Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele.  This is not a boilerplate public relations, self-promotion book.  The struggles and successes of the astronaut are laid bare including the warts and missteps.apollopilot-02

The book opens with  Eisele’s recollections of the hours before launch of the Apollo Seven craft. The first chapter closes with the rocket’s launch. From there, the narration goes back in time to Eisele’s early military service and his work as a test pilot. He then describes the process of working his way through the astronaut selection process.

The story of post-launch Apollo Seven then continues.  Eisele goes on to describe his duties aboard the craft and his interactions with Shirra and Cunningham in great detail. The narration brings out the human side of the three astronauts. The text is well-written with snippets of humor added in the appropriate places.

I enjoyed the reading experience very much.  It was hard to put down this relatively short book.  Anyone who loves to follow the exploits of space exploration will probably want to add Apollo Pilot to their library. The plentiful photographs are an added bonus.

{ Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele; edited by Francis French; 184 pages publish date January 1, 2017 (in stock November 2016), by University of Nebraska Press; ISBN: 978-0-8032-6283-6 }

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. “Nothing will stop us. The road to the stars is steep and dangerous. But we’re not afraid…Space flights can’t be stopped. This isn’t the work of one man or even a group of men. It is a historical process which mankind is carrying out in accordance with the natural laws of human development.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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