The First Man- Neil Armstrong- Biography by James R. Hansen- Book Review
Full of amazing technical feats
On July 20, 1969, a quiet, determined man from Wapakoneta, Ohio, Neil Armstrong stepped out of his fragile spacecraft and into history. He then stepped on to the moon.
I was just a seven year old boy, but the excitement wasn’t lost on me. I had seen it all in the newspapers and on the news on TV. I was in my second year of primary school and all the teachers ushered us into an assembly hall, and we sat down and watched Neil Armstrong take his first step onto the moon through a blurry black and white TV set. In the States they had colour TV, but we didn’t get colour until the 1970’s
Ever since that historic moment I have always wanted to be an Astronaut, and so did most boys who grew up in this exciting time for the world’s history. I used to go to the library at high school and read up anything on space I could find. Every time there was a story about the Apollo missions or the space shuttle program I would be delighted to have my interest piqued.
When the astronauts from the Apollo programs started getting into their 60’s and 70’s they all started writing biographies. Fantastic stuff I say. First we had the book “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe published in 1979, then Apollo 13 in 1994 by Jim Lovell. I had read both of them and when Armstrong published “The First Man”, I was in heaven (or space).
The book certainly does no disappoint. It is a hefty read which is good because I could not put it down. It’s one of those books you can’t wait to rush home from work to read.
The book covers Armstrong’s childhood of course and his time as an aviator in the navy. He goes into detail about meeting his wife and the effect all of this had on her.
The Gemini and Mercury programs before the Apollo missions, as well as the astronauts who participated are also covered. As far as Armstrong’s mission is concerned there is not one technical detail left out. Armstrong describes how he got into the Apollo program. How and where they trained and why they did what they did. He discusses the politics involved and how the other astronauts in the program reacted at NASA when he was chosen to walk on the moon.
An interesting theme to the story is the astronauts involved in the program to walk on the moon all had a particular piece of the project to supervise. The rocket was divided up into engine, Stage one, two and three, Command/service module, Lunar Module etc and each astronaut was responsible for the engineering and design of that stage.
When the astronauts saw the capsule they were to travel in, they nearly had kittens. The engineers had failed to install windows, and the hatch opened in and not out. A problem that was obvious, as the cabin was pressurised, so it had to be de-pressurised before it could be opened. This precious wasted time may cost a life, so it was important that the astronauts liase with the engineers to get things right. The engineers put windows in and changed the door to an outward opening one. It is these little stories that make this book a wonderful read.
Armstrong talks about the other astronauts and how competitive they all were. He also talks about the danger and the ever present fear of death. Armstrong takes you right through it all. From the first day of training, to the day he landed on the moon, right though to the journey home and what happened to them straight after the mission and also the subsequent years up until present day.
He also talks about the controversy involving the other two men on the mission, Edwin Buzz Aldrin who never stopped whinging all his life about not being chosen to be the first man who walked on the moon and the quiet but important Michael Collins who stayed put in the command module. Aldrin and Armstrong do not like each other at all.
If you have read “Apollo 13” and “The Right Stuff”, or you love anything about the space programs then you will love this book. I simply could not put it down until I finished it.