In July 1969, my parents loaded the family into the Ford Galaxy and made the drive from New Jersey to Florida to watch the Apollo 11 launch at Cape Kennedy. I was probably the one most excited about the trip and the launch-viewing opportunity. And as I look back on the event, it was one of the most pivotal and cherished memories from my youth.
We were a “space race” family who kept up with the launches by television and through the newspapers. Being well-informed about NASA was necessary as it was the topic of many family dinner conversations. Space and spaghetti — it was a winning combination.
Each year a wave of nostalgia hits me when the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaches. When that annual tsunami of emotion arrives, I turn to books about the space race so I can re-live that moment in history and keep the memories alive.
One of my favorites is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Published in 1979, the book is about America’s space race, the politics that surrounded the goal to beat the Russians, and the people who put their personal lives on the line to achieve that goal. It is historic as it is biographic — a true celebration of the American spirit.
In 2013, Lily Koppel wrote The Astronaut Wives Club, a non-fiction title about the women behind the Mercury Seven astronauts. It is an ironic story about the women who were portrayed as perfect wives by NASA and journalists, but in reality had less than idyllic lives. The 2015 television series that was loosely based on the book received mixed reviews — and rightly so.
One of the best titles in recent years is Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Most everyone has seen the highly acclaimed film adaptation — but the book IS better. The title tells the story of the women who used their mathematical talents in the early days of the space race to act as human computers for NASA. The women were “hidden” because they were African American and working in a segregated workplace. We’ve come a long way.
On my reading list for this month is Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger. It may be time to cook some spaghetti and start the dinner conversation!