It was the decade of the 1960s – civil unrest, assassinations, racial tensions, a “cold war”, a Southeast Asia conflict, and a looming threat of nuclear annihilation. In the midst of all this, there was a “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each nation was intent on accomplishing technological “firsts” in the new field of space travel, with the ultimate goal of landing a man on the lunar surface and bringing him safely back to earth. Finally, it seemed the human longing to visit another celestial body could be within reach. But which of the world’s superpower nations would be the first to achieve this feat? What had previously been the stuff of science fiction was now tantalizingly close to becoming reality.
Unless one lived through those times, it’s difficult to relate the excitement of the era. Those daring astronauts became heroes for young and old alike, and school classes gathered around black and white T. V. sets to watch rocket launches and splash downs. People stopped outside appliance stores hoping to catch a glimpse of television news commentaries about a mission.
Finally, on July 16, 1969, aboard a Saturn V rocket, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off into history. It seemed that the whole world held its breath on July 20th as the Apollo 11 lunar module finally touched down safely on the surface of the moon and Armstrong announced that “the Eagle has landed”.
What most of the world didn’t see were the engineers, mathematicians, computer experts, rocket scientists, construction workers and others that laid the foundations upon which all the technology was built. Jim Donovan’s new book, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 begins with the Soviet launch of Sputnik and relates the U. S. response that ultimately involved over 410,000 men and women determined to beat the Soviets to the moon. The book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recently made into a movie. Check it out to get a taste of how these women battled the Jim Crow laws in the South.
While the astronauts received the honors and glory, their wives raised the children, kept the households running, gave interviews for magazines & newspapers, and put on brave faces for each launch. Most of the men were also test pilots, and their spouses were no strangers to the fear of that “knock on the door” signaling a death in a fiery crash. The wives banded together for support and comradeship. The Astronaut Wives Club, by Lily Koppel, relates the previously untold stories of the joys and heartaches of these brave women.
Whether it’s a trip down memory lane, or a whole new adventure for you, please take time to explore a pivotal point in the history of the mid-20th century. El Reno Carnegie Library will hold a Moon Landing Party on July 16th at 5:30 p.m. Check our website and facebook page for further information. Spoiler alert: Moon Pies might be involved!
Below are some resources available from our library to help you understand what it took to (paraphrasing Star Trek’s Captain Kirk) go where no man had gone before. And it took some women to help get them there; check it out!
NF 92 HOW Ron Howard: from Mayberry to the Moon – and Beyond, by Beverly Gray, 2003
NF 510.92 Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, 2016
NF 629.4 DON Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11, by Jim Donovan, 2019
NF 920 KOP The Astronaut Wives Club, by Lily Koppel, 2013
VIDEO APO DVD – Apollo 13, 1998
VIDEO HID DVD — Hidden Figures, 2017
VIDEO 629.4 FRO DVD – From the Earth to the Moon, 2005
OverDrive eBook – Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon, by Jeffrey Kluger, 2017
OverDrive eBook – American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, by Douglas Brinkley, 2019
OverDrive eBook – Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon, by Robert Kurson, 2018
www.youtube.com – YouTube has myriad videos pertaining to both the U.S.A and Soviet space programs. Search with phrases such as “space race documentary”, “Mercury space program”, Gemini space program”, “Apollo space program”, “Apollo 8 mission”, “Apollo 11 landing”.