First Man, by James R. Hansen
You may have seen the excellent hit movie. Now, for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, which was celebrated July 20, I’m recommending the book that tells the incredible saga of that First Man, an essential biography by James R. Hansen. Not just a biography though, this is an entertaining, comprehensive story of a fascinating time in history. And it’s enhanced by stunning pictures, including some that are out of this world.
The book starts with Neil Armstrong’s youth. He grew up under the shadow of the Wright brothers’ celebrated invention of the airplane, and their inaugural aerial experiences in Ohio. Young Neil was an avid model airplane enthusiast. “Originally my focus was on the building of airplanes, not their flying.” It’s compelling to read about the people around him, the times, his personality, and the opportunities that converged into his epic achievements that take flight.
That is not to say that he found success in all he attempted. The writing about his stumbles, and how he learns from them, is insightful. The exciting times of the daring test pilots will get your heart pounding and your imagination churning. At Edwards Air Force Base, they said that “Neil ran circles around many test pilots.” It was so important to have the combination of the skills and also the daring to try new things. According to Armstrong, “It was program development, looking at the problems of flight. It was a wonderful time period, and it was very satisfying work, particularly when you found a solution.”
And then there is the telling of the moon flight. Facts only this insider knows about the people, the training, the service of the astronauts, NASA, scientists, politicians, and affiliated businesses turns this book into something hard to put down. The stories about the people are laced with motives and interactions so utterly human, at times very funny, at times heroic, and historic.
The author is a professor emeritus of history and an expert in aerospace and the history of its science and technology. He is a former historian for NASA. This is one of a dozen books he has authored on aviation. He lives with his family in Alabama.
Give yourself a 50th Anniversary moon landing gift by reading First Man, and treat yourself to the stories and information that even a great movie just does not have the means to include.
— By Wendy Kendall
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager, wedding officiant and volunteer at the Edmonds Library.RR