Project Apollo: Reading List

Time to talk books!

Aside from embedded and real-time systems, my main professional interests are are systems that have some kind of critical failure to them, things that go set fire to their surroundings or spend drastic amounts of money very rapidly. With regard to such systems, it's very hard to beat spacecraft. Life-vehicles are directed explosions and, for instance, lighting a single Saturn V cost about $1 billion in 2015 dollars.

I'm interested I'm studying the technical and operational details of NASA in its early days, how decisions got made and how those decisions radiate out through time. The NASA side of the space race is a treasure trove of research, being that it's extensively documented from many angles and with varying degrees of hindsight. How did the same organization that put together Mercury, Gemini and Apollo also make the Space Shuttle? How were severe technical crises, such as during the Apollo 13 flight, handled and what prior training prepared everyone? What sort of lessons can be carted away and massaged in other engineering fields, where high-stakes and low margins for error exist?

I sort of have answers to these questions. If you've seen any of my talks in the last year or read my Peculiar Books Reviewed series you might have noticed I'm gnawing around the edges. That is, I suppose, in a folksy, gee do I have a book and/or anecdote for you! kind of way.

Anyway, gee, how about some books! Here, in no certain order, is a list of books sitting on my research shelf at this very moment:

  • Skylab: America's Space Station - Shayler David
  • Oral Histories of NASA Flight Dynamics Controllers
  • How Apollo Flew to the Moon - W. David Woods
  • The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space - Michelle L. Evans and Joe H. Engle
  • The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA - Diane Vaughan
  • The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation - Frank O'Brien
  • Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight - David A. Mindell
  • Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth - Andrew Smith
  • Thirteen: The Apollo Flight that Failed - Henry S.F. Cooper Jr.
  • U.S. Spacesuits - Kenneth S. Thomas and Harold J. McMann
  • Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles - Roger E. Bilstein
  • Rocket Ranch: The Nuts and Bolts of the Apollo Moon Program at Kennedy Space Center - Jonathan H. Ward