A Lunar Anniversary

On a hot day in July forty years ago, millions of people were huddled around their radios and television sets waiting for the exciting news:  “The Eagle has landed.”

    In “Moonshot, The Flight of Apollo 11,” author-illustrator Brian Floca describes Neil Armstrong as “calm as a man who just parked a car” when he radios Houston that he’s landed safely on the moon.  Floca captures the mission’s mixture of calm professionalism and high drama in poetic words and watercolors. 

    The book opens with a picture of a crescent moon floating over a summery field dotted with fireflies.  Then it’s all business, as the three astronauts suit up, clicking on their gloves and helmets for the week-long journey.  Alternating between breathtaking full page spreads and cartoon panels, Floca clearly explains everything kids will want to know.  Dizzying perspectives show the tiny space capsule crammed with gears and switches while the freeze-dried bags of food float in space (“That ham salad sandwich? Watch the crumbs!”).  In a picture Floca could only imagine, we see the tiny craft flanked by two suited astronauts on the surface of the moon, with the Earth hanging brightly above them in space.

If you’ve forgotten that the moon is so bright the astronauts couldn’t see any stars, or that the Eagle flew off course and barely found a safe place to land, you’ll appreciate Floca’s eye for the dramatic detail.  Readers who can’t get enough will appreciate the additional information on the end papers.  Give this to space fans of any age, but readers six and up will particularly appreciate it.
Three men went up into space, but it took hundreds of thousands of people on the ground to make it happen.  Catherine Thimmesh tells the behind-the-scenes stories of the engineers, seamstresses, aerospace technicians and other key personnel in her award-winning “Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon.”

In a lively design that incorporates dozens of contemporary photographs (check out the skinny ties on the men at Mission Control), Thimmesh reveals one fascinating story after another.  She tells us the words Nixon would have spoken if the worst had happened and the astronauts had not returned.  She explains how each space suit was made of twenty-two layers of neoprene-coated nylon, Mylar and other fabrics that were stitched, glued and cemented together.  She gives us the motto of the aerospace team who built the lunar module: “There is no such thing as a random failure.” First-person reminiscences about heart-stopping moments of the mission will grab youngsters for whom this is ancient history.

Three men went into space, but only two of them landed on the moon.  Michael Collins, the lone astronaut in the Columbia, is the hero of Bea Uusma Schyffert’s “The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon.”

Collins’ job was to pilot the capsule around the moon until Aldrin and Armstrong completed their mission. During each of his 14 orbits around the moon, he was on the dark side and outside of radio communication for 48 minutes of each orbit.  The darkness was so complete that he could not even see the surface of the moon. It was a lonely and awe-inspiring journey.  Readers will come away admiring the technical achievements of the mission, and with renewed appreciation for the human beings who brought it to fruition.

This article was first published in the Free Lance-Star on July 14, 2009.