Book Review: Rocket Man

Rocket Man

This is only the second book about the Apollo era that I have read. And it’s a slightly different theme to Apollo 13 (or Lost Moon). They’re both similar in the respect that it’s two pilots pursuing their love for aviation and wanting to be at the cutting edge of the frontier. But Apollo 13 is about a mans dream to walk on the surface of the Moon and that dream being cruelly ripped away from him. Apollo 13, I felt went into detail about how the spacecraft worked and on the difficulties of getting to the Moon (and back). ‘Rocket Man’ couldn’t be anymore different.

Throughout the book we follow the much more recent story of N10BD, a Learjet 35, where Pete Conrad is one of the pilots trying to break the world record for a round the world flight in the shortest time. It was a bit strange to have it there, but it appeared to work and fitted in with the rest of the book.

The book goes back a long time. All the way back to the 1700’s where we see how Pete’s family came to be in America, how they flourished, and eventually how it all went downhill. The story is more about Pete’s personal love of aviation and engineering than anything else, and I was particularly shocked as to how little there was on him actually being on the Moon and generally on the Apollo program itself.

The subtitle of the book is ‘Astronaut Pete Conrad’s Incredible Ride To The Moon And Beyond’ and it really is beyond. We learn that Apollo 12 was, to him, not the greatest achievement to him as an astronaut. We learn about the Skylab program, how he was one of the stations architects, how he fixed the thing when it broke in space and how he lived on it for a month.

Towards the end of the book we see the sad side-effects of the life Pete Conrad lived. After being constantly busy, working 70-odd hour weeks for 20+ years, he realised he doesn’t know his family (a situation seemingly familiar with most Apollo astronauts). He ends up divorcing his wife and watches his youngest child by of cancer.

He goes to work for McDonnell Douglas, promoting and test flying their DC-10 and being involved in the investigation after one fatally crashed, grounding the entire fleet. He then moves on to private industry, and how it is they, not NASA, that need to lead the way in space. And he sets off on his own voyage to achieve this.

I found this book extremely interesting and enjoyable. Pete’s vibrant and colourful persona comes across easily, and it’s a funny read. The only issues I have is that the chapters are bizarrely short, something I’ve not come across before (there are nearly 60) and each contains about a maximum of 5 pages. I found this bizarre and unnecessary. Still, a great read, and highly recommended. Lacking in the details on the space program itself, this remains a great book.

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