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JFK issued the historic moon landing challenge. These are the stories of the visionaries who helped America complete his vision with the first lunar landing fifty years ago.
A Companion Book to the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE® Film on PBS®
Going in depth to explore their stories beyond the PBS series, writer/producer Robert Stone—called “one of our most important documentary filmmakers” by Entertainment Weekly—brings these important figures to brilliant life.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed the nation spend twenty billion dollars to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Based on eyewitness accounts and newly discovered archival material, Chasing the Moon reveals for the first time the unknown stories of the fascinating individuals whose imaginative work across several decades culminated in America’s momentous achievement. More than a story of engineers and astronauts, the moon landing—now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary—grew out of the dreams of science fiction writers, filmmakers, military geniuses, and rule-breaking scientists. They include
• Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, whose writing inspired some of the key players in the Moon race. A scientific paper he wrote in his twenties led to the U.S. beating Russia in one area of space: communications satellites.
• Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi military genius who oversaw Hitler's rocket weapons program. After working on ballistic missiles for the U.S. Army, he was recruited by NASA to manage the creation of the Saturn V moon rocket.
• Astronaut Frank Borman, commander of the first mission to circumnavigate the Moon, whose powerful testimony before Congress in 1967 decisively saved the U.S. lunar program from being cancelled.
• Poppy Northcutt, a young mathematician who was the first woman to work in Mission Control. Her media exposure as a unique presence in this all-male world allowed her the freedom to stand up for equal rights for women and minorities.
• Edward Dwight, an African American astronaut candidate, recruited at the urging of the Kennedy White House to further the administration’s civil rights agenda—but not everyone welcomed his inclusion.
Setting these key players in the political, social, and cultural climate of the time, and including captivating photographs throughout, Chasing the Moon focuses on the science and the history, but most important, the extraordinary individuals behind what was undoubtedly the greatest human achievement of the twentieth century.
In this companion volume to a PBS documentary series, Stone and Andres, respectively the series' director and consulting producer, effectively if unspectacularly recount the path to the first moon landing. They do so through the perspectives of key participants and observers, including sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and NASA head James Webb. Clarke became fascinated with space exploration, for which he became an early proponent, as a teenager after spotting the "vibrant purple dusk jacket" of the book The Conquest of Space in a shop window in the 1930s. At age 18, Von Braun was already involved in rocketry experiments, going on to work for both the Nazi and U.S. governments. Webb's involvement didn't go back as far he'd been a Washington insider and oil company executive before being appointed to run NASA but once there "proved no less a space visionary." The authors' prose can be hyperbolic they improbably claim that the "brown gulls swooping" over Cape Canaveral on July 19, 1969, "sensed the day was anything but typical" but overall, this is a solid popular history that personalizes the race for the moon through the stories of some fascinating people.