• Ian

What I am Reading (#3)

Disclaimer: These blog posts are intended as brief conversations concerning what I am reading. Creativity is not only the production of creative works, but also their consumption. I believe it is important to think about others works, and see how they might inspire or influence mine. These posts are also not intended as book reviews. Fact of the matter is, if I do not like a book I am reading, I won’t take the time to discuss it. Lastly, I do not care how long something has been out in the world, I will not include any spoilers, in the event someone also wants to read these books.


Enjoy!


Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey: 50th Anniversary Edition by Michael Collins (1974, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)



For those out there who either purposely don’t watch news or social media, or for those who prefer living underneath rocks…


WE LANDED ON THE MOON!!


To be more precise, we did it 50 years ago. By “We” I mean humanity. Taking a concept that up until the mid-1960s had been so foreign to mankind, yet pulling together the top minds from all over the US (as well as abroad, i.e. Werner Von Braun). Or I mean we as Americans did by winning the space race against the Soviet Union, showing our superiority in technology and how the heroes of Capitalism will always win over the villains of Communism. Or, by we I simply mean those three men that were strapped to the top of the Saturn V rocket, that was shot into space on July 16th, 1969, just happened to hail from the US and since the transitive property states that since I am American, and Americans walked on the Moon, I, therefore also walked on the Moon.

In retrospect, it is clearly the first option. Sure, we beat the Soviets, but remember they were the first to send a satellite into orbit (Sputnik), they were they first to send an animal (a dog, Laika) into space, and Yuri Gagarin in the Vostok 1 was the first human to orbit the Earth. Had it not been for the pressure the Soviets had put on the US and had it not occurred in the middle of the Cold War, I doubt President Kennedy would have given his famous speech at Rice University on September 12th, 1962.


We chose to go to the Moon…


OK, I get it, I haven’t written much about the book yet. I know, but I have a reason. As mentioned earlier, 50 years ago, we DID go to the moon. In fact, we went to the Moon multiple times. To celebrate the anniversary, news stations and news outlets have been showing Apollo documentaries, replaying old footage, attempting to connect the America today, with the America of the 1960s. It isn’t so easy.


What I am getting at, is this was a monumentally historic moment in the timeline of humanity. For a science nerd such as myself, I soak it up like a dried-out sponge. For someone who loves stories, this may be one of the most exciting stories of the 20th century.


I am a dried-out sponge in the middle of the Arizona desert.


So here I am ingesting every documentary, news article, and sound bite I can get my hands on and I stumble upon the proverbial diamond in the rough.


13 Minutes to the Moon, a podcast by Kevin Fong and BBC World Service, may be one of the best podcasts I have ever listened too… ever. Fong takes the listener in-depth into the final 13 minutes of the Lunar Module Eagle as it descended to the moon’s surface carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Two names, I am sure, every single person has heard of.


Episode 7 – Michael Collins: Third Man


While the world (hopefully) can name the aforementioned astronauts at the drop of a hat, there is one more that may not be so familiar. The third man in the Apollo 11 crew, command module pilot Michael Collins. While Armstrong and Aldrin became the first to walk on the surface of the moon, Collins stayed behind, orbiting the moon in the Command Module Colombia. His job was, among others, to rendezvous with the Eagle once it left the moon, either at the appointed time, or in an emergency situation.


If you haven’t made the connection, Carrying the Fire: An Astronauts Journey is an autobiography. Episode 7 of 13 Minutes to the Moon interviewed Collins in his home in Florida, and read excerpts from his book. And here is how and why I picked up this book immediately and began to read.


Not only was Collins a graduate of West Point, an Air Force veteran, a test pilot, an astronaut on the Gemini 10 mission and the Columbia pilot on Apollo 11, but he could write! Boy can he write.


Let me make something clear: Collins wrote this book. He mentions as much in his original 1974 preface.


“But above all, I am glad that I wrote it myself. No matter how good the ghost[writer], I am convinced that a book loses realism when an interpreter stands between the storyteller and his audience. The price I pay for going ghostless, of course, is that I cannot share the blame for awkward clauses or historical inaccuracies, but I don’t mind that.” (preface p. xxx)


Collins also includes in his 2019 preface, his opinion on why English as a subject is just as important as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).


“STEM may be a beginning, but it’s far from a complete education. Perhaps that is because I have worked with too many incoherent engineers. I want to change STEM to STEEM, inserting English… More common is the engineer who has an important point to make, verbally or in a memo, but cannot really get it across, as it is immersed in a cloud of jargon.” (preface p. xxii)


Coming from a science background myself, experiencing this on a daily basis, his words are all too real. The point is, this comes across in his writing. Collins is articulate and descriptive and despite his disdain for the media always asking him and his fellow astronauts more about their feelings than the details of any given mission, he manages bring those details to the forefront, telling what it was really like to be an astronaut… no, not an astronaut; a person in a brand-new field of science and technology.


In addition, he brings a lightheartedness to his writing that makes the reading even easier. Here, Collins describes his experience with chiggers during his survival training in the jungles of Panama.


“Friends are always pleased to offer remedies ‘Rub them with Scotch and sand. They’ll get drunk and stone each other to death.’ They merely itch worse when they (or you) have a hangover.” (p. 87)


This post is getting long so I will simply end with this. I am really enjoying this book; Collins take on being the “Third Man” is very informative for a space nut like myself as well as a refreshing view on the Apollo program that most don’t hear about. The takeaway for me as a writer is the insight into the mind of someone who ACTUALLY left earth on a rocket and, in Collins case, orbited another world. For the Apollo program in general, it is fun for me to compare science fiction with science fact.


 

On a separate note; writing is a slow process, slower than most can imagine. I think I will forgo the writing updates for the foreseeable future as I hate to keep people on the edge of their seat and not deliver. It is a good policy that I will be sticking to. Obviously if something exciting happens with any of my projects I will let you all know. Just know that I am usually thinking about my projects at any given moment, and usually lamenting about how rarely I post a blog.


For now, I will try to be happy with what I can do, when I can do it.

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