Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon
by Colin Burgess and Kate Doolan, with Bert Vis
University of Nebraska Press, 2003
Review by Larry McGlynn
Do the names Theodore Freeman, Elliot See, Charles Bassett, Edward Givens or C.C. Williams mean anything to the average person? Perhaps they might remember Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.
If the above names are familiar, they are usually recalled too briefly; footnotes in the race of landing a man on the Moon. These men, so seldom mentioned, made the ultimate sacrifice for their country while paving the way to another world.
In Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon, co-authors Colin Burgess and Kate Doolan have written a comprehensive and detailed account of the life and death of each of these men.
Many people are aware of the Apollo launch pad disaster in which Grissom, White, and Chaffee lost their lives, but few know of the other five fallen astronauts whose stories this book tells as well.
For the first time in one concise volume, we learn what drove these men to become astronauts. Each chapter provides insight into these men's personalities, lives and training.
Among those profiled in Fallen Astronauts are Freeman and Williams, who died in the crashes of their T-38 jets; the "Gemini Twins," Bassett and See, killed when their jet slammed into the building where their Gemini capsule was undergoing final construction; and Givens, whose fatal car crash has until now been obscured by rumors.
The lives and accomplishments of these and other fallen astronauts -- including eight Russian cosmonauts -- are described in detail, supported by extensive interviews and archival material.
For the chapter "By the Light of a Soviet Moon", the authors turned to researcher Bert Vis to discern details from propaganda in what is often the clouded history of Soviet and Russian cosmonaut fatalities.
Yet perhaps the most intriguing aspect raised by Fallen Astronauts are the roles each of these men might have played in the journey to the Moon had they lived. It is all but certain that some of these men would have walked on the lunar surface. How would history have been altered if, as it has been suggested, Grissom had been the first to set foot upon the surface of the Moon?
As a testimony to Fallen Astronauts and its authors, several surviving astronauts have written about the book, including Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, who contributed the foreword. Mercury astronauts Wally Schirra and Scott Carpenter also lent their names in support of Burgess' and Doolan's work.
And then there are the moving words by Apollo 7's Walter Cunningham in his review of Fallen Astronauts: "I flew with such men and knew them well -- men frozen in time now like shadows in old group photos... This book brings these old colleagues and friends of mine back to life, and it is wonderful to see them finally get the attention they deserve in print," wrote Cunningham.
With such an endorsement, there is litte more that can be said to convey that Burgess and Doolan have succeeded in honoring the unsung heroes that are hailed within Fallen Astronauts.
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