Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Failure Is Not An Option: A Quick Review

Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond
by Gene Kranz

Many Americans know a little bit about Gene Kranz even though they probably don’t know that they do. The reason? The popular Hollywood movie Apollo 13 featured the fellow. Remember Ed Harris donning the white vest for his duties as the Mission Control flight director? He was portraying Gen Kranz. But if that was a memorable moment in a fine film, a much more memorable, much more riveting, much more satisfying an experience is waiting for the reader of Gene Kranz’s remarkable memoir, Failure Is Not An Option.

From the humiliating “four inch flight” of a Redstone rocket in November 1960 through the liftoff of the Saturn V which launched the crew of Apollo 17 to the moon in December 1972, Gene Kranz gives his readers a comprehensive, fascinating history of America’s space program. It is a terrific read. It is detailed, inspirational and very personal, and I found Failure Is Not An Option every bit as engaging and profound as Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff or Chris Kraft’s Flight, two books of related subject that I have also valued greatly.

Kranz’s book reveals a man who was highly competent in his duties, a hard worker who never relaxed in his drive to study, sharpen his skills and stay ahead of the curve. Yet, he was a humble man, a team player who constantly applauded the efforts of his colleagues. The book also shows Gene Kranz as a spiritual man who isn’t embarrassed to speak of his dependence on God, his deep love of his family, his unabashed patriotism, and his zealous cheerleading of America’s heroic accomplishments in space. And, not unimportant, Kranz also proves to be an excellent reporter.

Reading Failure Is Not An Option is a wonderful history lesson, but you’ll also enjoy getting to know its intriguing author.

Of course, that comprehensive history Kranz that relates from such an “up close and personal” vantage point is itself a very exciting ride. You get to know the major players: test pilots and astronauts, scientists and technicians , politicians and power brokers. Indeed, you'll see how those various classifications frequently combined as in the careers of Deke Slayton, Neil Armstrong, and even Gene Kranz himself. You’ll experience the nervous chills of the space race against the Russians; get an entry-level primer on the science involved in putting men on the moon; and zero in on the action of many of the most critical events in America’s space program from the intense gaze of an insider who sat at the control booth.

I am immensely grateful for Gene Kranz’s taking on the enormous task of writing Failure Is Not An Option, a responsibility that is only surpassed by his bright career in the service of his country that sparked it. I am deeply grateful for that too. Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz is a book not to be missed.