Thursday, 16 July 2009

Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual, Christopher Riley & Phil Dolling

When I saw the cover to this Apollo 11 Haynes manual, I expected it to contain exploded diagrams and cutaways of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, "including Saturn V, CM-107, SM-107, LM-5". The subtitle, "an insight into the hardware from the first manned mission to land on the Moon", only further suggested this.

So imagine my disappointment when the book proved to contain nothing like this.

However, as I read the book my opinion changed. No, Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual does not contain the detailed exploded diagrams typical of Haynes car manuals; but it is a readable and detailed introduction to Apollo 11, the people involved and the hardware used. In eight copiously-illustrated chapters, the two authors cover everything from "the dawn of Apollo" to "misconceptions and conspiracy theories".

The book opens with an introduction to the space race, from Tsiolkovsky and Goddard through von Braun and Gagarin to Projects Mercury and Gemini, and Lunar Orbit Rendezvous. The chapter finishes with a section on the crew of Apollo 11, including the back-up crew and flight directors.

Chapter 1 covers the development and technical specifications of the Saturn family of launch vehicles. Chapter 2 does the same with the Apollo Command and Service Modules. The Apollo Guidance Computer and guidance, navigation and control systems of the CSM and LM are described in chapter 3. The next chapter details the Lunar Module, followed by a chapter on space suits. The final two chapters cover "Communicating from the Moon" and "Beyond Apollo 11 - the J-class missions". Everything is explained clearly and concisely, and well illustrated.

Much of the information in Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual can be found in other, more detailed, books on individual topics covered by this book. And, in fact, many of the diagrams are taken from NASA literature of the time - from such as the Apollo Spacecraft News Reference and Apollo Training. The photographs, however, are from a variety of sources.

As an introduction to Apollo 11, Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual strikes exactly the right balance between overview and detail. For example, in the chapter on the Lunar Module is a section titled "Landing on the Moon", which gives a breakdown of the three phases - braking, approach, and terminal descent - and the computer programmes used by the LM during those phases. It's difficult not to learn something new about Apollo 11 reading this book, at least not without reading an entire library on the subject.

Both Riley and Dolling are BBC producers who specialise in space-related programmes. Riley, in fact, was a producer on In The Shadow Of The Moon and Space Odyssey, and Dolling has executive produced programmes such as Space and James May's 20th Century.

Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual is a very good introduction to its subject. If you want to buy a book about Apollo 11, then you could do a great deal worse than this one.

Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual, Dr Christopher Riley and Phil Dolling (2009, Haynes Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84425-683-9, 185pp + appendices)

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