cover image Flight: My Life in Mission Control

Flight: My Life in Mission Control

Chris Kraft. Dutton Books, $25.95 (371pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94571-0

Hollywood has captivated American audiences with dramatizations of the early space program and the race for the moon in movies like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. But what really happened, before filmmakers made revisions for dramatic effect behind the scenes, as well as on the launchpads and in the cramped spaceships far from Earth? Kraft--flight director (thus his moniker ""Flight"") for the first Mercury flights in the early 1960s through most of the Gemini missions, chief of flight operations for the moon launches and, later, head of the Johnson Space Center in Houston--details the inception and first heady decade of NASA. In these memoirs he reveals little-known details of the space program: the young marine pilot John Glenn's cocky, stubborn side; the disorganization that contributed to the horrible launchpad fire in 1967 that killed three astronauts and NASA's subsequent soul-searching; Kraft and his staff's fight against cautious bureaucrats over the first lunar circumnavigation, one of the space program's high points; Buzz Aldrin's campaign to be the first man on the moon and why Neil Armstrong was chosen instead; and the media's construction of the U.S.-Russian space race. Kraft pulls no punches in his accounts of NASA infighting, and he gives credit where it's due, even to longtime sparring partners like NASA head George Mueller and master rocket-builder Wernher von Braun. Kraft's fair and ever-enthusiastic narrative will have broad appeal, from those who remember the first space flight to younger folks who can't imagine a world without NASA. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Mar. 5) Forecast: Given Kraft's candid revelations and the unflagging popularity of space exploration, this book could attract a large readership. (All proceeds from the book's sale will go to the Johnson Space Center Scholarship Fund.)