50 years ago right about now Apollo 13 was about 2 days away (April 14th) from the infamous communication ‘Houston, we have a problem’ which prompted a flurry of problem solving, engineering and mathematical genius to bring home the three men on-board the stricken space module and showing that courage and ingenuity can do seemingly impossible things.
David Long has written a book about the Apollo 13 mission for Barrington Stoke, a publisher that specialises in dyslexia friendly books here making the complexities of the space race, the achievement of the engineers, the historic Apollo 11 lunar mission and how that led to the story of Apollo 13 making it not only accessible to readers, but engaging and inspiring too.
It is of course important to frame the Apollo 13 event within the bigger story of the Space Race which involved early Russian successes such as Sputnik, Laika, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova leaving America playing constant catch up until Apollo 11 captured the worlds imagination. By the time of Apollo 13 though America had become bored of the space race, until of course the perilous journey became news and the world on tenterhooks as to whether the trio would survive.
How do you fit a square peg in a round hole?
I have to admit despite being a former History teacher, the post 1969 Space side of the Cold War was never my speciality for as far as the curriculum (both learned and taught) was concerned the Space Race ended when Neil Armstrong put one foot on the moon furthermore until recently most of my knowledge about Apollo 13 came from watching the Tom Hanks film on tv which if I’m totally honest is probably garbled with Armageddon considering my then age and the fact I’ve watched neither since 🙈.
However, this event is important in the history of science and engineering, and this book was incredibly enthralling, finding ways to engage and inspire with what could be at first dry non-fiction about eating in space, building space craft, wires sparking, CO2 scrubbers and the oxygen capacity of different parts of the modules.
The sections where the NASA engineers, mathematicians and scientists were challenging themselves to find a way to get the team home were especially interesting with; the debates over whether it was best to carry forward and use the moon’s gravitational pull to swing them back to Earth, or to turn around to Earth; how to conserve as much heat, fuel and Oxygen as possible to get track to Earth; how the engineers at NASA did a life saving ‘team building’ exercise trying to fit the spare square CO2 scrubbers from the command module into the round receptor holes of the Lunar Module (and what to learn from that) and so forth.
The illustrations by Stefano Tambellini are excellent with with a gentle blend of realism, diagram and graphic novel feel blending together the human and science elements seamlessly and further enabling understanding of the processes and events described.
Overall, this is an exciting and engaging book on a topic that may seem very complex especially if one struggles with reading whether through comprehension or dyslexia, which is why it’s wonderful to see this effort from David Long, Stefano Tambellini and Barrington Stoke to make this as accessible as possible to young readers and a wonderful idea to launch in parallel with the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
Survival in Space: The Apollo 13 Mission by David Long & illustrated by Stefano Tambellini is published by Barrington Stoke
Thank you so much to Kirstin at Barrington Stoke for my copy 💜