The “first mission to the moon”? Wasn't that Apollo 11? Not quite, as Jeffrey Kluger reminds us in Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. Seven months before Neil Armstrong's historic footsteps in July 1969, NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders had actually flown to the moon, circled it 10 times and made it back to Earth, figuratively paving the way for Armstrong's crew.
Not only is Apollo 11 better known than Apollo 8, so is Apollo 13, the aborted mission Lovell flew on in 1970 that was the subject of a Best Picture-nominated movie. Kluger collaborated with Lovell on a bestselling book about that mission, Apollo 13 (originally published as Lost Moon), and here he sets out to tell the tale of a mission that is mostly remembered for a Christmas Eve broadcast in which the astronauts read from the biblical book of Genesis.
With the full cooperation of Lovell, Borman and Anders—particularly Borman, the mission commander—Kluger paints a detailed picture of a dangerous journey that included multiple maneuvers that had to go perfectly or the astronauts would crash on the moon or be literally lost in space. His access to NASA mission transcripts—the conversations inside the spacecraft and between the astronauts and controllers on the ground in Houston—proves particularly useful in bringing the reader inside the capsule. On the ground, Kluger expertly captures the intensity of the flight controllers and the anxiety of the astronauts' families watching from suburban Houston. For a book about science and exploration, there's plenty of emotion.