The major contours of the American sprint to the Moon during the 1960s have been told and retold, and Project Apollo looms large in our collective memory. Now, nearly forty years after the conclusion of the last of the six landings by the astronauts in December 1972, the literature on the history of Apollo is diverse enough to permit assessment.
There are two classic works on the politics of Apollo. The first of these is John M. Logsdon, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1970), which describes in detail the political process by which the Kennedy administration decided to go to the Moon in 1961, which is now out of print but should be reissued. Walter A. McDougall’s …The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, 1985, reprinted Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) received the Pulitzer Prize in history with his erudite analysis of the race to the Moon in the 1960s.
Charles A. Murray and Catherine Bly Cox’s Apollo, the Race to the Moon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, Reprint edition, Burkittsville, MD: South Mountain Books, 2004) is perhaps the best general account of the lunar program, this history uses interviews and documents to reconstruct the stories of the people who participated in Apollo. A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (New York: Viking, 1994), by Andrew Chaikin is one of the best books on the role of the Apollo astronauts in the effort. Along with these, readers will want to read the illustrated history by David West Reynolds, Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 2002).
NASA has published several outstanding technical histories of Apollo. These include: Charles D. Benson and William Barnaby Faherty, Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4204, 1978); Roger E. Bilstein, Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles Washington, DC: NASA SP-4206, 1980, reprinted Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003); Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson Jr., Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft (Washington: NASA SP-4205, 1979); W. David Compton, Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4214, 1989); Sylvia D. Fries, NASA Engineers and the Age of Apollo (Washington, DC: NASA SP‑4104, 1992); Arnold S. Levine, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era (Washington, DC: NASA SP‑4102, 1982); and Glen E. Swanson, ed., “Before this Decade is Out…”: Personal Reflections on the Apollo Program (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4223, 1999).
Several important memoirs about Apollo have appeared in the last few years. One of the best is Michael Collins, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), by far the most thoughtful of all of the astronaut autobiographies. Two other excellent astronaut autobiographies are Eugene Cernan, The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America’s Race in Space (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), and Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994). Thomas J. Kelly, Moon Lander: How We Developed the Lunar Module (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001, is an outstanding account of the Grumman effort to build the Lunar Module. Christopher C. Kraft and James L. Schefter, Flight: My Life in Mission Control (New York: E.P. Dutton, 2001), and Gene Kranz, Failure is not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), provides perspectives from Houston’s Mission Control. The Unbroken Chain (Burlington, Canada: Apogee Books, 2001), by Guenter Wendt and Russell Still provides details on life at the launch site.
For those who want to read primary documents, Apogee books has published a series of Apollo mission reports, many of them multi-volume, that offer accounts of the individual missions. Additionally, John M. Logsdon is the general editor for a broad series of key documents in space history, published as Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program, 6 Vols. (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4407, 1995-2004). Finally, Edgar M. Cortright’s edited work, Apollo Expeditions to the Moon (Washington, DC: NASA SP-350, 1975), remains a valuable resource. This large-format illustrated book contains essays by numerous luminaries ranging from NASA administrator James E. Webb to astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, with Robert Gilruth, Wernher von Braun, George Low, Sam Phillips, and George Mueller contributing for good measure.