Science and Exploration

Book Review: The Apollo 11 Flight Plan: A Real Script Of Exploration

By Keith Cowing
August 8, 2022
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Book Review: The Apollo 11 Flight Plan: A Real Script Of Exploration
Apollo 11 Flight Plan

“The Apollo 11 Flight Plan” from is one of the more unusual books that I have “read” or reviewed. Let me get this out of they up front: this book represents a true labor of love and dedication to the art of making history available as if it happened yesterday.

This book contains a faithful recreation of the Apollo 11 flight plan. Not a good photocopy or scanned version done via print on demand. No, these folks recreated every letter, number, symbol, and diagram precisely as it would have appeared in the actual first edition used by the crew. Indeed, it is probably even sharper.

Some background: I know a lot about things like this. Everyone who has worked at NASA does. We now see things created by virtually the entire workforce in PowerPoint. Many NASA people use PowerPoint as a crutch – either to remind themselves of what they are supposed to say or to give the impression that they actually have something to say. Or both.

Flight plans now – and then – are no nonsense things. Lives and mission success depend on them. You train with them, study them during down times on a mission, and then hope that you can find that one arcane thing in the midst of a crisis when you really need it. Today we see astronauts floating around with these things on iPads. Otherwise, not much has really changed.

Between 1981 and 1983 I worked on the Space Shuttle program at the Rockwell Downey facility in D-176 – the “Reprographics” division in Building 1. We did everyone’s presentations. Unilke today’s tools we used dry-transfer letters, paper cut with Exacto knives and either spray-glued or hot waxed into place. We had some fancy machines that would spit out words on special paper that would be applied to a card-like template. But in the end it was clunky typewriters and Exacto knives. To this day I have an Exacto knife on my desk since it is still a useful tool.

People would drop from their hand written charts with us. Our team would work them up, the authors would come in and check, and the final versions were made. At one point I was in charge of several dozen filing cabinets where all charts (they had numbers) were filed since they were often reused – sometimes cannibalized. People knew what was in their presentations since they all created them personally and re-read them multiple times.

I sat at a desk – in a room – in a building – with co-workers who had all worked on Apollo. Indeed, found an Apollo 7 FRR security badge in my top drawer. At one point I had the job of going through a huge room full of Apollo, Skylab, and ASTP documentation to make sure only one file copy remained and then send the rest to dumpsters. Yes, I saved some.

To look at this book now is like time travel for me. If you are also a space geek and know how to follow these tings you can clearly see all of the steps that the crew took from the moment their Saturn V came to life to the moment they splashed down. It is dry, to the point, and devoid of any human emotion, but it is all there. The how-to of the first human expedition to land on another world. Other than the early surface EVA start time, everything else is shown as the mission unfolded.

If you want to hold the real deal in your hands – without looking at blurred copies of copies of copies of bad 1960’s copies then this is worth buying. Oh yes: it’s fun to play back videos on YouTube with Apollo 11 crew audio and then hear the crew say the things that you see on the pagesin this book. Its a real script of exploration.

If Tenzing Norway and Edmund Hillary had a checklist for their summit of Everest then it would equally rank in historic importance to this document.

Highly recommended.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.