It is rare for engineering to be the subject of literature and entertainment and even rarer for an engineer to be the subject. Audible’s The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon is a welcome outlier. Although I was once a proud Fortran programmer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (the Pioneer Venus project), I hadn’t realized that the original idea for the moon landing was to fly a huge vehicle and enough fuel for the return trip straight to the lunar surface. Audible’s work is about John Houbolt, who fought the conventional thinking and endured all of the bureaucratic infighting to promote the idea of a small vehicle that would land on the moon, thus requiring only a tiny fraction of the fuel to get back to Earth. After escaping the moon’s gravity, the small vehicle would rendezvous with a bigger spacecraft in lunar orbit (“lunar orbit rendezvous” or “LOR”) and then the astronauts could all go home.
Trigger warning: the book implies that members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, engineers of color, and engineers who identify as “women” played no role in getting astronauts to the moon.
- the audiobook author’s Twitter feed (perhaps there will be a hint in here about the topic of the next book)