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The Real Space Cowboys (Apogee Books Space Series) by Ed Buckbee
Review by Paul Haggerty
Collector's Guide Publishing Inc Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1894959213
Date: 01 May, 2005 List Price $29.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The Real Space Cowboys is a mixed bag of familiar history, revisions of what I thought I knew, biographies, and just plain "remember when" stories. There are chapters devoted to the lives of the seven Mercury astronauts, including a powerful section where Wally Schirra points out a simple bit of evidence that proved to him that Gus Grissom did not blow his hatch prematurely, despite all the controversy over that event that persists to this day.

Of course the story of the space program would be incomplete without mention of Dr. Werner von Braun, and remembrances of this unstoppable pioneer are woven through the narrative as he pushed the United States ever forward towards his vision where space travel would be commonplace. Unfortunately, it was a dream that the US would fall far short of, pulling back right at the brink of success and leaving us stranded so far short of where we've already been.

The history of space travel turns out to be more extensive then I remembered, although I clearly remembered each section as it was introduced. Somewhere since leaving my childhood, history has been punctured, neatly folded, and stored away just out of mind. This book served as the wonderful device for getting that old information out, re-inflating it, and perking up those old memories. And there is still a lot in here that I never knew, which for me is the main pleasure in a good history book. There are a myriad questions asked and answered: Why was the Stennis Space Flight Center formed when Huntsville already existed? Why did the astronauts have to fight to get controls put in the capsule? Why weren't the readily known defects in Apollo 1 fixed before the disaster? As usual the answers almost always come down to human causes, not technical details.

Although most of the Mercury seven weren't included in the later flights, all of them maintained an interest in the space program, and all kept involved in one form or another through Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Space Camp, and the (now functionally lobotomized) International Space Station. By the end of the book, I'm left with one critically unanswered question: Why have we stopped? Twenty days after Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, Dr. von Braun presented to Congress his plan for landing on Mars by 1982. It's now thirty-six years later. Can we not do today, what could have been done then?

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