A Note on Sources
The heart and soul of Rocket Men comes from extensive interviews I conducted with Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, the three astronauts who flew on Apollo 8. I met with each man over the course of several days at his home, and followed up repeatedly by phone and email, compiling dozens of hours of recorded conversation. Despite their ages (Borman and Lovell were born in 1928, Anders in 1933), all three of them seemed to have as much energy, and were just as sharp, as when they be-came the first men ever to fly to the Moon more than fifty years ago. It was I who often struggled to keep up with them.
Equally important to the book are the interviews I conducted with two of the astronauts’ wives, Marilyn Lovell and Valerie Anders. Both sat for several hours over many days, and made me feel welcome in their homes. By the time I undertook this project, Susan Borman was too ill to talk, but I met her, and Frank supplied me with much background information from a private journal he kept about her life and times. Quotes from Susan that appear in the book are from interviews she did when she was well, along with accounts from Frank, her two sons, and others who knew her.
It’s difficult to imagine having written this book without the extraordinary generosity of Chris Kraft, one of the most important figures in NASA’s history. At age ninety-one, Kraft welcomed me to his home in Houston for two full days of interviews about the flight of Apollo 8 and the bold series of decisions that led up to it. Like the astronauts, Kraft was in peak form and recalled details and events as clearly— and cared about them as much— as if they’d happened yesterday.
During the course of reporting for this book, I also interviewed several other astronauts and NASA personnel who were ringside for Apollo 8. I would have loved to talk to more of them, but by the time I began work on the project, many had already passed away. Still, I was lucky. Over the decades, NASA and other organizations had the foresight to record interviews with a great number of people involved in the American space program. I made use of eighty or more of these oral histories, including those with astronaut Neil Armstrong (who was on the backup crew for Apollo 8) and NASA giants including Robert Gilruth, George Mueller, Samuel Phillips, and James Webb. (Many of these oral histories can be found here: https://historycollection.jsc.nasa.gov/JSCHistoryPortal/history/oral_histories/participants.htm
In addition, I benefited greatly from the generosity of Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, who supplied me with more than a dozen transcripts of interviews they conducted in the 1980s for their classic book Apollo: The Race to the Moon.
Every aspect of the Apollo 8 story— the conception, planning, and execution of the mission, the American space program, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Cold War— was exhaustively documented as it unfolded. Even papers once secret have now been declassified. I benefited from all of this.
For my purposes, the single most important documentary source on the flight of Apollo 8 was the Apollo 8 Flight Journal, a Web-based transcript of the available recordings from the mission, along with corrections and a running series of astonishingly clear commentaries and explanations. The Flight Journal was created by David Woods, with help from Frank O’Brien, based on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal by Eric Jones, who saw the power of the Internet to host these massive, ever-changing documents. Hosted with the kind assistance of the NASA History Division, the Apollo 8 Flight Journal was essential to my understanding - on a minute- by minute basis - of the historic six-day mission. I was also extremely fortunate to work with David Woods during the research and writing of my book, as he helped to clarify and confirm my understanding of the flight. The Apollo 8 Flight Journal can be accessed online at history.nasa.gov/afj/ap08fj/index.html.
In addition, I benefited greatly by my consultation with space historian Dr. David M. Harland, who has written extensively about the Apollo program, including a masterwork, Exploring the Moon: The Apollo Expeditions. Also essential to my understanding of the flight - and to my sense of being there - were two online series of videos about Apollo 8 that included film, audio transmissions between the spacecraft and Mission Control (with time markers), live television broadcasts, animations, press briefings, and other aspects of the mission. Perhaps the most useful was this series of forty-two videos that covers the entire mission: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC1yaZz2qeGogsUbODzdA0-iJ8Qtb6kEB. For another excellent series, see this collection of sixty-one videos of CBS News coverage of Apollo 8: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwxFr1zAEfolhvY0z_lSMAQFuZDqatinX.
As one might expect with an Apollo mission, NASA produced an immense cache of primary source material, including thousands of documents from the agency covering every aspect of Apollo 8, from conception to construction to training to the flight itself and its aftermath. Some of it was far too technical for the purposes of this book, but much of it proved invaluable. Among the treasures I mined from this wonderland of documents: flight plans (which look like hieroglyphics to the untrained eye, but once deciphered become a bible of the mission); NASA memos and analyses; mission rules and procedures; flight evaluations; checklists; public affairs commentaries; transcripts of onboard voice transmissions; press briefings; crew debriefings; photographs and visual observations; and chronologies. I also repeatedly turned to a 448-page document compiled by NASA titled “Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1968— Chronology on Science, Technology, and Policy,” a day- by day account of the American space program in one of its most critical years.
Whenever there was a discrepancy in a version of events, I used my best efforts to present the most likely and clearest account. Quotations from the flight of Apollo 8 are taken from mission transcripts; in a few instances, when the astronauts were not broadcasting their conversations, I have presented their dialogue as they recounted it for me. Other dialogue in the book comes from the sources listed in this note. Occasionally, I assembled dialogue to reflect stories I was told or that I researched.
I sent a draft of Rocket Men to Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders to review for factual accuracy. I did not seek, nor did the astronauts offer, editorial changes. I’m grateful to them for their time and attention to detail, and for helping to make the manuscript as accurate as possible.