Author to discuss moon landing July 20

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
Simon & Schuster is releasing Charles Fishman's "One Giant Leap," about the moon race, July 11.

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, former Washington Post reporter Charles Fishman has published "One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon," a new history of the epic battle to beat the Russians to the moon. 

Fishman, 58, is also the author of, among other books, "The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How It's Transforming the American Economy." He will speak at the Cranbrook Institute of Science July 18,  part of Detroit Public TV's "Summer of Space" event. It will also include a discussion by University of Michigan space experts, a peek at the heavens in the Cranbrook observatory, and a demonstration by the Michigan Mars Rover Team.

Were you always interested in space flight?

Charles Fishman: "I'm not a super space-head, but I really paid attention when I was a little kid. I was the kid who built rocket models with Testors glue and those little containers of paint the size of your thumb nail. I had a recording about the Gemini missions, and remember playing that over and over on my record player -- well before I got into James Taylor and Fleetwood Mac." 

Charles Fishman, author of "One Giant Leap" about the Apollo moon landing in 1969.

Did you have any connection to the space program as an adult?

"When I was at the Washington Post, I covered the 1986 'Challenger' disaster, so I spent a lot of time in Houston in the Johnson Space Center headquarters. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune and I sat next to a lunar module that was roped off. All day long, hundreds of fourth graders would file by."

How long did "One Giant Leap" take you?

"It took four years, and could've taken four more. The 12 astronauts who walked on the moon -- just those 12 -- have themselves written 20 books. So the challenge was to say something new. My aim is to change the conversation about Apollo."

How so?

"Part of the conventional wisdom is that the Apollo landing wasn't anything like the Manhattan Project, and that it didn't require breakthroughs in science. But that's ridiculous. When President Kennedy proposed going to the moon, it was impossible. There was no rocket powerful enough, no space suits adequate to the job, and no space ship that could land on the surface. There was even serious argument within NASA about whether human beings could think in space -- whether the brain would work in zero gravity."

What other misinterpretations do you see out there?

"There's a halo of disappointment about Apollo. There's this sense that it was a glorious, one-off spectacle -- a show that didn't accomplish anything. Some wonder, 'Where's the world of "The Jetsons" that we were kind of promised?' But if it didn't usher in the space age, it did usher in the computer age that laid the foundation for the digital revolution that's followed." 

Any other myths?

"There's the myth that Apollo was crazy expensive -- about $19.4 billion from 1961-72. But in that same period, Americans bought $40 billion in cigarettes. So if we could afford to smoke, we could afford to go to the moon."

What else struck you?

"This was a government program that came in on-time, on-budget, scandal-free and 100 percent successful." 

As part of his research for "One Giant Leap," author Charles Fishman experimented with zero gravity.

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Charles Fishman at Detroit Public TV 'Summer of Space' event 

 7 p.m. July 18 

Cranbrook Institute of Science, 39221 Woodward, Bloomfield Hills 

Tickets: $20 apiece (purchase 2 and get year's membership to DPTV as well)

(248) 645-3200