NSS Book Review: Manned Lunar Landing and Return

Manned Lunar Landing and Return book cover
Author: Robert Godwin. Reviewed by: Ted Spitzmiller. The goal of this book is to reveal little known, but key participants and decisions, in the road to the Moon paved by the Apollo Project during the 1960s.

Category: Nonfiction
Reviewed by: Ted Spitzmiller
Title: Manned Lunar Landing and Return
Author: Robert Godwin
NSS Amazon link for this book
Format: Paperback
Pages: 132
Publisher: Apogee Books
Date: July 2019
Retail Price: $25.95
ISBN: 978-1926837420

As stated by its author, the goal of the book is to reveal little known, but key participants and decisions, in the road to the Moon paved by the Apollo Project during the 1960s. At the center of this effort, which actually began in the late 1950s, is an engineering graduate of MIT who hailed from the British West Indies island of Trinidad.

Conrad Lau received a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Mechanical Engineering in 1942, and his Master of Science (MSc) in Aeronautical Engineering in 1943. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States and was employed by Chance Vought Aircraft, a division of United Aircraft Corporation. He devoted his entire career to that company, which later became Ling-Temco-Vought Inc.

Over those 20 years, he made significant contributions to a series of military projects, beginning with the famous World War II fighter, the F4U Corsair before his untimely death from cancer in 1964 at the age of 43.

The book moves through Lau’s career noting his interaction with various programs such as the F8U Crusader before engaging in “space” activities instigated by the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviets in 1957.

It is here that author Robert Godwin reveals the key (yet relatively little known) role that Lau played in recognizing the most efficient path to the Moon that would be used by the Apollo Program—Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). Godwin is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic promoter of space flight and its history. He deftly reviews the contributions made by many individuals, like Lau, who have been all but vanished to history. This is a strong point for the author—several of his books have resurrected the contributions of these “lost” pioneers.

Godwin reveals that, although there were several important contributors to LOR, it was Alexander Shargei (a Ukrainian) who first advocated the advantages of LOR in the early 1920s. But it was Lau, who’s deft analysis and calculations revealed that it was the only path that would accomplish the mission in the time frame and for the money that was willing to be spent.

The book takes the reader through the tortuous path that NASA encountered in trying to determine the “best” path as visualized by many of the more well-known names such as Wernher von Braun and Abe Silverstein, before a bright young Langley Engineer, John Houbolt pressed the issue which became the pivotal element of successfully getting astronauts to the Moon “before this decade is out”—the 1960s.

But behind all the maneuverings of the more prominent people was the ground-breaking work of Lau and the insightful reports he generated. Perhaps most significantly, Godwin provides a sorely needed correction to some of the “official” history that has been erroneously published regarding this aspect of the Apollo Program. Serious student of astronautics will find a wealth of information within these pages. My only criticism was the lack of an index to help correlate and reference key people and events of that amazing decade, but the author has included one in a recent revision.

© 2020 Ted Spitzmiller

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