'Rocket Men' author to appear at Arlington Heights Library

  • Arlington Heights resident Sonja Pappas and her daughter, Anna, explore Earth from Space, an exhibit celebrating space and the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

    Arlington Heights resident Sonja Pappas and her daughter, Anna, explore Earth from Space, an exhibit celebrating space and the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Courtesy of Stephanie Battista/ Arlington Heights Memorial Library

  • Arlington Heights resident Sonja Pappas and her daughter, Anna, listen to NASA-produced audio in Earth from Space, an exhibit celebrating space and the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

    Arlington Heights resident Sonja Pappas and her daughter, Anna, listen to NASA-produced audio in Earth from Space, an exhibit celebrating space and the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Courtesy of Stephanie Battista/ Arlington Heights Memorial Library

  • The Brinson family of Arlington Heights is taking part in Summer Reading: It's Out There, this summer's space-themed reading challenge at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. In the photo are mom Michelle, Harris and Charlotte Brinson and AHML summer volunteer Michael McManaman.

    The Brinson family of Arlington Heights is taking part in Summer Reading: It's Out There, this summer's space-themed reading challenge at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. In the photo are mom Michelle, Harris and Charlotte Brinson and AHML summer volunteer Michael McManaman. Courtesy of Stephanie Battista/ Arlington Heights Memorial Library

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Good News
Updated 7/10/2019 2:14 PM

Chicago author Robert Kurson describes writing his bestselling book "Rocket Men" as a happy accident.

Chicago author Robert Kurson
Chicago author Robert Kurson - Courtesy of Matt Ferguson

The Harvard trained lawyer turned author was visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, when he saw it: the Apollo 8 command module, which is the centerpiece of the Henry Crown Space Center since it landed there in 1971.

"Here was this spectacular spacecraft that carried the first human beings into space," Kurson said during a recent phone interview.

The discovery launched Kurson into a nearly three-year odyssey of research, interviews with the astronauts -- Commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders -- their wives and children, and officials with the space program.

Robert Kurson, author of "Rocket Men," which tells the story of the Apollo 8 mission, will speak at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library July 17.
Robert Kurson, author of "Rocket Men," which tells the story of the Apollo 8 mission, will speak at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library July 17. - Courtesy of Arlington Heights Memorial Library

"Rocket Men" came out last year, 50 years after the mission, and its three astronauts arrived in Chicago to help Kurson launch the book.

Together, they returned to the Henry Crown Space Center to view the command module itself.

Kurson will share details of the story at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. His appearance is timed with the library's space-related programs this summer -- and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

Jennifer Czajka, programs and exhibits manager for the library, says she loves to connect patrons with favorite authors through live events.

"To be in the room when Kurson shares the thrilling story of the astronauts of Apollo 8 -- marking such a historic anniversary -- will be a very special occasion," Czajka says.

The anniversary of the moon landing, Kurson says, gives him even more reason to share the story of the launching that paved the way for President John F. Kennedy to fulfill his goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

"As time goes on, people are paying more attention to Apollo 11 (and the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon)," Kurson says. "But, in my opinion, Apollo 8 was even more important and daring.

"It was incredibly bold, risky and courageous for NASA to run this mission," he adds, "and it represents a series of firsts."

For starters, Kurson says, Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to leave the earth's orbit, travel nearly three days to the moon -- and return safely.

"It was the first time human beings arrived in a new world," Kurson says.

Charlotte Brinson of Arlington Heights enjoys Summer Reading: It's Out There, this summer's space-themed reading challenge at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library with the help of summer volunteer Joshua Leigh.
Charlotte Brinson of Arlington Heights enjoys Summer Reading: It's Out There, this summer's space-themed reading challenge at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library with the help of summer volunteer Joshua Leigh. - Courtesy of Stephanie Battista/ Arlington Heights Memorial Library

The mission took place in December 1968, and they were in orbit over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, details which are important to the story, Kurson adds.

He tells the story in the context of the events of 1968, including the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, nearly 16,000 troops killed in Vietnam and riots in the streets.

"The whole country was in an uproar," Kurson says. "But in that last week of the year, we came together. This mission pulled the whole country together."

Kurson adds that the three astronauts were named "Men of the Year" in 1968 by Time magazine, a feat not even the astronauts on Apollo 11 received. Yet, despite their rock star status, Kurson says the astronauts were down to earth and eager to share their stories.

All three are still alive. Borman, at 91 is the oldest living astronaut, while Lovell is 11 days younger. Anders is 86.

Kurson himself is in big demand these days, as the country celebrates the moon landing and the space program. Among his many interviews and appearances, he and "Rocket Men" will be featured next month as the selection of the Hey Nonny Book Club in Arlington Heights.

"I love this story," Kurson says. "There are so many layers to it, from their families to the tumultuous year, and just what it represented to the history of our country."

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