Speaking of launch pad white rooms

My copy of the Unbroken Chain

I was going to use yesterday’s post about the Orbiter Access Arm and white room that are now at JSC’s rocket park as a segue to recommend Guenter Wendt‘s autobiography The Unbroken Chain. But after doing an Amazon search I discovered that his 2001 book is now mysteriously no longer being printed by Apogee Books. This is baflling to me because the softcover was released just recently in May 2009, about when I got my copy.

Unfortunately, it probably has something to do with the fact that we lost Guenter in May 2010. I can’t even find a preview or anything at books.google.com. So, long story short, if you are a space geek you should find a copy of this book, and if you already have one, hang on to it!

Most casual space fans are familiar with Guenter Wendt from Apollo 13 when Tom Hanks is getting suited up and says “Ah, Guenter Wendt. I wonder where Guenter went.” (the same line is used in episode 3 of From the Earth to the Moon). I honestly didn’t know much about this guy either, other than this quotable movie line, until I read his book. And wow. You really don’t have a complete picture of the people of the early space program without reading Guenter’s stories about the pranks that the astronauts and closeout crew used to play on each other almost every mission.

My absolute favorite anecdote is from Gordon Cooper’s Mercury flight. Apparently, after getting out of the van at the launch pad, Gordo pretended to be so scared that he refused to get on the tower elevator and the closeout crew wrestled him in and slammed the door. All of this was done in front of a crowd of media cameras. This is the space program that you never knew happened.

On a more serious note, I love this book because it really shows the tension of those moments strapping into your rocket up in the white room. It’s clear from the way the astronauts talk about Guenter that they are truly fearful during those patient long hours at the top of the launch tower, and that Guenter’s calm professionalism and boyish sense of humor always helped them keep their cool.

You can’t talk about the history of the US space program without mentioning Guenter Wendt. I know that now and hope that more space fans get a chance to read his book and find out for themselves. Maybe we can start a grassroots campaign to get Apogee to start printing again? In any case, with any old copy listed online for about $100, I don’t think I’ll ever be getting my hands on a signed copy for my collection (Update: actually, most used copies are about $40 and there is at least one signed copy for $150 – I initially read Amazon wrong).

I’ll leave you with a couple of nice videos of Guenter talking about the early space program.

January 9, 2012 9:49 pm

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