In One Giant Leap, Charles Fishman lifts the curtain on America’s near-impossible journey to the moon. As the nation prepares to celebrate the lunar landing’s 50th anniversary, One Giant Leap debuts on The New York Times Bestseller List.
Everyone knows the 1969 moon landing, but few truly understand the tremendous effort that went into making it a reality. In America’s collective memory, the journey has been crystallized into the single, perfect moment of Neil Armstrong descending onto the moon’s surface. Charles Fishman, author of One Giant Leap, writes, “it’s as if on a summer day in 1969, three men climbed into a rocket, flew to the Moon, pulled on their spacesuits, took one small step, planted the American flag, and then came home.” In actuality, a quarter million Americans put in 2.8 billion hours of labour—from weaving the computer memory by hand to performing complex mathematical calculations—to get us to the moon. One Giant Leap is not merely a recounting; it is a painstaking and in-depth exploration of the set-backs and triumphs leading to humankind’s greatest achievement.
But what was it all for? Fifty years later and the anticipated Space Age hasn’t come to fruition. But perhaps something even more important did: the digital revolution.“It's hard to appreciate now, but in 1961, 1962, 1963, computers had the opposite reputation of the reputation they have now,” explains Fishman to NPR. “Most computers couldn't go more than a few hours without breaking down. Even on John Glenn's famous orbital flight—the first U.S. orbital flight—the computers in mission control stopped working for three minutes [out] of four hours.”
The space race dramatically accelerated the rate of technological advancement. NASA became the first organization to use computer chips over transistors. At the time, computer chips were considered unreliable and expensive. Today, they power the world, starting with our smartphones. NASA took every precaution ensuring the computer chips functioned perfectly for space—where even the slightest malfunction could spell disaster: “What NASA did for semiconductor companies was to teach them to make chips of near-perfect quality, to make them fast, in huge volumes and to make them cheaper, faster, and better with each year,” he writes.“That's the world we've all been benefitting from for the 50 years since.”
One Giant Leap is captivating, razor-sharp, and scrupulously researched. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a fresh, enthusiastic history of the moon mission.” Publisher’s Weekly dubbed it a “fascinating portrait of a technological heroic age.” It is a must-read to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s most impressive feat.
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