This week on the blog we’re joined by author David Long as he chats with us about what inspired him to write his first Barrington Stoke book, Survival in Space, and why the incredible story of Apollo 13 still resonates with him today, 50 years on …
In one sense this is a book I was bound to write. I was eight years old when Apollo 11 took off for the Moon and like all the other boys at school I found the whole thing incredibly exciting.
My parents had given me a telescope for my birthday a few months earlier and I remember spending hours looking up at the Moon. I still do this now, sometimes with my own children, and back then it seemed unbelievable that a rocket was going to travel all the way there and all the way back. It was so exciting to think that someone was actually going to land on the Moon’s surface and that they would have the chance to walk around up there and look back at the rest of us, down here on Earth.
When the first pictures were shown on television of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking those famous first steps, everyone I knew wanted to watch it happening. Literally millions of people switched on to see it. Admittedly the pictures were only black and white (and a bit fuzzy) but no-one minded. None of us had ever seen anything like this before and I still get a shiver down my spine when I think about it.
Nearly twenty years later I was lucky enough to meet Buzz Aldrin and to shake his hand. A few years after that I was in America and I met another of the Apollo astronauts. This time it was Harrison Schmitt, a scientist on Apollo 17, and I shook his hand too. Schmitt was the last man to step out of a spacecraft and on to the surface of the Moon, although of course we didn’t know that at the time. Back then I suppose everyone imagined that the Moon missions would go on and on.
I find it very sad that no-one else followed him but at the same time it is somehow magical to think that there have been thousands of rocket launches since those early days (and hundreds of astronauts) yet there are still only twelve human beings who have been lucky enough to stand on another world and look back at our own.
Sadly the three-man crew of Apollo 13 never made it, but in many ways their story is even more remarkable, which is why I wanted to tell it. Their Saturn V rocket was the most complicated machine ever built. With more than 3,000,000 components there were so many things to go wrong that perhaps it’s not surprising that eventually something did go wrong. When it did, it put all three lives into terrible danger almost immediately. The commander and crew had air to breathe and water to drink, but not enough of it. Far worse: no-one was sure how to get them home, or even if it would be possible to do this.
That they did get back is, I think, one of the most sensational stories of survival ever told. More than anything it showed what remarkable things human beings can achieve in the most desperate of circumstances by remaining calm and working together as a team. That’s the real message of the book, that people are amazing, and it’s the reason I knew I had to write it.
Thank you David! You can discover all the incredible facts of Apollo 13’s breathtaking feat of teamwork and see more of Stefano Tambellini’s illustrations in Survival in Space: The Apollo 13 Mission. Available now from your local independent bookshop, Waterstones, and Amazon.
We’ve also created some fun activities for you to try at home! Test your space knowledge with our quiz, get those creative juices following with some writing prompts, or build your own straw powered rocket! Click on the images below to download: