Last summer I received a book for my birthday entitled, Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight by Dr. David A. Mindell. As an engineer and historian, Dr. Mindell superbly articulates the human-machine relationship in spaceflight. Beginning with the first human forays off the ground in primitive flying contraptions and culminating in one of humankind’s greatest achievements, the Apollo expeditions to the Moon, Dr. Mindell details the complex relationship humans have with machinery. The book primarily focuses on the machine which human’s relied upon in order to journey to and from the Moon: the Apollo Guidance Computer.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Digital Apollo. It was a book I honestly had trouble putting down. Because it was published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and written by an MIT professor, I was concerned the book would be overly technical and read like a dry college textbook. I could not have been more wrong. Dr. Mindell’s book gives the reader an excellent balance of technical information and anecdotal stories that make the book both informative and entertaining. I also found the book to be a refreshing change from the standard high-flying, dare-devil Astronaut story we have become accustomed to. Dr. Mindell strips away the glory tales and the exaggerated yarns often dispensed by Astronauts (and pilots in general) and presents the reader with a true, unbiased story of human and machine in spaceflight.
Aside from the text of the book, I found the Bibliography and Notes section to be quite useful. These two sections provide a veritable treasure-trove of information. I have discovered literally a dozen books and articles that I want to read; material I may never have known about where it not listed in the Bibliography and Notes section. For example, Milton Thompson’s book At the Edge of Space: The X-15 Program and Thomas Kelly’s Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module are two books I had never heard of before finding them in the bibliography of Digital Apollo. Dr. Mindell also provides a glossary of terms which is quite useful.
In addition to writing an excellent book, the author also has a website which has additional information. The website contains a wealth of information about the author and the courses he teaches, reviews and comments about the book, and a voluminous amount of primary and secondary source material. I found the supplemental material compiled by the author (the bibliography, the website, et cetera) to be almost as engaging as the book itself.