NEW ALBANY — New Albany resident David West Reynolds grew up with a fascination with space exploration, and as an adult, his appreciation has only strengthened through his personal connection with NASA's space program.
Reynolds is the author of the book "Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon," a history of NASA's Apollo program. As the world recognizes the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, he is reflecting upon the legacy of the Apollo program, which ran from 1963 to 1972.
When he was a young kid in the 1970s, the Apollo program was winding down, and the SkyLab program was beginning. He would drink Tang because that's what the astronauts drank, and he loved receiving the plastic lunar rovers that came with the drink mix.
"I remember one night, my father took me out in the front yard on Denny Drive [in New Albany], and we looked up at the moon, and he said, they're up there right now," Reynolds said. "And that was just magic to me."
He eventually received a Ph.D. in archeology, and he became known as a New York Times bestselling writer of "Star Wars" guide books. His interest in NASA's space program never faded, and with his success with the "Star Wars" books, he was able to fulfill his dream of writing a book about the Apollo program. It was the book he most wanted to write, he said.
NASA provided him access to pretty much everything he wanted for his research, he said, and he talked to astronauts and engineers involved in the Apollo program.
"I was in the archives with the space suits and the lunar gloves and seeing exactly how all this stuff worked," he said. "I was in the trainers and the practice vehicles so I could understand exactly what Neil Armstrong was holding as he lands the lunar module. I went to the launch pads, I went to the NASA centers in Houston, and I spent a lot of time at the Kennedy Space Center and talked to the engineers and the astronauts."
He worked closely with astronauts Wally Schirra, who was involved in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and Gene Cernan, the last person to walk on the moon — Schirra wrote the foreword to the book, and Cernan wrote the afterword. He wanted to provide an authentic account of the missions to show people the spirit of the Apollo astronauts that made "impossible things possible."
"We are so different as a society today that's it's really hard for us to understand the spirit that these people had," he said. "They were so self-sacrificing. They were not looking for entitlements — they were looking for what they could do to serve. That spirit ran throughout the program."
He also received access to NASA's photograph archives, and he commissioned paintings for the book to help people understand the technology and science.
"My job was to put all the pieces together so that everyone could understand it," he said. "The more that you understand about Apollo, the more inspiring it is. I've seen that with kid audiences, with adults, and the individual stories of the astronauts and the engineers, that brings it to life."
Reynolds said he was thankful for the opportunity to work with the astronauts who inspired him, and after the book was published, Neil Armstrong wrote him a letter saying "I am delighted to add this book to my library."
"To get that from Neil Armstrong, I was really happy," he said. "So with their endorsement, with Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, Wally Schirra saying 'David told it the way it was,' that's what I wanted. I wanted it to be their story."
He said the Apollo program set a high standard that "should serve as an inspiration and a reminder that we are capable of excellence, and we should always be doing this well or better." It brought everyone together around a common goal and showed people who they can be as Americans, he said.
"I think it's important to look back to Apollo and compare, what are we doing today?" Reynolds said. "And this is for society or for individuals. You look at the work that they delivered...do you have the Apollo spirit in your life, in whatever you are doing? Do you have that spirit of, if we work hard enough and work together for a common goal, we can do anything. These were ordinary human beings, they argued, but our system allows for us to argue about it on our way to a shared solution."