Peterson on Roosa, 'Son of Apollo: The Adventures of a Boy Whose Father Went to the Moon'
Christopher A. Roosa. Son of Apollo: The Adventures of a Boy Whose Father Went to the Moon. Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022. 176 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4962-3334-9.
Reviewed by Tyler Peterson (Colorado State University-Pueblo) Published on H-Sci-Med-Tech (March, 2023) Commissioned by Penelope K. Hardy (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)
Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58888
Over the more than fifty years since the last Apollo crew left the moon, the first effort to send humans to another world has generated an enormous amount of literature. Some of the books recount the moon missions from a scholarly perspective, such as those written by authors from the NASA History Office, the National Air and Space Museum, and university history departments. Some of them provide an insider’s account of what it was like to participate in the program, such as the many memoirs written by astronauts and Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (1994) bringing all of the astronauts’ experiences to life. Yet even after all of this, books by one type of participant remain rare: the astronauts’ family members. Although most readers are most intrigued by what the astronauts did during their flights, any complete account of the significance of Apollo must include the lived experiences of family members who went through the stress of groundbreaking missions without being able to control the outcome. Readers can gain many snippets of these family reactions while reading the most popular books on Apollo. But Christopher A. Roosa is the first son of an Apollo astronaut to have written an entire book recounting his family memories (his sister Rosemary having previously become the first daughter to do so, with To the Moon: An Autobiography of an Apollo Astronaut's Daughter , while Patrick Mullane authored a book about his life as the son of space shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane, The Father, Son, and Holy Shuttle: Growing Up an Astronaut's Kid in the Glorious 80s ). The author of Son of Apollo: The Adventures of a Boy Whose Father Went to the Moon offers a compelling portrait of what it was like to come of age as the son of Stuart Roosa. Experienced readers will recognize him as the command module pilot of the Apollo 14 mission, one of just a few men to orbit the moon solo while his crewmates Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell walked on the lunar surface in 1971. But how did his trailblazing job affect his son’s life?
The younger Roosa writes in the prologue that his life was not “a fairytale,” and the stories that he subsequently tells about his childhood lend credence to this (p. 2). He mentions that his peers tried to explain away his own accomplishments by attributing them to the preferential treatment he received as the son of an astronaut. Being small for his age, he even got into fights with bullies at the schools he attended. He also recounts less-than-flattering stories, such as his making plans to run away from home or taking the family car late at night and inadvertently driving it through his neighbor’s yard after he lost control. One other frightening experience he went through, along with the other families of the Apollo 17 prime and backup crews, concerns an intercepted message from a Palestinian terrorist group indicating that the group planned to kidnap some of the astronauts’ family members. The threat did not come to fruition. Yet a Secret Service agent remained parked in the Roosa family’s driveway for twenty-four hours a day for several months, a stark reminder that fame did have its drawbacks. Many sons and daughters of famous figures, whether from the world of politics, athletics, or entertainment, will recognize this point. This point also suggests that scholars of the Apollo program would be wise to avoid sanitizing the lives of the astronauts and their family members and should instead treat them as three-dimensional figures.
Still, Roosa explains that he also has fond memories of growing up as a “son of Apollo.” Like many other astronauts’ family members, he experienced ticker tape parades and met celebrity figures, including US president Richard Nixon. But what especially stands out in this regard is his love of the outdoors. His father helped to cultivate a love of hunting in him, which he pursued on a hundred-acre patch of land the family bought and even on a trip to Africa. He also learned to water ski and scuba dive with the help of his father and fellow astronauts. One of the most touching moments from the book was his recounting of a day when his father allowed him to sit inside the Apollo command module simulator and attempt to dock the ship with the lunar module. He realizes now that this was his father’s way of communicating to him that he was thankful for his job and eager to share it with his family. Should his father have been lost in a tragic accident, he explains, he would have been able to share this with his mother and siblings. Most importantly of all, Roosa explains in his epilogue, his father instilled in him a love of his country that he and his two brothers displayed through their own service in the US Armed Forces. Although his father passed away at the age of sixty-one in 1994, he ends his book on the note that “I will forever be a son of Apollo” (p. 135).
Readers will appreciate Christopher Roosa’s memories and walk away from the book with admiration both for him and his father. Since his book is only 135 pages, he could have gone into greater depth on some of his topics. For instance, how did he feel about the risk of a tragic accident on an Apollo flight (especially given that his father flew one mission after the near loss of the Apollo 13 crew)? How did he feel about the value of the Apollo program, in terms of exploration and science? How did his father influence him after leaving NASA in 1976? The book moves breezily through his life and may leave some readers wanting more. But scholars of the Apollo program would be wise to heed the message behind Roosa’s book: the participants should be remembered not only for what they did inside a spacecraft, but also for the ways they forever shaped the family members around them.
Citation: Tyler Peterson. Review of Roosa, Christopher A., Son of Apollo: The Adventures of a Boy Whose Father Went to the Moon. H-Sci-Med-Tech, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58888This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.