Review: Apollo Mission Control

Apollo Mission Control: The Making of a National Historic Landmark
by Manfred “Dutch” von Ehrenfried
Springer, 2018
paperback, 285 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-3-319-76683-6

Last month marked the 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, and also the start of the countdown to next year’s historic 50th anniversary. Various organizations are already planning efforts to mark that anniversary: Huntsville, Alabama, for example, said last month it was working on a “citywide celebration” for the anniversary, with the US Space and Rocket Center there scheduling events throughout the year to mark the anniversary (as well as the bicentennial of Alabama statehood.)

In Houston, efforts are underway to restore the mission control center used for Apollo 11 and most other Apollo missions, with the goal of having the work completed by next July’s 50th anniversary celebrations. While the center was declared a National Historical Landmark in the 1980s, it sat unused for many years after NASA moved shuttle, and later ISS, operations to other facilities. When the renovation is complete, the old Mission Operations Control Room 2 will appear as it did during the Apollo landings 50 years ago.

That center’s history, and its restoration efforts, are a focus of Apollo Mission Control by former flight controller Manfred “Dutch” von Ehrenfried. It’s not the first book about Apollo-era mission control (see “Review: Go Flight!”, The Space Review, January 4, 2016), but this one is less about the people and missions and more about the center itself.

Ehrenfried describes in detail the development and organization of the Mission Control Center at JSC, including not just the main control room but also the back rooms that housed support staff assisting the flight controllers (many of those back rooms, he notes, are not included in the restoration of the main mission control.) That includes extensive details on the design and layout of the facilities, developing of computer systems used to support those activities, and more.

The book does devote one chapter summarizing the various missions run out of this particular mission control room, and another about the people who worked there, but the focus of the book is more about the center itself. Late in the book he discusses the ongoing efforts to restore the facility, from fundraising to contracting with various companies (like SpaceWorks at the Cosmosphere museum in Kansas) to carry out the work. About a third of the book consists of various appendices with additional documentation about the control center and the restoration work.

Ehrenfried’s focus on the facility and its restoration efforts is clear from the beginning of the book. “Thank God there are people who want to protect historical places, as without them where would people go to learn about the past,” he writes in the opening paragraph of the book’s preface. “Without them, would we not, over time, just forget?” That’s an odd statement, since we have other means of remembering historical places that are no longer with us, in terms of photos and other images, videos, documents, and books—like Apollo Mission Control. Should JSC’s Mission Control Center suddently disappear, it would not be forgotten for the indefinite future.

That said, it is fortunate that there are people who want to protect and restore historical places, like the mission control room that guided the Apollo 11 lunar lander to the surface of the Moon 50 years ago next July. For those looking forward to that restoration and want more details about it, or who become curious about visiting it, this book will be a detailed guide.


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