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Publisher's Summary

The story of John C. Houbolt, an unsung hero of Apollo 11 and the man who showed NASA how to put America on the moon.

Without John C. Houbolt, a mid-level engineer at NASA, Apollo 11 would never have made it to the moon.  

Top NASA engineers on the project, including Werner Von Braun, strongly advocated for a single, huge spacecraft to travel to the moon, land, and return to Earth. It's the scenario used in 1950s cartoons and horror movies about traveling to outer space. 

Houbolt had another idea: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous. LOR would link two spacecraft in orbit while the crafts were travelling at 3,600 miles an hour around the moon. His plan was ridiculed and considered unthinkable. But this junior engineer was irrepressible. He stood by his concept, fired off memos to executives, and argued that LOR was the only way to success. 

For the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11, hear the untold story of the man who helped fulfill Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon and begin exploring the final frontier.

©2019 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2019 Audible Originals, LLC.

Our favorite moments from The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon

Kennedy enticed his skeptics…Houbolt critics balked.
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"My heartfelt congratulations…"
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  • The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon
  • Kennedy enticed his skeptics…Houbolt critics balked.
  • The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon
  • Immediate attraction…
  • The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon
  • "My heartfelt congratulations…"

About the Creator and Performer

Todd Zwillich is a political journalist, radio host and author living in Washington, DC. He's spent much of his career covering politics from the front row on Capitol Hill, the White House and on the campaign trail. He covered politics and campaigns for The Takeaway, a public radio show, where he also served as host. Today, he can be heard regularly hosting NPR's 1A. Todd Zwillich has interviewed some of America's most well-known newsmakers, authors and historians, including Henry Kissinger, Salman Rushdie and Robert Caro. He's a lifelong space and science enthusiast.

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What listeners say about The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Call me a nerd... But darn-it, I still love learning about the history of NASA 🚀

To be truthful... We've heard this story before (albeit not specifically Mr Houbolt's story). It took thousands of engineers and scientists to put just two men on the moon, but the stories of those unsung minds are just as amazing as those who walked on the moon. In recent years we've finally leaned many of those stories. This entry into that history of NASA is a worthy addition into that amazing mass of stories that culminated in the moon landing. The telling of Mr Houbolt's story is top notch, both from a written point of view, and an audiobook production. Sprinkled through the story are actual clips of speeches and interview. In many ways it plays out like a classic Ken Berns PBS documentary (at least an audio only version). But what is very interesting in the approach that Todd Zwillich takes to construct this story, is actually more of a profile of TWO individuals. It becomes a human drama between two visionary men: JFK and Mr Houbolt. One who had the vision and one (of many) who helped to make it happen. As a listener you find yourself immersed in the state of world surrounding these two individuals,as much as leaning the events themselves. Although a bit needlessly long, and sometimes a little sanctimonious, this fascinating untold story held my attention with little distraction.

153 people found this helpful

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Caveat Emptor: Bone to Pick

Overall, this book was an interesting catalogue of an often overlooked event. However, as the book wore on it increasingly became about pointing fingers and making sure justice was served. It was just a bit too much on the nose for me with how aggressively it wanted to defend the subject of interest. It felt like a married couple bursting into an argument in the middle of a dinner party they're hosting.

I'm a big NASA fan and studied aerospace engineering, but even I found it uncomfortable working my way through this production.

215 people found this helpful

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Great storytelling, unsung hero

I really enjoyed this book from the storytelling to the real audio of the day, to the present-day interviews! If you’re into NASA, space travel, or neither you’ll find this an interesting story about a man who stood his ground, believed in his experience and training and persevered in the face of opposition.

15 people found this helpful

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An Unknown Story of Apollo 11's LOR

This Audible Original is a real eye-opener.
It’s the story of the man behind the Lunar Orbit Rendevous (LOR). It’s how the moon landings became possible by allowing a “module” to separate and land on the moon, then take off again and dock with the Lunar orbiter in order to return to the Earth.
But, there is a lot of conflict behind the scenes and a lot of backstabbing. The originator of the idea, John Houbolt is repeatedly mocked, ridiculed, publicly insulted by his colleagues. Yet, in the end, his ideas ARE adopted.
What’s more, Werner von Braun doesn’t like the idea either, but he, too comes to realize that it was the right idea AND publicly proclaims it during the Apollo 11 mission.
Even after the Apollo missions, including Apollo 13, where the LOR is what actually saves the lives of the astronauts, some of his colleagues still sabotage his reputation and legacy.
The worst, I think was the letter written by Robert Gilruth that was so bad that I wonder how he could have slept at night.
To know that this nasty backbiting went on is somewhat disconcerting.
John Houbolt, though didn’t stop trying to get his proper recognition. He was clearly not a modest man and did not win him any friends.
In the end, it is recognized that the LOR was the ONLY way to get to the moon, especially for the late 60s and early 70s. Nothing else could have possibly work. The technology simply had not yet been developed to have allowed it.
It is concluded that the moon mission was rushed. Kennedy’s promise to be on the moon and safely home again by the end of the decade left the engineers little time to develop and put into practical use a space ship that could complete the task.
Soon, it is hoped, we’ll return to the moon, but with better technology, but it’s over budget and behind schedule. It seems history does repeat itself. Time is needed to develop the more effective, and safer machines for project Artemis (Apollo’s twin sister).
NASA wants to use a “Gateway” which is kind of a space station but more like an orbital platform, which will be much smaller than a station and will be a brief stopping point between the Earth and the moon. But it won’t be so useful for the much longer trip to Mars. So, more planning is called for.
And, surprise surprise, there is more arguing and sniping of engineers and scientists at each other.
However….and this is my own opinion….NASA has had decades to be ready for this. Why aren’t they?

20 people found this helpful

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Who is this supposed to be about again?...

Interesting but there is not enough character development on the main character, especially because he is a real guy. I want to care about him but he is just presented as a pushy guy that wasn't well liked and wouldn't take no for an answer, I feel like I learned more abought Von Braun as a person than about John Hobart as a person and this isn't about him. Hobart's story is interesting but I don't think this piece does him justice, it comes off whiney and scattered. It's all over and around Hobart without making him a person you root for in any way... It says his name a million times so you will never forget it but you won't feel like you "know him" at all. I wish I liked this more, sorry.

68 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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A lot of bemoaning from Haubolt

This book felt mostly like an attempt for a bitter man to get recognition from NASA and the world at large. I applaud John Haubolt's efforts in making his superiors at NASA see the logic behind his work, but he spent a lot of time in his life being bitter that he wasn't put on a pedestal like a god, so I struggled to get through the book. The technical information about the Apollo 11 mission was excellent (and I'm far from an engineer), and I thought the author did a good job putting that into layman's terms.

32 people found this helpful

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Pretty good until

Decided to throw in a slur against the current president. No thank you. Didn’t add to the story and was irrelevant.

3 people found this helpful

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Was this edited by a grade schooler?

I only got about 20 minutes into this book before deleting it from my device. I would say it sounds like the sound editing was done as an elementary school class project , except if it was it would have received a failing grade.

It starts as a cacophony of voices talking over each other. Very quickly we get into the narrator quoting JFK but they're playing an audio clip JFK saying the same words at the same time but totally out of sync so they're talking over one and other.

Once the meat of the story starts, as the narrator is talking they continuously play discordant "music" in the background over the narrator and gradually turn down the narrator sound level and turn up the music until you're struggling to hear the words and eventually can't make out a single thing being said. This goes on minutes at a time where they narrator is inaudible over the music. Then it will suddenly start a new segment with the music quieter and the voice louder and the process of the gradual fade-out begins anew.

I wish I could give this a negative star rating, it seems like it could have been an interesting listen if it were possible to listen, which only makes the editing all the worse. I can only guess the sound editor was running sound editing software for the first in their lives and had no idea what they were doing as was just playing with controls for the sake of playing around,.

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Not What I Had Hoped For

This audiobook is essentially a podcast ddocumenting a rather petty squabble over credit. Apollo's success was the result of massive, unprecedented teamwork by unsung heroes. I would have preferred a more detailed discussion of LOR instead of all the melodrama.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting but harped on perceived slights too much

I’m a big fan of the Apollo program and enjoying the big interest this year in celebration of the Apollo 11 mission.

The Man ... was a good listen and provided some interesting behind the scene at NASA information from the early 60s. However almost every anecdote mentioned how the book’s subject, John Houbolt was slighted in receiving what he thought should have been his dues for championing the lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) concept to get man on the moon and home. Houbolt was a visionary in seeing and advocating for the LOR concept and apparently didn’t claim he invented the idea, but was a fierce champion and succeeded in getting the idea into history. However he did get a lot of recognition from his peers and the public ... it just didn’t live up to what he thought he deserved.

A lot of this info is covered in other books, such as One Giant Leap ... in a lot fewer words and pages.

For an audible freebie that takes about 2 days commute time to listen, this was a nice listen.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • JoeySchmidt
  • 09-10-21

Braw

Brilliant account of the resolute triumph over stubborn adversity. If you're right, you're right and that's what matters in the end for the greater good of mankind. We need maverick minds like this to progress as a species, but only if the means justifies the methods.

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  • DEANVEGGY
  • 07-17-21

good narrative of an intriguing short story

i love nasa 'moon rush' engineering stories and enjoyed this a lot. short but i'm glad it wasn't padded out too much with sideline stuff.