Entering the Race to the Moon - Autobiography of an Apollo Rocket Scientist
on Oct. 10, 2017
Review of book by John P. Hornung…
John Hornung has written a fascinating autobiography about mysteries that lingered on his mind for decades while growing up in segregated and desegregated New Orleans. He paints a picture as a young boy witnessing the battles and secrets among intellectuals, public and ecclesiastical administrators, teachers and students caught in the boiling cauldron of equal educational rights of the 1950s and 1960s. John was produced by two university academics, devout Catholics, a patriarchal head of household who imposed extremely difficult and nearly impossible disciplinary rules, highly restricted, regimented regulations; often impossible for him and his siblings to understand, and much less follow and obey this dysfunctional form of parenting. Disobedience usually led to corporal punishment. The mother, who deeply loved her family, was a highly respected medical scientist and academician, a university professor who was determined to keep the family together and functioning, despite the dominating and dogmatic personality of the husband/father. She juggled family life with research and teaching, while both parents were involved in the intellectual desegregation movement of the city, (although often clandestine; nevertheless, risking physical/harmful threats to themselves and their children).
The author leaves the family home when he was a high school junior to enlist in the Marines. Experiencing the brutality of boot camp makes one suspect that he had jumped from the frying pan of his upbringing at home and daily severe conflicts with the father, into the oven. He describes captivating military experiences and how he was able to achieve equanimity during his enlisted struggles.
John Hornung was a pioneer rocket scientist in the space development program. One gets engrossed by his contributions to the program and interactions with others/colleagues at various levels. The graphics in the book should be of interests to physics and space scientists. He worked among the first rocket scientists to develop the mathematics and techniques of artificial intelligence, applying the technology to untangling the weak points in design of the Saturn IB rocket.
Overall, the autobiography is an absorbing story about the life of a native New Orleanian, despite a very difficult upbringing (yet sometimes tumultuous) achieving success, while involved in a challenging role as a physicist-rocket scientist during the race to be the first to reach the moon between the USA and Russia.
This is a worthwhile and enthralling book to read.
Gerald J. Domingue
Professor – Doctor Emeritus