Astronaut Chris Hadfield found room for “The Apollo Murders” in the real story

October 19, 2021

– Many writers have looked at the events surrounding the first moon landings and found opportunities to explore “what if?” “

What if the Soviet Union first landed a cosmonaut? What if President John F. Kennedy had never been assassinated, would humans still have reached the moon in the 1960s? What if astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had really been launched to the moon as part of a clandestine mission to investigate the site of an alien spaceship crash?

For Chris Hadfield, however, when he looked back he saw the preparations for a biting Cold War thriller set in the real events of 1973. “The Apollo Murders,” Hadfield’s debut novel, is now taken from Mulholland Books.

“I think people will be shocked at how real this book is,” Hadfield said in an interview with collectSPACE.

It might be a weird thing to say about a story that includes a top-secret mission, a showdown that stretches all the way to the surface of the moon, and as the title of the book suggests, not one, but several murders. But Hadfield went so far as to write a “The Reality Behind the Apollo Murders” postscript list.

“I wanted to put this author’s rating just to go,” Hey, just to let you know, just so you don’t have to google these things, the captain of the New Orleans and the captain of this submarine , they were real people and all of those things really happened. “

More than just historical anecdotes, however, Hadfield wanted readers to get a visceral idea of ​​what spaceflight really is by grounding the book in actual history and technical details.

“What’s it really like to be in a spaceship through all of these various events – especially if you’re stressed out?” How would people react? What would things look like? would the crew react if someone on board died? ”he said.

For all perhaps this last point, Hadfield is perhaps particularly well suited to describe the experience. For more than 20 years, Hadfield served as an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, recording 166 days in space on two shuttle missions and as commander of the International Space Station.

Hadfield was therefore able to draw on his own experiences, including 25 years as a fighter pilot in the Canadian Forces, to shed light on his characters’ exploits, even though they fit into the mentality of a previous decade. .

“It’s not that far from the early 90s mentality when I first flew in the mid 90s,” he said. “So part of it was really just a reflection of my personal responsibility as an astronaut to try to really let people know what this rare experience is like.”

In this spoiler-free interview, collectSPACE spoke with Hadfield about writing “The Apollo Murders” and finding space for a fictional story within a real chapter of the story. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

collectSPACE (cS): You have written music about space, written “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” and published both a children’s book (“The Darkest Dark”, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016) and a photo book (“You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes”, Little, Brown and Company, 2014), so this is not your first entry into the literary world, but when did you get the idea that you wanted to write a novel and where did the idea for “The Apollo Murders” come from?

Chris Hadfield: I’ve always loved creative writing. English was my favorite subject in school, but I didn’t think it was going to lead to flying in a spaceship, so I worked on things that didn’t come so easily. I studied engineering and went to all the different universities, but always loved writing and always wrote low level stuff on the side, nothing major.

Then, several years ago, Ray Bradbury’s family decided to release “The Martian Chronicles” in a limited edition and they asked me to write a very detailed preface for the book. I thought it would be fun. I worked hard on it and it went well, the family loved it. But based on that, a UK publisher, one of the people I respect a lot in the publishing industry, approached me and said, ‘Hey, you know, I read this and I think you could write a killer fictional thriller. ” He even suggested the title, “The Apollo Murders”.

Now, I don’t know how your mind works, but I just thought, “wow, that would be interesting.” And then he made a good offer too. So I was like, “Well, shoot, maybe this is the time I can do it,” but I didn’t get there for a few years. When the pandemic started, my trip suddenly evaporated, so I had a lot more time.

CS: Did you describe the whole story from the start? Or did it change as you wrote it?

Hadfield: The two. First of all, I needed to establish a rough story arc that would work. Like, why would they go to the moon and why would someone be killed? What could be the motivation for a murder on a spaceship? And what else was going on during the Apollo era? Should it be [set aboard] Apollo 6, at the very beginning [of the program], or should I reiterate one of the Apollo moon landing missions that actually happened? Or should I add another mission at the end?

But it wasn’t until I learned of the events of spring 1973 – not just [the Soviet rover] Lunokhod malfunctions and dies on the moon, but [the Soviet military space station] Almaz malfunctions and crumbles in orbit that it has become clear. Here are those wonderful series of real events that gave me a lot of leeway to define my story.

CS: Yes, you were an astronaut, but were you familiar with the inner workings of the Apollo program and the technical details of the spacecraft before writing this book?

Hadfield: I was probably better informed than more than 99% of the rest of the population about Apollo, but it was not enough to write a novel. So I did a lot of additional research.

There are enormous resources available online, full second-by-second transcripts of every word that has been said, and every action taken for every Apollo flight. I got almost everything I needed just from these.

It was Paul Fjeld, along with a group of his expert colleagues, who put these resources online, and Paul designed the mission patches for my three flights. So when I couldn’t find an answer to something like is there a speaker inside the command module or do you have to wear a headset to talk to Houston? It was one of those times when I was talking to Paul and he knew the answer. It was very helpful.

CS: Were there times when you specifically or knowingly extended what was actually possible?

Hadfield: I have worked very hard to keep everything 100% credible. I have become much more expert now in EMU of the lunar surface [spacesuit] and how the lunar module worked and all of its controls and even Almaz, himself. So I worked hard not to have to stretch the truth.

And I asked a few people to reread it, Apollo astronauts as well as Paul Fjeld, and none of them objected that there was just no way let that happen. So I was very happy that the work I had done and the assumptions I had made went well.

CS: Well, you’ve worked with and you’ve flown with, and presumably, are friends with cosmonauts and others in Russia. This book is set squarely in the days of the space race, so everyone will understand it, but do you have any apprehensions about how the book will be received in Russia today given its themes from the world? cold War ?

Hadfield: No, and I don’t think the United States is perfectly clear here.

I think an important point that most people don’t know is that at the start of the Space Shuttle design phase, when Nixon had to cancel Apollo 18 and 19 due to popularity, but also funding – when he was trying to finance the space shuttle in the early 1970s, he did not have the budget. He had to go to the Department of Defense and they dictated the design of the shuttle and the size of the cargo hold.

One of their design specifications for the shuttle – and the document just recently was declassified – was to launch from Vandenberg [Air Force Base in California], intercept [an enemy’s] satellite, take a quick spacewalk, grab the satellite, place it in the cargo bay, close the doors and land in one turn. It was a design specification approved by the Nixon administration for the shuttle itself. So if anyone can think [about “The Apollo Murders”], “Oh, that’s far from far-fetched, by any means. It was very revealing of what was being planned at the height of the Cold War, in the early 1970s.

I was a fighter pilot during the Cold War. I was intercepting Soviet bombers off the coast of North America. They were training to launch missiles at North America, so I have direct experience there. And I was the director of operations for NASA in Russia and lived in Russia for five years. I helped build the Mir space station on my first flight. So I hope I have represented things in a manner sufficiently true that any objection is unfounded.

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