The Unsung Hero of the Apollo Moon Landings

A new book from Purdue University Press, John Houbolt: The Unsung Hero of the Apollo Moon Landings by William F. Causey, tells the story of John Houbolt’s advocacy for “LOR” (Lunar Orbit Rendezvous) as the preferred method for getting American astronauts to the moon and back.

In May 1961, President Kennedy announced that the United States would attempt to land a man on the moon and return him safely before the end of that decade. At this point, NASA did not have a specific plan for how to accomplish that goal. Over the next fourteen months, several options were vigorously debated. At first, the consensus was to send one big rocket with several astronauts to the moon, land and explore, and then take off and return in the same vehicle. Another involved launching several smaller Saturn V rockets into the earth orbit, where a lander would be assembled and fueled before sending the crew to the moon.

A small group of engineers led by John Houbolt advocated for a new plan called “LOR”. This plan, they believed, was not only faster, cheaper, and more reliable, but the only viable option by which they could make it to the moon by the end of the decade. Initially, LOR was ignored, criticized, and dismissed by many NASA officials, but in the face of overwhelming opposition, and at the risk of his career and reputation, John Houbolt persisted. LOR prevailed, and NASA made it to the moon before the end of the decade.

This book fills a gap in the history of America’s path to the moon, and finally gives John Houbolt his due.


“The choice of how to get to the moon was critical to meeting President Kennedy’s goal of a lunar landing ‘before this decade is out.’ Bill Causey’s deeply researched and clearly written book depicts how the persistence of one man, NASA engineer John Houbolt, decisively influenced the tortuous and contentious process of making that choice. The book nicely fills a glaring gap in the history of America’s journey to the moon, and reminds us that the lunar journey was far from straightforward.”

—John M. Logsdon, Professor Emeritus, Space Policy Institute, The George Washington University


John Houbolt: The Unsung Hero of the Apollo Moon Landings

by William F. Causey

ISBN: 9781557539465, Hardcover, $29.99

374 pages, 31 black and white images


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