Interview series with the authors of “Into that Silent Sea,” French and Burgess, Part six

Today in Space History (TISH) has been granted an exclusive opportunity to interview authors Francis French and Colin Burgess based on their book “Into That Silent Sea,” which TISH highly recommends for reading. This is part six.

Archives for the complete interview series | one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight | Nine | Ten | Eleven | Twelve | Thirteen

When you first thought of the book concept, did the chapter subjects come easy at first or did the subjects that made it in to the book evolve over time? How did that part of the process go?

FF: The idea was to explore the lives of each person who flew in space, in order of flight, whatever nation they belonged to. So the chapter order and contents were driven by that history. However, we were very aware that some stories were extremely well-known – such as John Glenn’s – and others far less so. We found that for the frequently-told stories it was far more interesting to tell them using the recollections of others who were close to events – the astronauts’ nurse, the spacecraft recovery teams, the launch crew, for example – which gave fresh new angles. We tried to never be lazy and simply repeat often-told stories. Where possible, we told well-known stories in new, fresh ways, and we also delved deeply into the lesser-known stories. We sometimes struck off in new directions – such as exploring the lives of women in both America and the Soviet Union who had hoped to fly in space – but always with an eye on the main story – those who flew.

Another angle we took is to try and stay in the background as much as possible and let the participants do the talking; we include far more direct quotations than most history books. Personally, I find books where the author frequently inserts themselves into the story a little annoying: we tried to stay out of the way when possible and let those who were there do the talking. I hope it made for a much fresher, more immediate reading experience.

CB: We each looked at the subject or subjects of the chapters we had taken on and tried to find the most interesting way to tackle the storyline, capturing their innate personality and any difficulties or even shortcomings they might have had to work through. We thought the juxtaposition of the tales of the two Wallys (Wally Schirra and Wally Funk) was a natural for one chapter. They both went through the medical testing given to astronaut candidates at that time, and while one succeeded the other has yet to achieve her dreams of space flight. I can tell you that we approached both of these people with a little trepidation, not knowing if they would find the whole idea ridiculous or not. Fortunately they didn’t, and in my opinion it’s certainly a highlight chapter in the book.

John Glenn’s story is one of the most-told and familiar of all the spacefarers. My initial thought was to relate his story through the recollections of his and Annie’s children, but then it was decided to tackle a whole new approach and cover his flight more through the eyes and words of his backup pilot, Scott Carpenter – more or less the “invisible man” of that historic flight. And then of course we moved onto Carpenter’s own flight, about which many myths have evolved that needed to be meticulously examined and, for the most part, banished.


~ by tellinghistory on December 15, 2007.

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