The Apollo Murders: Chris Hadfield turns up the heat in the chill of deep space with thrilling debut
Set in a slightly alternate history — Watergate never happened and Richard Nixon didn’t resign as president — the American and Russian space agencies are involved in a desperate scramble to land men on the Moon.
n Houston, Nasa’s Texas launch base, former ace fighter pilot Kaz Zemeckis is the Apollo 18 flight controller. However, he is beset by technical and personnel problems as he tries to keep ahead of his Russian rivals who are also preparing their own manned lunar mission.
Then Cold War politics raises its ugly head. Kaz and his team are ordered to strip out all the scientific elements of their lunar expedition in order to take a close look at — and possibly sabotage — a newly-launched Soviet spy satellite on their way to the Moon. After a number of setbacks, including the loss of one of the astronauts set to take part in the mission, Apollo 18 is successfully launched and Chad Miller, Michael Esdale and Luke Hemming finally get to experience the weightlessness of space.
The whole build-up to the lift-off is masterfully handled. Chris Hadfield explains the hugely complex engineering and technical details of space flight and astronaut training with a remarkable clarity and lightness of touch. He also manages to brilliantly recreate the claustrophobic atmosphere of three humans confined in what is really nothing more than an elaborately engineered and extremely vulnerable tin can.
As Hadfield says, a spaceship in essence is nothing more than a bubble of Earth’s air in the empty vacuum of space.
And, as Apollo 18 manoeuvres close to the USSR’s Almaz spy satellite, that frightening fragility is brought into sharp focus. In Kazakhstan, space director Cheleomi is watching the American developments from the Baikonur spaceport with mounting anger, and he has not left his precious satellite undefended.
The Cold War is about to become very hot in the chill of deep space. However, the American spacecraft, Pursuit, manages to disengage and continue, albeit slightly but not fatally damaged, on its original primary mission to orbit the Moon and send its manned lunar module to the surface to achieve that “giant step for mankind”.
But Hadfield has much more excitement in store. The two astronauts on the lunar surface turn out to have very different agendas. Each must be careful to keep their real mission secret as both need each other to return safely to the command module orbiting 50 miles above them. What’s more, Russian space director Cheleomi has some surprises waiting for the men on the Moon.
When the warring duo lift off to rejoin Pursuit for their return to Earth, even more drama ensues. As the blurb on the book’s cover puts it, you have “three people a quarter of a million miles from home, a quarter of a million miles from help”.
Canadian-born Hadfield may not have walked on the Moon, but he is probably the world’s best-known and best-loved astronaut. Over three space missions, he has spent more than 160 days in space.
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A former commander of the International Space Station (ISS), he has racked up over 50 million views on YouTube of his magical extra-terrestrial version of David Bowie’s song Space Oddity recorded in orbit 200 miles above the Earth on the ISS.
With three bestselling non-fiction books already under his belt, he has now turned to fiction and in this, his first thriller, he has written possibly the most authentically voiced work yet of murder and mayhem in deep space.
Totally gripping from first page to last, this is an accomplished debut.
Thriller: The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield
Quercus, 480 pages, paperback €14.99; e-book £9.99