Astronaut Chris Hadfield found room for ‘The Apollo Murders’ in real history

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

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

However, for Chris Hadfield, when he looked back, he saw the makings of a Cold War thriller set in the true events of 1973. “The Apollo Murders,” Hadfield’s first novel, is out of Mulholland Books.

“I think people will be surprised how much of this book is real,” Hadfield said in an interview with

Book excerpt: read a sample chapter from “The Apollo Murders” by Chris Hadfield

That might be a strange thing to say about a story that includes a top-secret mission, a crash that extends to the surface of the moon, and, as the book’s title implies, not just one, but multiple murders. But Hadfield went so far as to write a postscript listing “The Reality Behind the Apollo Murders.”

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

However, more than historical trivia, Hadfield wanted readers to get a visceral idea of ​​what spaceflight really is like by basing the book on real history and technical details.

Related: 12 Highlights From Chris Hadfield’s High-Flying Career

“What is it really like to be in a spaceship through all these events, especially if you are under stress? How would people react? How would things look? Where would your mind be? What would your focus be? the crew if someone on board died? “he said.

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

So Hadfield was able to draw on his own experiences, including 25 years as a fighter pilot with the Canadian Forces, to report the exploits of his characters, even if they were set within the mindset of a previous decade.

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

Related: Life In Space: Astronaut Chris Hadfield Video Guide

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield takes readers on an exciting trip to the Moon during the Cold War in “The Apollo Murders.” (Image credit: Mulholland Books)

The Apollo Murders (Mulholland Books, 2021): Was $ 28 now $ 22.49 on Amazon
Save 20% on Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s first sci-fi thriller “The Apollo Murders,” available now from Mulholland Books.

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

collectSPACE (cS): Has written music about space, written “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” and published a children’s book (“The Darkest Dark”, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016) and a of photographs (“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 of ​​”The Apollo Murders” originate?

Chris Hadfield: I’ve always loved creative writing. English was my favorite subject in school, but I didn’t think it would lead to flying in a spaceship, so I worked on things that were not so easy for me. I studied engineering and went to all the universities, but I always liked to write and I always wrote low-level things, nothing of importance.

Then several years ago Ray Bradbury’s family decided to release “The Martian Chronicles” as a limited edition and asked me to write a very long foreword for the book. I thought it would be fun. I worked hard on it and it turned out well, the family loved it. But based on that, a British publisher, one of the people I respect a lot in the publishing industry, came up to me and said, “Hey, you know, I read that and I think you could write an amazing fictional thriller.” He even suggested the title, “The Apollo Murders.”

Now I don’t know how your mind works, but I thought, “wow, that would be interesting.” And then he also made a good offer. So I thought, “well shoot, maybe that’s the time I can do that”, but I didn’t make it for a couple of years. When the pandemic started, my trip suddenly evaporated and I had a lot more time.

CS: Did you describe the whole story from the beginning? Or did it evolve while you were writing it?

Hadfield: Both. First, I needed to establish a rough narrative arc that could work. Like, why would they go to the moon and why would they kill someone? What could be the motivation for a murder on a spaceship? And what else was happening during the Apollo era? Should be [set aboard] Apollo 6, from the start [of the program], Or should I reiterate one of the Apollo moon landing missions that actually happened? Or should I put another mission at the end?

But it wasn’t until I found out about the events of the spring of ’73, not only [the Soviet rover] Lunokhod malfunctions and dies on the moon, but [the Soviet military space station] Almaz malfunctions and falls apart in orbit which was clear. Here were these wonderful series of real events that gave me a lot of freedom to establish my story.

CS: Okay, you were an astronaut, but how knowledgeable were you on the inner workings of the Apollo program and the technical details of the spacecraft before writing this book?

Hadfield: He was probably better informed than more than 99 percent of the rest of the Apollo population, but that wasn’t enough to write a novel. So I did a lot more research.

There are huge resources available online, complete second-by-second transcripts of every word spoken, and all measurements were taken for all Apollo flights. I got almost everything I needed from just those.

It was Paul Fjeld, with a group of his fellow experts, who put those 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 use a headset to talk to Houston? That’s one of those times when I would talk to Paul and he knew the answer. That was very helpful.

CS: Was there a point where you specifically or consciously extended what was really possible?

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

And I had a couple of people correct it, the Apollo astronauts, as well as Paul Fjeld, and none of them raised any objection that there was just no way that would happen. So I was really glad that the work I had done and the assumptions I made turned out well.

cS: Lastly, you worked and flew with, and presumably, are friends with cosmonauts and others in Russia. This book is set squarely in the time of the space race, as everyone will understand, but do you have any apprehensions about how the book will be received in Russia today, given its Cold War themes?

Hadfield: No, and I don’t think America is completely clean here.

I think an important point that most people don’t know is that early in the space shuttle design phase, when Nixon had to cancel Apollo 18 and 19 due to popularity, but also funding, when he was trying finance space. shuttle in the early 70s, I didn’t have the budget for it. He had to go to the Department of Defense and they dictated the design of the shuttle and the size of the payload bay.

One of its design specifications for the shuttle, and the document was recently declassified, was its launch from Vandenberg. [Air Force Base in California], intercept [an enemy’s] satellite, take a quick spacewalk, grab the satellite, put it in the payload bay, close the doors and land all in one revolution. That was a design specification approved by the Nixon administration for the shuttle itself. So if anyone can think [about “The Apollo Murders”]”Oh, this is not far-fetched, by no means. That was very indicative of what was intended at the height of the Cold War, in the early ’70s.

I was a Cold War fighter pilot. It used to intercept Soviet bombers off the coast of North America. They were practicing missile launches in North America, so I have direct experience there. And I was the director of operations for NASA in Russia and I 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 way that is true enough that any objections are unfounded.

on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2021 All rights reserved.

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