Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot: The Remarkable Life of Apollo 14 Astronaut Stuart Roosa

  • Published
Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot: The Remarkable Life of Apollo 14 Astronaut Stuart Roosa by Willie G. Moseley. Acclaim Press, 2011, 256 pp.


In today's increasingly globalized and commercialized space environment, it has become normal for the American public to associate space exploration with the routine. During a listless era of discovery dominated by unexciting deep-space probes, lethargic Martian rovers, and heavily diminished manned orbital missions, modern society hasn't been able to maintain much enthusiasm for astronauts--former torchbearers of the exciting and complex "Space Race." Willie G. Moseley's Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot, a fascinating biography of Apollo 14 astronaut Col Stuart A. Roosa, seeks to reinvigorate the public's fading interest in the achievements of astronauts by providing a comprehensive look into the life of an exemplary American hero and patriot.

Stuart "Stu" Roosa was born in 1933 to an Army Corps of Engineers surveyor and his wife. His father's job required the family to travel extensively throughout the dense forests of the American West, consequently instilling in Roosa at a young age a lifelong love of nature (he would later take western tree seeds on the Apollo 14 mission to germinate as "moon trees"). A highly intelligent and driven youth, Roosa completed high school in Oklahoma and enrolled at Oklahoma State University, eventually finishing his degree at the University of Arizona. During his summer breaks from college, Roosa worked for the National Forest Service in Oregon as a "smoke jumper," a specially trained firefighter who would jump from an airplane to extinguish isolated forest fires. He was a motivated and capable fireman, but such jumps only enhanced Roosa's growing interest in aviation. Consequently, after graduating from college, he enrolled in the Air Force's now-defunct aviation cadet program to become a pilot. After completing pilot training, Roosa flew various fighter aircraft such as the F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100D Super Sabre, and F-101 Voodoo before being chosen as a member of the Aerospace Research Pilot School's Class 64C at Edwards AFB, California. After his certification as a test pilot, Roosa managed the Air Force's flight-test program, highlighting himself as a leading candidate for the "Group 5" astronaut selection board. Ultimately, he was accepted along with other future moon voyagers such as Fred Haise, Ken Mattingly, and Jack Swigert.

At NASA, Roosa helped engineer the rocket engines on the Saturn V launch vehicle before being reassigned to the main flight-control center in Houston. There, he became a flight controller for the doomed Apollo 1 ground test and the Apollo 9 space-test missions, paving the way for his own future spaceflight. Because of his exemplary performance, Roosa was selected as the command module pilot for Apollo 13, but the crew was swapped with Apollo 14's to give the mission's commander, Alan Shepard, America's first man in space, more time to train. On 31 January 1971, Apollo 14 lifted off for a nine-day journey to the moon and back. After the successful mission, the Apollo space program began to experience budget cuts and was ultimately scrapped after the flight of Apollo 17. Not interested in Skylab and the space shuttle program, Roosa eventually retired from NASA and the Air Force, going into private business and devoting his remaining years to his passion for the outdoors and hunting. He died in 1994 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his wife, Joan.

As expected, Moseley spends most of the biography on Roosa's time with NASA, allotting many pages to his only spaceflight on Apollo 14, his efforts on the Apollo 16 and 17 backup crews, and his work as a flight controller on other manned missions. The author provides an in-depth analysis of the Apollo 14 operation from start to finish, describing in detail the preflight training, the launch and transit to the moon, the lunar landing, Roosa's scientific experiments in solo orbit around the moon, and the return to Earth. The hefty amount of information about the mission, never before covered in a biography (crewmate Ed Mitchell would release his autobiography on the same topic in 2014), is striking and comparable to Michael Collins's industry benchmark Carrying the Fire (Cooper Square Press, 1974). In addition, by focusing on Roosa's other roles with NASA--not just his astronaut duties on Apollo 14--Moseley paints a vividly clear picture of the inner workings of that organization during the Apollo program, another rarity for biographies of Apollo astronauts.

The book draws on a variety of dependable sources to piece together Roosa's life but relies most heavily upon his friends and colleagues from the test-pilot and astronaut programs, including Apollo 14 crewmate Ed Mitchell and Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke. It also integrates the recollections of Roosa's children and family members, giving the biography a more personal touch and greater accuracy. Through a patchwork collection of stories, quotations, reprinted newspaper articles, and memories, Moseley brings Roosa back to life so that the reader can appreciate his personal accomplishments and his position in the space program. The book is a well-received effort and comparable to other great biographies I have read in the past. At a fast-paced 256 pages, it is a quick and informative volume, well worth the reader's time.

Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot offers captivating insight into the history of the Apollo space program and one of its finest astronauts, Stuart Roosa. One of only 24 men to visit the moon, he served in nearly every position available to a NASA astronaut, thus putting his personal story on par with that of the Apollo program itself. Further, Roosa was an outstanding pilot, father, and patriot whose life continues to serve as an excellent example to younger generations of Air Force personnel. I encourage all readers interested in Colonel Roosa's life, the history of American spaceflight, and the lunar exploration program to read this engaging biography.

Capt Steven M. Mudrinich, USAF
Joint Base Pearl Harbor--Hickam, Hawaii


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."