Don Peeler was one of thousands of bright engineers who helped America dominate space during the Cold War and beyond. He endured sleepless nights fueled by coffee and cigarettes to troubleshoot technical problems and meet launch deadlines, because every project was new and “nothing was normal” meant nothing was typical or predictable. In this book, he looks back on his storied career.
Peeler’s pride is palpable, whether he’s describing an early missile launch at Cape Canaveral or the laborious, hands-on process of solving a new guidance system’s glitch. But overall, Peeler’s memoir is a challenging read, because he tries to cover decades of wide-ranging projects — Mercury, Apollo, the space shuttle, even the F-16 aircraft — providing too much for lay readers to absorb. His descriptions are highly technical, and he offers a series of snapshots more than cohesive stories.
The recollections Peeler fleshes out the most occur later in his career, when he has moved up to management and contract negotiation for his employer, a tiny but highly regarded division of General Motors called AC Spark Plug. (That’s why astronauts, as depicted in documentaries and film, drove Corvettes: They were all gifts from GM, Peeler notes.) His stories of his greatest negotiating successes (with page after page of entertaining dialogue) demonstrate how the author earned the nickname “Wheeler Dealer Peeler.”
Peeler wrote this memoir to give credit to the men who toiled behind the scenes of the dramatic rocket launches and to tell the younger generation what his peers accomplished. In that, he has succeeded. However, the attention to technical details that made Peeler such an effective engineer and negotiator do not, unfortunately, translate well to a memoir. As a result, the book will likely appeal mostly to people who have worked in the industry. It may also whet readers’ appetites to read up more on the projects covered, or revisit films such as Apollo 13.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.