By Fred Haise with Bill Moore

Smithsonian Books


202pp/$29.95/April 2022

Never Panic EarlyCover design by Gary Tooth

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

On April 11, 1970, three men sat on top of a Saturn V rocket and were launched into space on a mission to the Moon. Two days later, a run-of-the-mill action caused an explosion aboard their spacecraft, crippling the Apollo 13 mission and leaving the world wondering if the three men would be able to return safely to Earth. In 1994, the mission’s commander, Jim Lovell, wrote about his experiences in the book Lost Moon, which served as the basis for the film Apollo 13. The Command Module Pilot, Jack Swigert, died in 1982, before he had a chance to write his memoirs. The Lunar Module Pilot (LMP), Fred Haise, has now written his own memoirs, Never Panic Early.

Haise’s autobiography is written in what almost seems like a stream-of-consciousness style, with short sentences giving a feel for his style of communicating, however, it is clear that Haise has planned out what he wants to say in the book and offers insights into his life as a test pilot, an astronaut, and how he handled being an ex-astronaut. Although his name is inexorably linked to the Apollo 13 mission, Haise discusses, at some length, the roles astronauts played throughout their career, not just their missions into space.

For Haise, this means there is a lot of discussion of the design of the lunar module, as he worked closely with Grumman in its development and testing. He also served as the backup LMP for Apollo 8 (along with Armstrong and Aldrin), backup LMP for Apollo 11 (with Lovell and Anders), backup commander for Apollo 16, and expected commander for the cancelled Apollo 19. Haise remained with NASA through the 1970s, switching his focus from the lunar module to the development of the space shuttle and he eventually flew five Approach and Landing Tests of the space shuttle Enterprise before retiring from NASA after 13 years.

His story doesn’t end with his retirement from NASA< however, and Haise discusses his continued work in the private aerospace industry. Although he talks about differences of opinions, he offers his disagreements in general terms, without going into specific details. In fact, most of the specific details Haise goes into in Never Panic Early is technical in nature, and it seems to be more technical in the portions of the book that deal with his post-NASA career.

Haise does talk about personal relationships, but often in only the most cursory ways. He discusses dating Mary, who would become his first wife, and briefly talks about their children. He notes when he met his second wife Patt and her kids as well. Both of his wives, however, are noted and referenced, but neither play a major role in this narrative, which is focused on Haise’s professional life. His fellow astronauts are fleshed out a bit more, noting that Bruce McCandless had a tendency to do his own thing during trainings, Buzz Aldrin as an "out-of-the-box thinker" and "unique talent," and noting that Neil Armstrong had "a tremendous sense of humor." Haise doesn’t dish dirt on any of the other astronauts, but his brief sketches throughout the book help to humanize them.

Never Panic Early, Haise’s philosophy of approaching problems in a level-headed manner rather than jumping to conclusion, is a short book, a little under 200 pages, but it offers an excellent look not only at the Apollo program but also the nascent shuttle program and the careers that awaited Apollo astronauts. Although Haise spends a chapter specifically on the Apollo 13 mission, he does so in a way that reminds the reader that as dramatic as the mission may have been, it was only less than a week of a life filled with other great accomplishments.

Purchase this book

Amazon BooksOrder from Amazon UK




Audio book

Return to