If you discount some bright yellow journalism early on, and overlook purple passages describing what Cosmonaut Valeriy or...



If you discount some bright yellow journalism early on, and overlook purple passages describing what Cosmonaut Valeriy or Leonid said or thought at some exhilarating instant in space, this account of the Russian space program has moments of real charm and compelling interest. The author is a computer analyst who has worked at Mission Control in Houston on the Space Shuttle. He knows Russian, importantly, and has traveled to Eastern Europe and the USSR. The text chronicles the development of Soviet rocketry--in particular highlighting the contribution of Sergey Korolev, ""who survived Stalinist labor camps to emerge as chief designer of the Soviet space program."" It was Korolev who engineered the Sputnik launch, and over the next decade produced a succession of space spectaculars for Khrushchev, who was ever out to make the most of Soviet space successes. This led to haste, waste, and occasionally avoidable disasters. One such was the loss of a top missile general and scores of coworkers who were recklessly inspecting a rocket that had failed to ignite--when all of a sudden it did! Oberg's description of the selection of the first woman cosmonaut has moments of high comedy (she marries the one bachelor cosmonaut), and his summary of the launch triumphs and tragedies on both sides is a valuable lession in geopolitics. (Remember the ""missile gap""?) The most absorbing reading lies at the end, however. Here Oberg describes the long jaunts in space--stays of half a year or more--by pairs of cosmonauts aloft in Salyut space stations: the physical layout; the mandatory exercises, the experiments; the sleeping, and eating, and toileting arrangements; the dreams of food; the attempts to grow fresh vegetables, recycle water; the visits from other cosmonauts; and so on. The Russians have learned a lot about living in the cramped and weightless confines of space vehicles, while the Americans have chosen to to develop recyclable shuttles to fetch and carry. Obviously both technologies will be necessary if space colonies are to be established some day. With that, Oberg underscores the need to expand the NASA budget, pointing out that with their present, program and know-how, the Russians might be able to establish modest space settlements before the end of the century. A perfectly timed entry--popularly attuned too.

Pub Date: June 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1981