Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Short History of the U.S. Space Program

by Patrick J. Walsh

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7656-0537-6

Just as advertised, Walsh provides an overview of the American space program, from the V-2 rockets of Nazi Germany to John Glenn’s historic return to space in 1998. Instead of emphasizing technical detail or the history of unmanned missions, Walsh (Literature and Communications/Pace Univ.) focuses persuasively on the politics of space, especially in the early years. He reminds us how stunned we were in October of 1957, when the Soviet Union began the space race by launching Sputnik I. In those days, the Russians seemed formidable indeed. Much depended on our landing on the moon, and it wasn’t until then—12 years later—that American hegemony in space was clearly established. Walsh revisits the fears and triumphs of the Mercury and Gemini missions, from Gordon Cooper’s cool precision aboard Faith 7 to Gus Grissom’s near-drowning after the famous exploding bolts episode of Liberty Bell 7. Mission by mission, Walsh chronicles the Apollo program, from fly-arounds to moonwalks to the aborted, nearly fatal Apollo 13. Walsh’s history of the politics of the space race climaxes in his narrative of the Apollo-Soyuz missions that on the one hand seemed to bring a pause to the Cold War, and, on the other, to rouse forces on both sides to one last fling at competition. After Apollo-Soyuz, the American program entered a long hiatus before at last settling into a groove of shuttle missions. Walsh spends little time on the shuttles, though he offers informative accounts of Sally Ride’s career, the Challenger tragedy, and John Glenn’s return to space. He does not speculate on uses of the new space station, future moon missions, or Mars exploration. Walsh is particularly skillful at contrasting the US and Soviet space programs. Otherwise, he is accurate, uncontroversial, and readable: a fine term paper source.