EPIC RIVALRY by Von Hardesty


The Inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race
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From the Soviet Union’s Sputnik to the United States’ Apollo 11, the exciting competition between Cold War superpowers to dominate space.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union plundered Germany’s Peenemunde rocket research center for the technical equipment, documentation and, crucially, the scientists responsible for the development of the V-2, Hitler’s vengeance weapon that had terrorized London. This battle for military advantage unwittingly began the space race, with America taking the early lead as “our Germans” proved smarter than theirs. As popular-culture dreams of space travel merged with scientific advances and the exigencies of the Cold War, the Soviets early on recognized the propaganda advantages of space conquest and pulled ahead in 1957 with their Sputnik satellites and a later series of lunar probes that startled the world and caused no end of political breast-beating in the United States. After some early fumbles, America soon caught up, only to see the Soviets regain supremacy with a number of remarkable manned-flight achievements—first in space and to orbit (Gagarin), first woman (Tereshkova), first to walk (Leonov)—against which the suborbital flights of Shepard and Grissom seemed puny. But Eisenhower’s creation of NASA and Kennedy’s commitment to a lunar landing galvanized the American effort. Where Michael D’Antonio’s recent A Ball, A Dog, and A Monkey: 1957—The Space Race Begins (2007) deals breezily with only the earliest days of the fierce contest from a mostly American perspective, Hardesty (Air Force One: The Aircraft That Shaped the Modern Presidency, 2003, etc.) and Eisen’s sober account makes use of recently opened Soviet archives to tell the story from both sides, revealing some remarkable parallels between the space portals at Baikonur and Cape Canaveral, the political pressures on Khrushchev and Kennedy, the lust for space exploration by Chief Designer Korolev and America’s von Braun and the training and in-flight disasters that befell cosmonauts and astronauts. As the race unfolded, first-to-the-moon appeared to be close, but eventually the highly secretive, hide-bound Soviet system itself critically hobbled their space program.

A balanced, reader-friendly re-creation of the origins, progress, thrills and perils attending a prestigious race, desperately important at the time, only dimly remembered today.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-4262-0119-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: National Geographic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2007


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