SPACE AGE by William J. Walter


Email this review


 By-the-numbers history of the space age, a companion volume to an upcoming six-part PBS series. Walter, a TV-writer and former CNN bureau chief, brings a flair for character and gee-whiz prose (``the need to explore is so strong that we've fabricated remarkable tools to extend our reach'') to bear on his topic. Rocketry's birth is attended by three midwives, all men: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian who designs a ``reaction machine'' in 1898; Robert Goddard, an American who builds the first liquid-fuel rocket and dreams of traveling through interstellar space in a ``granular state''; and Hermann Oberth, ``a hard-looking man with murderous black eyes'' who popularizes rocketry in Germany. Oberth's disciple, the autocratic genius Werner von Braun, designs the Nazi V-2 rockets and then puts America on the moon, dogged for a while by Sergei Korolev, the father of Sputnik. The space shuttle takes some knocks (Walter calls it ``the world's most expensive hot-rod''); and the future, it's said, may lie in nuclear rockets and solar sails. The big target is Mars, and Walter provides an enjoyable history of early Martian studies (remember those canals?), along with results of Mariner missions (the existence of Martian life remains unresolved) and the demands of sex on a long, weightless journey to the Red Planet (``it might be use bungee cords''). Back in low earth orbit, he runs through space-age wisdom about our home planet, including a nod to the Gaia hypothesis. A chapter on communication and spy satellites (``with power such as this would Napoleon have won at Waterloo?'') launches into thoughts on a return to the moon in the immediate future, with its possible industrial, scientific, and spiritual bounty. An awful lot like a standard space trip: spectacular blastoff, then lots of monotonous information-processing with occasional glimpses of heavenly glory. (Myriad color photos.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40295-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1992