With this month's 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite, and the forthcoming 50th anniversary in 2008 of the establishment of NASA, there are many new books to whet the appetites of space enthusiasts. These two titles start at the same place, Sputnik's 1957 launch, with some background on the development of rockets in Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States, but A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkeystops with the launch of the first U.S. satellite in 1958, and Epic Rivalryfollows the space race to the Apollo 11moon landing. D'Antonio (Atomic Harvest), a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, brings a human perspective to the Sputnikstory by interviewing still-living participants and examining a few of the major characters. Much of the focus is on Wernher von Braun and Soviet chief designer Sergey Korolyov, but interviews with scientist James Van Allen, early space reporters Jay Barbree and Wickham "Wickie" Stivers, and many others add a unique personal background to the story.
Hardesty (Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power), a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and journalist Eisman do an excellent job of covering the science, technology, and politics of the space race. As new materials become available for research in Russia, more is being learned about the Soviet space program, and Hardesty is well qualified to present the findings. The authors compare the U.S. and Soviet space exploration programs during the cold war. With 75 photos and extensive footnotes, this a good reference book as well as an engaging history. And the foreword by the grandson of Sovietpremier Nikita Khrushchev, Sergey Khrushchev, is great start. Both titles are recommended for space science collections in public and academic libraries. [For other Sputnikand space history titles, see also Giles Sparrow's Space Flight; America in Space: NASA's First Fifty Years; After Sputnik: 50 Years of the Space Ageand Michael J. Neufeld's Von Braun.-Ed.]
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 openedSoviet 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.