Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel

by Robert Zimmerman

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Charged with the ever-present potential for danger and occasionally punctuated by terrible moments of disaster, the history of space exploration has been keenly dramatic.  The recent disaster of the Space Shuttle Columbia was a sad but certain reminder that space travel is an extraordinarily


Charged with the ever-present potential for danger and occasionally punctuated by terrible moments of disaster, the history of space exploration has been keenly dramatic.  The recent disaster of the Space Shuttle Columbia was a sad but certain reminder that space travel is an extraordinarily dangerous occupation. Oddly enough, it often takes a tragic accident to remind us that we still have a presence in space.

In the decades between triumph and tragedy we tend to ignore the fact that there have been scores of space pioneers who have risked their lives to explore our solar system. Indeed, the International Space Station is sometimes referred to as “Alpha,” a moniker that implies that it is our first real permanent presence in space.  But this notion is frowned upon by the Russians - and for good reason.  Prior to the construction of the controversial International Space Station, a host of daring Russian cosmonauts, and a smaller number of intrepid American astronauts, were living in space for months, some of them for over a year.

In this definitive account of man’s quest to become citizens of the cosmos, noted space historian Robert Zimmerman reveals the great global gamesmanship between Russian and American political leaders that drove us to the stars.  Beaten to the Moon by their Cold War enemies, the Russians were intent on being first to the planets. They believed that manned space stations held the greatest promise for reaching other worlds and worked feverishly to build a viable space station program - one that would dwarf American efforts and allow the Russians to claim the vast territories of space as their own. 

Although unthinkable at the time, the ponderously bureaucratic Soviet Union actually managed to overtake the United States in the space station race.  Leveraging their propaganda machine and tyrannical politics to launch a series of daring, dangerous, and scientifically brilliant space exploits, their efforts not only put them far ahead of NASA, they also helped to reshape their own society, transforming it from dictatorship to democracy. At the same time, the American space program at NASA was also evolving, but not necessarily for the better.  In fact, the two programs were slowly but inexorably trading places.

Drawing on his vast store of knowledge about space travel, as well as hundreds of interviews with cosmonauts, astronauts, and scientists, Zimmerman has superbly captured the excitement and suspense of our recent space-traveling past. For space and history enthusiasts alike, Leaving Earth describes a rich heritage of adventure, exploration, research, and discovery.

Editorial Reviews

...a well-written, informative account of the orbital outposts — space stations — launched and operated by the Soviet Union, its successor, Russia, and the United States over the past three decades. ... All in all, Leaving Earth is a good read and perhaps the best source of information on a neglected part of space history: the experience of living and working in space for days and weeks at a time, often under trying conditions.
Times Higher Edu. Supplement
So many hundreds — if not thousands — of books have been written about the space programme that one may reasonably ask: do we need another? The answer in this case is definitely yes, because Robert Zimmerman’s book gives a unique insight into the Russian space programme, which was not available — and indeed was almost unthinkable — up until a few years ago.
The Washington Times
Space enthusiasts worried about where the manned space program is headed will take some heart from reading Robert Zimmerman’s Leaving Earth: Space Stations Rival Superpowers and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, in which the author tells how determined men and women have mastered, if not totally overcome, many of the hazards of living in space. ... Mr. Zimmerman shows that engineers and astronauts have the ability survive, and even thrive in space, to conquer everything that can be thrown at them by nature and their fellows. ...Man has the ability to travel to the stars. The haunting question Mr. Zimmerman leaves us with is, does he have the will?
[Zimmerman] capably narrates stories of the numerous Soviet crews that visited the Salyut and Mir space stations in the 1970s and 1980s, an exercise that could have been repetitive and monotonous in less adept hands. He engagingly describes how the Soviets gradually extended the endurance record in space... an engaging narrative of human experiences with longer and longer space missions...
Invention & Technology
Zimmerman presents a profusion of striking vignettes, including a Skylab crew cobbling together a 25-foot-long tool with a wire cutter at the end to free a stuck solar panel and a desperate Soviet cosmonaut dashing blindly through a smoke-filled cabin to find the source of a sudden fire.
Arthur C. Clarke
Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened.
This is a scientifically vivid and intensely personal book that explores the people and their relationships as much as the technology. ... It’s a grand chronicle of an overlooked human adventure, and also asks some difficult questions about the direction of the current space program. Recommended for all space fans, and for historians too.
Library Bookwatch
A seamless recounting of methodical discoveries and political maneuverings alike, Leaving Earth is a super contemporary history and a welcome contribution to the History of Science reference collections in general, and Space Exploration reading lists in particular.
Publishers Weekly
In the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, Americans may have forgotten that for a quarter-century men and women circled Earth in space stations for as long as a year at a time. Most of these astronauts were from Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries. Zimmerman (Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8) recounts this era of space exploration, beginning with the American-Russian rivalry in the 1960s and concluding with their present-day collaboration on the International Space Station. He reminds us about the short-lived 1970s Skylab program, which was to have been followed by other U.S. space stations. Granted access to Russian archives and interviews with cosmonauts and their families, the author describes the Soviet program in great detail. The original Russian space stations, he reports, were intended primarily for propaganda and military purposes, but they also included a variety of scientific experiments and perfected the use of unmanned "freighters" to bring supplies and parts from Earth. If readers remember anything about the Russian program, it is probably the troubled final months of the Mir station, but Zimmerman describes the heroic efforts of cosmonauts to put out fires and make extended space walks to undertake complicated repairs. The Russians also conducted extensive research on the effects of living in space on the human body, research that will be invaluable for possible future travel to other planets. This book will be of interest primarily to scientists and hard-core science buffs, but it will undoubtedly be the leading book on the Russian space station program for the foreseeable future. (On sale June 24) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Zimmerman, a science author and essayist who writes on the history of exploration, here describes the history of space stations in the context of internal politics and foreign relations. Zimmerman is fascinated by all things Russian, which is probably why most of this work concentrates on the Salyut and Mir stations. He offers detailed descriptions of the missions themselves-we even learn the practical jokes the Russian cosmonauts played on mission control-but his treatment of the politics behind the missions is general and even superficial. The personal lives and abilities of the station residents are well covered, as are Soviet and Russian advances in space flight endurance-the groundwork for interplanetary travel. While the accounts of the close calls and disasters are often fascinating, overall Zimmerman's work is long-winded and begs for editing. Recommended for larger space history collections.-Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado at Denver Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

National Academies Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Frederick I. Ordway III
Zimmerman’s new work is at once exciting to read and an authoritative, meticulously researched history of long-term human presence in space. As the story unfolds, we visit the American Skylab, the seven Soviet Salyuts and Mir, and the evolution of tentative Freedom and Alpha designs to the current International Space Station. Especially intriguing are Zimmerman’s brilliant interweaving of events on the ground—often political—with those of Mir crews in orbit, and his description of cultural trials facing Americans and Russians learning to work together in orbit. A literary tour de force. (author of "The Rocket Team" and "Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space" and lifetime career in the space program)
George Dyson
In the 18th century, a handful of Russian adventurers—who *lived* where other navigators only *explored*—established a series of colonies on the Alaskan coast. So it has been in space. Robert Zimmerman’s comprehensive account of the push to *live* in space is necessarily populated largely by Russians, but it is an adventure that belongs to the entire human race. (author of "Baidarka", "Project Orion", and "Darwin Among the Machines")
Tom Jones
Leaving Earth is a provocative voyage through thirty years of space exploration to the threshold of interplanetary flight. This adventurous book features sharp analysis and engaging writing. Zimmerman examines the political and technical history that has launched today’s International Space Station. (former NASA astronaut )
Norm Thagard
This is a fascinating version of the history of one of the most fascinating areas of human space flight. The book is a ‘must-read’ even for veterans of the Russian and American space programs. As the first American member of a Russian crew, I thought I knew it all but the book revealed aspects of the Shuttle-MIR program and my MIR 18 mission of which even I was unaware. I found myself muttering ‘So that’s what was going on!’ Be prepared to learn the ‘real’ story behind the race to the colonization of space. (former NASA astronaut and current Associate Dean for College Relations at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering )
David M. Harland
A great book! (space historian and author of "MIR Space Station: A Precursor to Space Colonization")

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