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


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...

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Washington, D.C. (2003) Hardcover First Edition New in New dust jacket 0309085489. New book in as new condition. Not a remainder.; 8vo 8"-9" tall; 544 pages.

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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 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.

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309085489
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2003
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Skyscrapers in the Sky 1
2 Salyut: "I Wanted Him to Come Home." 19
3 Skylab: A Glorious Forgotten Triumph 48
4 The Early Salyuts: "The Prize of All People" 81
5 Salyut 6: The End of Isolation 114
6 Salyut 7: Phoenix in Space 163
7 Freedom: "You've Got to Put on Your Management Hat ..." 207
8 Mir: A Year in Space 227
9 Mir: The Road to Capitalism 270
10 Mir: The Joys of Freedom 303
11 Mir: Almost Touching 326
12 Mir: Culture Shock 375
13 Mir: Spin City 416
14 International Space Station: Ships Passing in the Night 446
Bibliography 467
Notes 483
Index 509
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    Leaving Earth

    Every page of this interesting book is packed with details of the evolution of the Russian manned space program. It is very well researched and Robert Zimmerman does an excellent job describing the interaction between on-the-ground politics and space science. The stories of life, survival and endurance on the space stations is facinating. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the history of Man's quest for conquering the many problems of surviving in the harsh space environment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2004

    Leaving Earth: A superb book!

    Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel by Robert Zimmerman is an exciting and exceptional space history book, filled with insights, well-documented research and important facts and information. Not only has Zimmerman accurately described the original Soviet space program, its evolution to the present day Russian space program that is largely more free-enterprise driven than our own space program, he shows how and explains why our own space program, as managed by NASA and Congress, looks more and more like a centrally planned government program supported by like-kind government policy. Zimmerman¿s research has been carefully documented and made available to the readers. His focus on space station history, the politics of manned space flight, and his subsequent analysis of both is second to none. As our current administration moves forward with its new comprehensive space policy initiative, what Zimmerman has to say takes on an even higher level of importance. I firmly believe that by reading and understanding Leaving Earth, it will be easier to move forward, to advocate quality space programs and development, and to facilitate our becoming space-faring. (Host of the radio talk show, The Space Show).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2003

    Zimmerman 'Leaving Earth'

    Zimmerman writes in a clear style. The book describes the Russian space station program from Soyuz to the demise of Mir and the beginnings of the International Space Station. Sufficient technical detail is included for the enthusiast to understand the implecations and consequences of the design of the various space vehicles and the actions of the humans involved. Much of the information is new to me, not being reported in the western media. Of interest were 1. the Russian program was designed to test whether a human could voyage to Mars, function in gravity on arrival (the problem being loss of bone density in zero gravity) and return. Each leg of the trip would be over a year and the Russians gradually increased the time the cosmonauts were in orbit to simulate the time of the outbound leg and to show that the cosmonaut could function in gravity on arrival at Mars (stand up unassisted on return to Earth). This involved heroic and boring 2hrs/day treadmill exercising. One of the cosmonauts, near the end of his time in Mir, impressed visiting cosmonauts, by still having legs like tree trunks. Needing to simulate a 1.25yr trip where they wouldn't be re-supplied, the cosmonauts were left much to their own devices to work out what they did, in which order and how they did it. The often only communicated with the ground a couple of times a day. Mir and the Soyuz for-runners were constantly in need of repair. For the cosmonauts, handling what in space were lifethreatening failures became routine, demonstrating that a self maintaining trip to Mars was possible. By contrast to the self directed cosmonauts in the authoritarian Russian program, in the freedom loving American program (and later the international space station), astronauts were instructed minute by minute on their tasks. Human factors were a big problem, many crews not getting on well. Although the requirements for assembling a working crew didn't take too long to figure out, political considerations often overruled, and many crews were disrupted by constant personal problems. Scheduling and expectations from the ground crews aggravated these problems, as most of ground people had not been in space and had no idea of the difficulty of doing the simplest thing in space. A major problem was keeping track of 'stuff'. Tools put down for a minute, drifted off and would eventually be found against the fan filters and would be put away and forgotten. Over several years, with continual resupplies, so much stuff accumulated, that cosmonauts would often take hours to find a tool in the packed storage bins. Early space craft were designed like the inside of a military plane with bucket seats and tables for cosmonauts to eat from. In zero gravity, a form-fitting chair was useless, and was replaced by bicycle seats. The long distance from the table to the cosmonaut's mouth allowed food and liquids to spread over the inside of the craft (which received the occassional extra layer of vomit and other digestive effluvia, when a cosmonaut was sick). The table was replaced by a shelf like a baby's high-chair. The panels of switches and dials were replaced or covered with panels with soft spongeable plastic, which could be wiped clean. 2. The politics of the Russian space program is described. Having also just read 'Genesis' on the Appolo 8 trip, also by Zimmerman, I don't remember which part of the politics were in which book, but the politics is described from Krushchev (doing it for prestige and to hell with safety for the cosmonauts), through to Yeltsin, who was managing a country in deep financial problems and who used the space program to make money. Interestingly much information is given about Yeltsin and his ascendancy and actions. In the US press, Yeltsin is portrayed as erratic and undependable, while Gorbachov is portrayed as the person who freed Russian from communism. Zimmerman portrays Yeltsin as a highly princi

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