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"Live from Cape Canaveral": Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

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by Jay Barbree
     
 

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Some fifty years ago, while a cub reporter, Jay Barbree caught space fever the night that Sputnik passed over Georgia. He moved to the then-sleepy village of Cocoa Beach, Florida, right outside Cape Canaveral, and began reporting on rockets that fizzled as often as they soared. In "Live from Cape Canaveral," Barbree—the only reporter who has

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Overview

Some fifty years ago, while a cub reporter, Jay Barbree caught space fever the night that Sputnik passed over Georgia. He moved to the then-sleepy village of Cocoa Beach, Florida, right outside Cape Canaveral, and began reporting on rockets that fizzled as often as they soared. In "Live from Cape Canaveral," Barbree—the only reporter who has covered every mission flown by astronauts—offers his unique perspective on the space program. He shares affectionate portraits of astronauts as well as some of his fellow journalists and tells some very funny behind-the-scenes stories—many involving astronaut pranks. Barbree also shows how much the space program and its press coverage have changed over time. Warm and perceptive, he reminds us just how thrilling the great moments of the space race were and why America fell in love with its heroic, sometimes larger-than-life astronauts.

Editorial Reviews

Larry King
“Jay Barbree of NBC News is arguably the best correspondent to ever cover the space program.”
Tom Brokaw
“This man knows more about space than anyone I know.”
Publishers Weekly

NBC TV reporter Barbree will be a familiar figure to many readers for his frequent appearances on the Todayshow and his decadeslong coverage of the space program. As a cub radio announcer in Georgia in the late 1950s, Barbree (coauthor of Moon Shot) realized the next big story was taking place on the rocket launch pad in Florida. He began a string of scoops early on when, hiding in a men's room stall, he heard that a satellite launch would carry the first broadcast from space, a recorded message from President Eisenhower. Barbree's inside access allows him to give pungent details: in 1961, "[t]he astronauts' crew quarters... were smelly, military, uncomfortable and too damn close to the chimpanzees' colony" (a chimp having preceded man into space). While recounting the exploits of the early cowboy astronauts, he gives equal time to the tragedies of Apollo 1and Challenger(he broke the story on the cause of the shuttle's disaster) and the near-tragedy of Apollo 13. Barbree writes with infectious enthusiasm about the glory days of space exploration, and his book will be an enjoyable introduction for a new generation and a fond remembrance for boomers. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
NBC journalist Barbree, who holds the distinction of being the only reporter to cover every space mission flown by astronauts, recounts the fascinating, tragic and ultimately inspirational history of the U.S. space program. The author lived among the astronauts, socialized with them and watched as they strapped themselves into small metal canisters perched atop unimaginable explosive force. His personal involvement with the men who conquered space distinguishes this book from Tom Wolfe's classic, bumptious look at the space program's early days, The Right Stuff (1979), curiously not mentioned here. Where Wolfe projected himself into the astronauts' culture and mindset, Barbree shared them, and his enthusiasm for the material is irresistible. Stories of wild pranks, insanely reckless midnight drives and steadfast loyalty shared by the test pilots-turned-spacefarers leaven the impressively researched technical information, which is presented in a clear, accessible fashion. The author provides a trenchant analysis of the emotional underpinnings that initially drove the program, based on an epic rivalry with the Soviet Union. He isn't shy about venting his frustration at the government and military bureaucracy that impeded the program's progress and cost the lives of too many brave men and women. Passages on the tragedies that befell Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia are by turns anguished, outraged and cogent in their examination of what went wrong and what preventive measures might have been taken. Barbree (co-author, A Journey Through Time, 1995, etc.) was the reporter who broke the story on Challenger's faulty O-rings, and his account of his struggle to get the story past NBC brasscrackles with narrative tension. A final chapter on NASA's plans for building a permanent lunar station, to be used as a base for future colonization of other planets, concludes the narrative on a note of awe and optimism-the very feelings that inspired humanity's first steps into the Great Beyond. It's hard to imagine a more comprehensive or enjoyable history of the Space Race.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061233937
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/19/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
534,663
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.92(h) x 0.77(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Live from Cape Canaveral"
Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

Chapter One

Sputnik

In 1957, Cape Canaveral was the most vital and most intensely exciting place in the country. It offered cutting-edge technology in a time of nineteen-cent-a-gallon gasoline, nickel Cokes, two-bit drive-in movies, and the hit of the television season Leave It To Beaver. It was a time when doors went unlocked, when virgins married, when divorce ruined your social standing, and when folks spent their lives working for the same company with the promise of lifelong retirement checks.

In 1957 few that walked this planet reflected on the fact they were actually inhabitants of a mortal spaceship eight thousand miles in diameter, circling one of the universe's 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (ten to the twenty-fourth) stars at 67,062 miles per hour.

However, two groups of men and women—given the era, it was mostly men—were actually consumed, day and night, by the realities that we were all astronauts living on spaceship Earth. One group worked in the United States at Alabama's Redstone arsenal; the other busied itself in a Soviet hamlet called Baikonur on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Like the American group, the Russians developed and worked on machines to lift nuclear warheads and stuff off our planet, and on the evening of October 4, 1957, one of their creations, a large white rocket called R–7, was being fueled for what some would call the single most important event of the twentieth century. Nearby, inside a steel-lined concrete bunker, an intense middle-aged man named Sergei Korolev was at work. Hisjob, as the chief rocket engineer for the USSR, was to orchestrate the stop-and-go countdown. But unlike his American counterpart, Wernher von Braun, Korolev had the full blessing and support of his country's communist government.

While Korolev had been chasing the goal of space flight at breakneck speed, Dr. von Braun had been pleading with President Dwight David Eisenhower to let him launch an Earth satellite. Only the year before, von Braun had moved his rocket and satellite to its launch pad without permission. He was going to launch it anyway, pretending that the satellite accidentally went into orbit. But Lieutenant Colonel Asa Gibbs, Cape Canaveral's commander, ordered the satellite launcher returned to its hangar. Colonel Gibbs cared more about his ass and making full colonel than he did history.

Now, with von Braun's rocket in storage, Sergei Korolev's R–7 was fueled, and his launch team was ready to send a satellite into orbit and send Russia into the history books.

"Gotovnosty dyesyat minut."

Ten minutes.

Steel braces that held the rocket in place were folded down, and the last power cables between Earth and the rocket fell away.

"Tri . . .

"Dva . . .

"Odin . . ."

"Zashiganive!"

Ignition!

Flame created a monstrous sea of fire. It ripped into steel and concrete and blew away the night. It sent orange daylight rolling across the steppes of Kazakhstan, quickly followed by a thunderous train of sound that shook all that stood within its path.

R–7 climbed from its self-created daylight on legs of flaming thrust and soon appeared as if it were an elongated star racing across a black sky. It fled from view and left darkness to once again swallow its launch pad as it became just another distant star over the Aral Sea.

While others strained to see the final flicker of the rocket, Korolev was interested only in the readouts. He sat transfixed by the tracking information streaming into the control room. The data were perfect. He was intently interested in each engine's shutdown. Separation of each stage had to be clean. And when the world's first man-made satellite slipped into Earth orbit, he permitted himself to rejoice with the others.

It would be called Sputnik (fellow traveler), and ninety-six minutes later, it completed its first trip around our planet, streaking over its still-steaming launch pad, broadcasting a lusty beep-beep-beep.

A dream had been realized.

Wild celebrations exploded across the Soviet Union.

In the NBC newsroom in New York, editor Bill Fitzgerald had just finished writing his next scheduled newscast when the wire-service machines began clanging. The persistent noise rattled most everything. Fitzgerald ran to the main Associated Press wire and began reading.

Bulletin

London, October 4th (AP)

Moscow radio said tonight that the Soviet Union has launched an Earth satellite.

The satellite, silver in color, weighs 184 pounds and is reported to be the size of a basketball.

Moscow radio said it is circling the globe every 96 minutes, reaching as far out as 569 miles as it zips along at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

Fitzgerald froze. He didn't want to believe his fully written newscast had just been flushed down the toilet.

"Damn!" he cursed in protest before hurrying across the newsroom and bursting into Morgan Beatty's office. "Mo, we've gotta update," he shouted. "One of the damn Russian missiles got away from them, and they lost a basketball or something in space."

Beatty, a World War II correspondent, never came unglued in battles and he wasn't about to be upset by an agitated editor. "Give me that," he demanded, snatching the wire copy from Fitzgerald's hand.

Beatty's eyes widened as he read. "Jesus Christ, Bill, you know what this is? The Russians have put a satellite in Earth orbit! They've been talking about it, and damn it, they've really done it!"

Fitzgerald took a deep breath. "Okay, what do we do, Mo?"

The veteran newscaster didn't hesitate. "We've got to get this on the air, now!"

Sputnik came around the world, streaking northeast over the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama. Its current orbit took it south of Huntsville, where the U.S. Army's rocket team at the Redstone Arsenal was enjoying dinner and cocktails with some high-powered brass from Washington. One of the guests was Neil H. McElroy, who was soon to be the secretary of defense. Wernher von Braun was delighted. He judged McElroy as a man of action and when he replaced the current defense secretary, Charles E. Wilson, action would be . . .

"Live from Cape Canaveral"
Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today
. Copyright © by Jay Barbree. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Larry King
“Jay Barbree of NBC News is arguably the best correspondent to ever cover the space program.”
Neil Armstrong
From Sputnik to the International Space Station, Jay Barbree has seen it all, and reported it well. 'Live From Cape Canaveral' encapsulates the most technically exciting half century in history.

Tom Brokaw
“This man knows more about space than anyone I know.”

Meet the Author

Jay Barbree, seen left reporting live from the launch of Gemini 6 in December 1965, has covered the space race since Sputnik as a correspondent for NBC. The NBC space unit won an Emmy for its coverage of the first Apollo moon landing. Barbree also broke the world news exclusive on the cause of the Challenger explosion. The coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Moon Shot, he lives near Cape Canaveral.

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