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This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age

This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age

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by William E. Burrows

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It was all part of man's greatest adventure--landing men on the Moon and sending a rover to Mars, finally seeing the edge of the universe and the birth of stars, and launching planetary explorers across the solar system to Neptune and beyond.
The ancient dream of breaking gravity's hold and taking to space became


It was all part of man's greatest adventure--landing men on the Moon and sending a rover to Mars, finally seeing the edge of the universe and the birth of stars, and launching planetary explorers across the solar system to Neptune and beyond.
The ancient dream of breaking gravity's hold and taking to space became a reality only because of the intense cold-war rivalry between the superpowers, with towering geniuses like Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolyov shelving dreams of space travel and instead developing rockets for ballistic missiles and space spectaculars. Now that Russian archives are open and thousands of formerly top-secret U.S. documents are declassified, an often startling new picture of the space age emerges:

the frantic effort by the Soviet Union to beat the United States to the Moon was doomed from the beginning by gross inefficiency and by infighting so treacherous that Winston Churchill likened it to "dogs fighting under a carpet";

there was more than science behind the United States' suggestion that satellites be launched during the International Geophysical Year, and in one crucial respect, Sputnik was a godsend to Washington;

the hundred-odd German V-2s that provided the vital start to the U.S. missile and space programs legally belonged to the Soviet Union and were spirited to the United States in a derring-do operation worthy of a spy thriller;

despite NASA's claim that it was a civilian agency, it had an intimate relationship with the military at the outset and still does--a distinction the Soviet Union never pretended to make;

constant efforts to portray astronauts and cosmonauts as "Boy Scouts" were often contradicted by reality;

the Apollo missions to the Moon may have been an unexcelled political triumph and feat of exploration, but they also created a headache for the space agency that lingers to this day.

This New Ocean is based on 175 interviews with Russian and American scientists and engineers; on archival documents, including formerly top-secret National Intelligence Estimates and spy satellite pictures; and on nearly three decades of reporting. The impressive result is this fascinating story--the first comprehensive account--of the space age. Here are the strategists and war planners; engineers and scientists; politicians and industrialists; astronauts and cosmonauts; science fiction writers and journalists; and plain, ordinary, unabashed dreamers who wanted to transcend gravity's shackles for the ultimate ride. The story is written from the perspective of a witness who was present at the beginning and who has seen the conclusion of the first space age and the start of the second.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The most successful general survey of space history yet to appear."
--The New York Times

"The most comprehensive history of humanity's efforts to explore space ever to be crammed into a single volume."
--The Washington Post

Leaving Earth for the first time was the single greatest achievement of the twentieth century. It was also an adventure of Homeric proportions. This is the story, vividly told, of how it happened. Here are American and Soviet politicians, scientists, engineers, generals, and astronauts, dueling for prestige and supremacy from within Earth's orbit to the Sea of Tranquility to the beautiful but deadly plateaus of Venus. This New Ocean is the first full account of how the Soviet space program really worked, revealing why it was doomed to fall short of the Moon; why NASA has always been driven by public relations; how science fiction provided the blueprint for reality; what the military really has in store for space; and how the migration of humans to Mars and beyond has already begun.

A Notable Book of the Year --St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A Best Sci-Tech Book of the Year --Library Journal

"Burrows offers a complete, authoritative history of the technology that allowed us to explore space and the people who created and managed that technology. . . . For those who struggle to understand the nature of humanity, it offers new insights into old paradoxes. For those who ask where we are going, it offers hope."                              
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[An] all-encompassing and splendidly written account."
--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The theme of this oversized paperback is nothing less than a comprehensive overview of mankind's reaching out to the vast ocean of outer space surrounding our island Earth. Veteran journalist and space writer William Burrows takes the reader from the myth of Daedalus all the way down to the present Mars probes; the book was a contender for the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1999. The subject is almost too large to cover in a single volume, but it must be said that Burrows has neglected nothing. The speculations of visionaries like Tsiolkovsky and Jules Verne, the experiments of Robert Goddard and the work of scientific gadflies like Hermann Oberth all provide perspective to the mighty events of our own era. Nor is the book a mere summary of NASA's epic projects. Throughout the years of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, the Soviets' own space program is presented as a counterpoint to America's systematic march to the Moon. The Space Race won, Burrows deftly shifts to the Shuttle program, the controversies over the proposed Space Station, and to the current Mars explorers. The military element of space exploration is covered as well, with an excellent discussion of the Strategic Defense Initiative—the "Star Wars" missile defense system—and its most recent iterations. The book is a useful antidote to those who think that space exploration began with Sputnik and climaxed with Neil Armstrong's walk on the Moon. It is, however, neither a simple reprise of exciting space flights nor a facile and upbeat overview of mankind's space triumphs. Much of it is a sophisticated study of policies and budgets, of personality clashes and the inner workings of the scientific and political councils. Thebook's huge scope means that individual space missions—even the most famous—are discussed only in passing, as part of the larger theme. This New Ocean is clearly directed to the serious adult reader, and in many ways it is more for the aerospace community than the casual student. Advanced YAs, however, will be able to glean much from it. Recommended to appropriate school libraries and all adult collections. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 1998, Random House/Modern Library, 723p, 21cm, illus, notes, bibliog, index, 98-3252, $16.95. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Raymond L. Puffer; Ph.D., Historian, Edwards Air Force Base, CA, May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Modern Library Paperbacks Series
Edition description:
1999 MODER
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 8.01(h) x 1.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

Apollo 11 left for the Moon at 9:32 Eastern Daylight Time on the morning of the sixteenth. As the throng at the Cape cheered or watched in quiet awe, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins rose slowly past the top of 39A's tower while the Saturn began its programmed turn. Amber lights blinked on the instrument panel. Aldrin felt as if he was on top of a long swaying pole. The F-1s, spewing fire and smoke and sending tremors through earth and water, sounded to him like a freight train rumbling far away in the night. But it was different outside. There was only one man-made noise that was louder than the Saturn 5's first stage: a nuclear explosion. Twelve seconds after liftoff, control of Apollo 11 passed from Canaveral to Houston. "You are go for staging," Houston told the men in the command module, which they had named Columbia. The lunar module was called Eagle. "Staging and ignition," Armstrong answered. Two minutes and forty-two seconds after it lifted the two upper stages and the Apollo stack off the pad, the first stage separated and fell forty-five miles into the Atlantic.

The distance between Earth and the Moon was bridged in four days, as had been done by Verne's large cannon shell. On July 20, after a number of orbits around the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin, now inside Eagle, left Collins still in orbit and began their descent to the lunar surface. Seeing that they were headed toward a forty-foot-wide crater surrounded by boulders, Armstrong overrode the computer and steered the lunar module to a clear spot a few miles away. Tingling with excitement, and after a series of alarm warnings from an overworked computer that would have caused an abort had they not been ignored by a NASA controller who suspected they were insignificant, the astronauts kicked up Moon dust as they slowly settled on the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong came in so slowly that Eagle's descent engine had just six seconds of propellant left when it came to rest at 4:17 EDT that afternoon. It was 102 hours and 45 minutes since they had left Earth. Armstrong called home:

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
"Roger, Tranquility," answered a relieved Charles Duke, the capsule communicator in Houston. "We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We are breathing again. Thanks a lot."

The sudden stillness felt strange to Aldrin. Spaceflight--flying--had always involved movement. But now, suddenly, he and Armstrong were absolutely still on a ghostly world. It was, Buzz Aldrin thought, as if Eagle had been sitting there since time began. He reached over and gave Armstrong a hard handshake as the Sun rose behind them like a huge spotlight. Pulling out a small silver chalice and a vial of wine, Aldrin asked "every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."

Six and a half hours later Neil Armstrong backed slowly out of the LM's hatch and, with Aldrin guiding him, carefully worked his way down a ladder attached to the spacecraft's forward landing leg.
"I'm at the foot of the ladder," Armstrong told Houston. "The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about one or two inches. I'm going to step off the LM now."
With Aldrin watching through one of Eagle's windows and a television camera attached to another of the lander's legs recording the scene for instant transmission home, Neil Armstrong's blue lunar overshoe touched the Moon's gray powder.
"That's one small step for . . . man," Neil Armstrong told the world, "one giant leap for mankind."
What he said to Aldrin, however, was a little less weighty: "Isn't it fun?"

"I was grinning ear to ear, even though the gold visor hid my face," Buzz Aldrin would later recall. "Neil and I were standing together on the Moon

Meet the Author

William E. Burrows has reported on aviation and space for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He has had articles in The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Affairs, The Sciences, and other publications and is a contributing editor for Air & Space/Smithsonian. He is also the author of seven previous books, including Deep Black, the award-winning classic work on spying from space.
Mr. Burrows is a professor of journalism at New York University and the founder and director of its graduate
Science and Environmental Reporting Program.

From the Hardcover edition.

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This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent, from the first to the last page. It tells the story of the men who played key roles in both US and Soviet space programs, from the V2 to the space shuttle, from Houston to Moscow, with great details. Beyond the facts, the book explains the political situation, and what has lead to the space race. My only wish woud be more photos.