Space exploration is often portrayed as a U.S.-U.S.S.R. race, with the Soviet Union winning the initial lap by launching Sputnik, the earth's first artificial satellite. Yet as Dickson (The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary) reveals, for the United States, the race was also an internal competition, with the military (particularly Wernher von Braun's rocket team) and the Eisenhower administration grappling for control of the national space program. Eisenhower, who sought to demilitarize space and thereby open the skies to U.S. espionage satellites, eventually triumphed, establishing NASA as a civilian agency and successfully testing a clandestine satellite launch. Focusing on internal rivalries and including pre-Sputnik material, Dickson's book complements Robert A. Divine's The Sputnik Challenge (LJ 3/1/93), which considers the aftermath of Sputnik; James Killian's personal Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (LJ 1/15/78. o.p.); and the scholarly Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (Harwood Academic, 2000; also issued as NASA Technical Memorandum 113448). For public and academic libraries. Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The devastating impact of a Soviet satellite on the American public in the '50s. When Sputnik was put into orbit on October 4, 1957, Leave It to Beaver was first airing on TV. The juxtaposition of these two images-one of Communist technological superiority, the other of American gee-whiz innocence-is journalist Dickson's structural theme here. The US, like the Soviet Union, raided Nazi Germany after 1945, removing scientific equipment and personnel for re-use in the Cold War. That the Soviet Union was the first to exploit this science comes as no surprise to Dickson, who credits Sputnik with giving the complacent US the wakeup call it needed to advance in the space race. American scientists and the US military scoffed at scientist Robert Goddard, who could have vaulted the country in front of all others in the field of rocket technology. While his work was given little support, Germans and Soviets were studying and building on his designs. After the war, as the Americans and Soviets dissected German rockets, the US still didn't take the technology seriously. The army, navy, and air force all had their own missile programs, with the army's team under former Nazi Wernher von Braun probably being the most advanced and the most overlooked. With the launching of Sputnik, everything changed. Whereas US rockets could barely reach the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the Soviet Union had placed in space an object that flew over North America several times a day. In an era when nuclear war seemed imminent, the military saw the importance of such devices for spying on the enemy. Von Braun and others were given the green light. On a larger level, the American public also got into the act: itrejected decadent cars like the Edsel and advocated advanced science curriculums in the schools. The Internet even owes its existence to Sputnik, the author claims-precursors to the Web were created by rocket researchers. An excellent treatment of one of the early chapters of the Cold War.
“An ominous foreign presence suddenly seems to take control of the skies'Another Pearl Harbor!' some shout. Initial fears are replaced by a determination to meet the challenge, and America declares that life has changed forever. Sounds familiar, but the transforming event of Paul Dickson's book is not the crash of hijacked airliners last 9/11; it is the Soviet Union's launch in October 1957 of Sputnk, the first man-made satellite.” Washington Post
“Sputnik is a fascinating slice of useful social history...A serious book that is breezily written, Sputnik reviews the scientific history, the Cold War mentality and a media-driven crisis over what headline writers called 'the Red Moon' .” USA Today
“Dickson examines the impact of Sputnik from all angles, noting the hysteria it incited, minutely detailing the advances-both in science and PR-of the Soviet and U.S. space programs, and delivering an appendix explaining the satellite's influence on the English language.” Entertainment Weekly
“[Dickson's] research is painstaking, his attention to detail exemplary. . .it flows smoothly and clearly - an admirable quality in history.” Philadelphia Inquirer
“How ironic that the Earth's first artificial satellite launched a sea of change in technology, politics, and society. Dickson's book chronicles the Sputnik event as well as its global effects. Sputnik takes a close look at why Sputnik shocked America and heightened the Cold War. Sprinkled with photos and quotes, this book provides an easy, compelling read. Frequent footnotes containing anecdotes and sidelights add interest throughout.” Astronomy
“The best book on the political shockwaves following Sputnik.” New Scientist
“This is a stunning book that captures the excitement and angst of the dawning of the space age.” Dallas Morning News
“Paul Dickson skillfully puts the story of Sputnik and its aftermath into this new perspective in his informative and readable book.” Christian Science Monitor
“Dickson is even-handed in his treatment of many clashing agenda and personalities, governmental and military. Sputnik should climb far up the lists, and have a long ride.” Baltimore Sun
“Culling from recently declassified documents as well as traditional historical assessments and news accounts, [Dickson] resurrects the drama and intrigue surrounding Sputnik with a perspective space junkies will find illuminating and new.” Houston Chronicle
“Like the best social and scientific histories, Dickson's look back in time sheds a clearer beam on the road ahead.” School Library Journal