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.
About the Author
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.
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.