This New Ocean by William E. Burrows

Five hundred years ago Europeans were exploring their world like never before by crossing the oceans. In the second half of the twentieth century humans broke out of Earth’s atmosphere. It was all part of man’s great adventure – landing 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. But there is a great deal of history and politics behind the headline achievements.

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 Werner 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.

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 result is a fascinating story of the space age. You’ll read about the strategists and war planners; engineers and scientists; politicians and industrialists; astronauts and cosmonauts; science fiction writers and journalists. There is no better book for those who really want to understand the history of the space age.

Check if this admirable history of the space age is in stock at your local library.

752 pages in Random House Inc.

First published  1999

ISBN  978-0375754852

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William E. Burrows

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