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This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age (Modern Library Paperbacks)

This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age (Modern Library Paperbacks)
Author: William E. Burrows
ISBN 13: 9780375754852
ISBN 10: 375754857
Edition: 1
Publisher: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1999-11-05
Format: Paperback
Pages: 752
List Price: $22.00

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.


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)