The story of the race into space is marked by the greatest superpower rivalries, political paranoia, and technological feats of the twentieth century. But until now, we have known only half the story. With the end of the cold war, decades of secrets have been exposed, bringing with them a remarkable opportunity: the unmasking of the true heroes and villains behind one of the most exciting races in history.
At the center of this exhilarating, fast-paced account are Wernher von Braun, the camera-friendly former Nazi scientist who led the American rocket design team, and Sergei Korolev, the chief Soviet designer and former political prisoner whose identity was a closely guarded state secret. These rivals were opposite in every way, save for one: each was obsessed by the idea of launching a man to the Moon. Korolev told his wife, "In every century men were looking into the sky and dreaming. And now I'm close to the greatest dream of mankind."
In attempting to fulfill this dream, Korolev was initially hampered by a budget so small that his engineers were forced to repurpose cardboard boxes as drafting tables. Von Braun, meanwhile, was eventually granted almost limitless access to funds by an American government panicked at the thought that their cold war enemy might take the lead in the exploration of space. Korolev, whose family life was destroyed by his long sentence in the Gulag, was constantly aware that any false move would finish his career or even his life. His rival, on the other hand, enjoyed remarkable celebrity in America and was even the subject of a 1960 biopic.
In this extraordinary book, Deborah Cadbury combines sheeradventure and nail-biting suspense with a moving portrayal of the space race's human dimension. Using source materials never before seen, she reveals that the essential story of the cold war is a mind-bending voyage beyond the bounds of the Earth, one marked by espionage, ambition, ingenuity, and passion.
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Deborah Cadbury is the highly acclaimed author of several books, including Dreams of Iron and Steel, The Lost King of France, and Terrible Lizard. She has also won numerous international awards as a television producer for the BBC. She lives in London.From Booklist:
*Starred Review* Cadbury traces the development of rockets and spaceflight from German experiments before World War II to the manned moon landings, telling the story in layperson's language (though with a fine glossary appended) and in the process providing powerful biographies of the two outstanding designers, Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev. Korolev began as a supervisor of the efforts of German technicians captured during and after the war but later achieved outstanding results with his own designs by launching Sputnik and the first manned orbital flights. Von Braun's history included winking at the use of slave labor but also a succession of breakthroughs that led to the historic day in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped out on the moon. Both Soviet and U.S. programs were plagued with failures and outright disasters that Cadbury graphically though evenhandedly describes, and Korolev literally worked himself to death. The true monument to both designers is the last two generations of manned spaceflight. Appealing to everyone from the generation who listened in high school to the early launches to high-school students today who want a keen-sighted view of the spacefaring past, this outstanding volume is likely to be one of the standards on its subject for years to come. Roland Green
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