Synopses & Reviews
After losing the race to the moon, the Soviet Union responded by launching an ambitious program to build the first space stations. Leaving Earth
is the definitive account of the human race's first tentative steps in the permanent habitation of space.
The commander of the International Space Station's first crew, Bill Shepard, refers to his orbiting home as "Alpha." It is a moniker frowned upon by the Russiansand for good reason. It is not, as Shepard implies with his unofficial but inaccurate designation, the first space station. Not only did the Soviet Union successfully inhabit a series of six different Salyut space stations between 1971 and 1986, the Soviets maintained a human presence on Mir for more than 14 years. Indeed, the remarkable history explored in Leaving Earth makes it clear that the Soviet's vital and dynamic space program has ultimately surpassed our own comparatively tentative, tip-toeing efforts into the cosmos.
Visionaries like Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley wrote in the 1950s that the first step in colonizing the heavens was the deployment of orbiting, self-sufficient "space stations." They certainly understood the dangers inherent in dealing with the harsh reality of a new and untested environment in which man was not a natural presence. The events that would follow in successive decades would prove that space was not always a hospitable home for human beings. Fraught with the potential for danger and occasionally punctuated by terrible moments of disaster, the history of space exploration has been keenly dramatic. But neither von Braun nor Leyor for that matter NASAdreamt that the ponderously bureaucratic Soviet Union would actually manage to overtake the United States in the space station race, leveraging its propaganda machine and tyrannical politics to launch a series of daring, dangerous, and scientifically brilliant space exploits that would put the Soviet Union far ahead of NASA. For while the change from dictatorship to democracy finally gave the cosmonauts freedom to determine their ownfate in space, American astronauts were evolving into robotic extensions of the ground controllers at NASA, an increasingly cumbersome organization that was slowly but inexorably metamorphasizing into a Western version of the old and inefficient Soviet machine. The two space programs were effectively trading personas.
In this sweeping history of space exploration and global politics, acclaimed science writer Robert Zimmerman shows how the advent of space stations has pushed history in unexpected directions. Leaving Earth details the rich heritage of adventure, exploration, research, and discovery.
This is the story of space stations, their possible use for interplanetary travel, the adventure and dangers faced by the astronauts, and where space travel has taken us. The political and cultural aspects of the space race are woven around the stories.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 467-508) and index.
In fact, the two programs were slowly but inexorably trading places. Drawing on his vast store of knowledge about space travel, as well as hundreds of interviews with cosmonauts, astronauts, and scientists, Zimmerman has superbly captured the excitement and suspense of our recent space-traveling past. For space and history enthusiasts alike, "Leaving Earth" describes a rich heritage of adventure, exploration, research, and discovery.