One momentous event begins this book, and another closes it. In April 1961 a human being rocketed into space for the first time, and in March 1965 another human floated out of a spacecraft on the first-ever spacewalk. The technological, political, and cultural momentum behind these two historic events, and the steps taken in between them, have already been well chronicled. This book certainly makes reference to these broader stories; it does not attempt to explain them.
Many books about this period of rapid spaceflight advances have described the space programs of the world in grandiose, lofty terms. Without doubt, enabling a human to leave the confines of Earth’s atmosphere for the first time was a defining moment in human evolution, a bold step into a wider universe and understanding of our place within it. Space exploration has added to the general body of human knowledge, allowing us a new and remarkable view of who we are as a species and where we live. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine a time when we saw the Earth as the limit of our reach or when we had not seen photographs of our planet from above the atmosphere.
Into That Silent Sea describes in vivid detail the key moments when such visions of humankind’s future and place were first realized, but it does not seek to give an overall view of what we have learned from flying into space. That is left to the large body of authoritative works on the subject. There are also histories that examine our push into space in the 1960s from a far more down-to-earth perspective. Undeniably, the pursuit of technological advances and achievement in that decade was due primarily to Cold War politics and national prestige. Both played an integral role in explaining the rapid advance of the so-called space race and why it stagnated when the decade was out.
Other authors have chronicled the timing that allowed innovative and even daring technology, ever-shifting global politics, and key political deci