The Superpower Space Race: An Explosive Rivalry through the Solar System

The Superpower Space Race: An Explosive Rivalry through the Solar System

The Superpower Space Race: An Explosive Rivalry through the Solar System

The Superpower Space Race: An Explosive Rivalry through the Solar System

Synopsis

As this engrossing work so clearly shows, it was in this pressure cooker of competition (The Space Age) that each country achieved undreamed-of advances, stretching the boundaries of humankind's domain and giving us the first thrilling close-ups of the heavenly bodies in our solar system.

Excerpt

The moon is in orbit a mere cosmic stone's throw away from earth. Venus, the second planet from the sun, is our closest planetary neighbor, while Mars circles the sun just outside earth's orbit. Despite the relative proximity of these neighbors to our home world, the distance between us has proved to be an immense barrier to learning the true nature of our solar companions. The moon is so close we can telescopically stare inside its deep craters, yet it remains just beyond reach as we now lack the rocket capability to transport visitors from earth to our natural satellite. Venus is surrounded by a thick, opaque atmosphere that hides its surface from human eyes and Mars, even when its orbit brings it closest to earth, remains a mere speck in a telescope.

After the dawn of the space age, rocketry allowed us to fill in part of the void in our knowledge of these nearby worlds. Starting in 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union sent Pioneer and Luna probes to the moon. Soon after, Mariner, Venera, and Mars robot explorers revealed the secrets of nearby mysterious planets, bit by tantalizing bit. Thanks to the explorations carried out by these intricate and wondrous machines, we have seen much of what has been hidden from us since time began. Within the span of a human generation, centuries of cosmic ignorance has been stripped away.

The purpose of this book is to chronicle the history of the American and Russian unmanned exploration of the inner solar system. Such a history must be both scientific and political: while the space explorations were scientific in intent, they became also a focal point in the political power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union from the late 1950s to the 1970s. The rocket exploration of the moon and inner planets not only was man's first venture into space but also represented a cold war battleground—both nations fought for supremacy in the space race.

U.S. civilian space efforts have always been openly presented by the U.S. news media and are a matter of public record. The Soviet space program, however, had been traditionally kept a state secret, cloaked from . . .

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