Gagarin was an incredibly lucky man to have come out of this unhurt and alive. In rushing to accomplish a human spaceflight in the race with the US, Soviet engineers pushed the boundary of acceptable risk to its limits. Fortunately for Soviet planners everything went well.Yuri Gagarin's flight as the first human in space fiftyfive years ago may have been slightly more dangerous than previously thought.
Here is the rather strange story of how American-made specialized film was salvaged from a spy balloon and sent to take the first-ever pictures of the far side of the moon by the Soviet space program, and how those photos were then faxed back to Earth, line by grainy line. Long read and/or audio podcast. [more inside]
The Ballad of Captain Dwight-The story of Ed Dwight, the first black American trained to be an astronaut, via the memory palace [more inside]
The First Spacewalk. How the first human to take steps in outer space nearly didn't return to Earth.
This is not the stirring tale of macho crew cuts and heroic deeds from The Right Stuff that is now a fat chapter in every U.S. high school history book. This is a tale replete with fumbling, bumbling, bickering and at least one insane-sounding notion. To nuke the moon.
In 1972, Tom Wolfe was assigned to do a piece for Rolling Stone on Apollo 17, NASA's last moon mission (Google book preview). That turned into a four-part series on the astronauts, written in a frantic three weeks. From there, he thought he could quickly expand the piece into a book (Gbp). But that book, on what makes an astronaut, ended up taking a much broader scope and more time. In 1979, The Right Stuff was published, and later was made into a well-regarded 3 hour movie. A few years later, Andrew Chaikin started on a similar path to Wolfe, more broadly documenting the US moon missions in his book, A Man on the Moon. The book was published in 1994, and HBO used it as the basis of a 12-part mini-series that they aired in 1998, titled From the Earth to the Moon. [more inside]
In April 1961, the Haigazian College Rocket Society, a group of students at the Lebanese-Armenian Haigazian University in Beirut, led by 25-year old math teacher Manoug Manougian (interview [Part 1][Part 2][Part 3]), built and launched the first rocket made in the Middle East, a few months before Israel. From 1961 to 1966, the group, now called the Lebanese Rocket Society and assisted by the Lebanese military, launched several multi-stage solid fuel rockets named Cedar 1 to Cedar 8 (Reuters). Lebanon's contribution to the Space Race (or surface-to-surface missile development) ended in 1966, seemingly for political reasons. This story is the subject of a documentary + installation by Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.
In 1964, Zambia joined the Space Race with help from Edward Makuka Nkoloso, an enthusiastic, if overly optimistic, primary school teacher (partial transcript, video very much of its time). Though the rocket never left Lusaka, and there was never any real support from either the Zambian government or UNESCO, Nkoloso's project caught the imagination of Spanish artist Cristina de Middel in her short film, The Afronauts. Middel explains, "The images are beautiful and the story is pleasant at a first level, but it is built on the fact that nobody believes that Africa will ever reach the moon. It hides a very subtle critique to our position towards the whole continent and our prejudices. It's just like saying strong words with a beautiful smile." via.
My name is Paul Drye and False Steps is my project blog for a history book of the same name which looks at the Space Race as it might have been. Beginning with what I think to be the very prehistoric beginning of manned space travel (the so-called Magdeburg rocket of 1932) I aim to trace the ways in which people tried to travel to space and came close to accomplishing, all the way through Nazi German rocketry, the post-WWII fallow period, the crazy times of Sputnik through Apollo, the second down time of the 1970s, and the gradual revival of human space programs from then into the present day.Paul Drye of Passing Strangeness has a new blog about the roads not taken in the space race.
Most of us reading on the blue lived through at least a portion of it. Forty-plus years of tension between the world's two superpowers and their allies. That's right: The Cold War. Then, they made a documentary. Aired on CNN in 1998, and never released on DVD, the 24 episode, 20 hour series features tons of archival footage, along with many interviews with individuals directly involved at some of the highest levels. You might not be able to see it on DVD, but you can watch the full series on Youtube, starting with Part 1: Comrades (1917-1945).
Fifty years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. In an recent interview, he lamented the decline of the manned US space program: "It's unseemly to me that here we are, supposedly the world's greatest space-faring nation, and we don't even have a way to get back and forth to our own International Space Station." [more inside]
Hey, remember the ISS, that space station the Space Shuttle helped build before the shuttle was retired? Turns out humans might have to vacate that nifty space station for a bit. [more inside]
50 years ago today, on May 25 1961, US President John F. Kennedy decided "...this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Eight years later the Apollo program fulfilled the task, leaving the world with a legacy that includes advances in computers and communciation, lessons in managing complex projects, technological innovations and new views of the Earth. [more inside]
"India on Wednesday became the sixth nation to launch a moon mission when indigenously built PSLV-C11 rocket blasted off from the spaceport here carrying with it Chandrayaan-I, which will map the lunar surface." For India, The Future Is Here. [more inside]
Is there Life on Mars? As NASA announce a nuclear-powered Mars and beyond project, British scientists are looking forward to the launch of the Beagle 2 which will search for signs of life on the Red Planet. Is this the return of the Space Race in a new form? And will they find any sign of life?
The New Frontier- Preparing the law for settling on Mars. "Like the abandoned launch fields [at Cape Canveral], the Outer Space Treaty [of 1967] needs to have its valuable parts salvaged, and the dangerous ones demolished."
Secrets of the Cold War in Space. Deep Cold is an website with detailed renderings, quicktime movies and information about the ideas and concepts being developed for both U.S. and Soviet presences in space during the cold war.
On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made object ever sent into space...
On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made object ever sent into space... Sputnik: The Shock of the Century, a book by Paul Dickson released today, is a fascinating look into the historical, political, social and technological ramifications of the Russian sattellite that launched the Space Race, and changed the course of how information traveled. (Today is my birthday, as well—which should explain my interest in the subject.)