Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book Review: Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski

October 4, 2007 marked an important historical anniversary. The 50th anniversary of humanity's exploration of outer space. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial object launched by human beings to escape the Earth's gravity (for six months, but a milestone).

In Red Moon Rising, Matthew Brzezinski covers the intense rivalries that served as the catalyst to the great space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would eventually culminate in landing men on the moon, and laid the foundations for today's space program, including the International Space Station.

Although the obvious rivalry between the Americans and the Soviets plays out over the course of Brzezinski's account, many other more personal conflicts come to the front of the stage. For the USSR's head of missile development, Sergei Korolev, his childhood obsession to touch space drove him relentlessly. Even years spent in Stalin's gulag did not dash the dream from him. His drive to put a satellite in orbit allowed him to navigate the treacherous waters of the Soviet military community.

Rivalries were, if anything, were more pronounced on the American side of the missile race. The army, navy, and nascent air force all had ballistic missile programs in the works, though it was the Army's that would place the first American satellite in orbit, thanks largely to the stubbornness of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's commander, Major General John B. Medaris, and ABMA's chief engineer, Wernher von Braun, the man behind the German V-2 rockets.

Brzezinski's book is a fast-paced, enjoyable read giving a lot of insight into the scientific and political environments of the USA and USSR of the late 1950s. The personalities involved leap off the page and come alive, shaping the course of the historical narrative. Highly recommended.