Tag Archives: Space Race

Beyond

If you know me or have followed my blog for a while, you know that I am a big space enthusiast and I love reading the latest biographies and histories surrounding it. So when I saw that I could get an early copy of Stephen Walker’s Beyond: The Astonishing Journey of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space (what a title) I naturally snagged it pretty quickly.

I’ve read a lot about the early years of the U.S. space program, from NACA to NASA, but never much about the USSR program, except for bits and pieces. So to have a whole book mainly dedicated to looking at the Russian side was thoroughly interesting.

Russia only publicized their “space spectaculars” after missions had been successful, which covered their program in a shroud of secrecy during the 1960s, and even beyond. But though no one knew what they were doing, they were as active as the U.S. in training their cosmonauts and preparing the way for manned space flight. Yuri Gagarin, who would eventually be the first man in space, was one of six top cosmonaut hopefuls (eventually whittled down to three in the running for the first flight) who went through a training regimen equally as brutal as the one the U.S. put its astronauts through.

Walker’s book touches on some biography details of Gagarin’s life, but mainly focuses on the progress of the Russian program, similar to other books that chronicle the U.S. program. Where possible, Walker spoke with eye witnesses and descendants of key figures. Other information, finally declassified by the Russian government, was drawn from documents and archives.

Though I would have expected more biography on Gagarin, given the subtitle of the book, I was still very interested to read about the development of the Russian program and learn the names behind some of the men who made it happen.

And even though I knew what would happen (it’s history, after all), Walker did an excellent job putting the reader in the thick of the suspense of Gagarin’s first flight, creating a page-turner as readers breathlessly wait to see if Gagarin’s flight went as smoothly as we were always led to believe.

For history buffs and space enthusiasts, Beyond is a different take on the space race and one that is very worth the time to read.

Hidden Figures

I saw the preview for Hidden Figures shortly after I’d seen the book at work. Right away, I knew I wanted to read it. Astronomy and all its facets has always fascinated me, and I knew Hidden Figures would too.

Having read the book after seeing previews for the film (haven’t yet seen it, though), the book certainly wasn’t quite what I had expected.

The book chronicles the lives of several women–black women–who began working for NASA (or rather its precursor, NACA) in the thick of World War II, and paved the way for not only the astronauts to enter space, but for equality and integration to spread throughout the organization.

The book focuses mainly on four women and how they fought for advancement, seeking titles of mathematicians and engineers instead of being stuck being computers.

After having seen the preview for the film, I was honestly expecting something more biographical of the women–and more interaction between their stores.  Hidden Figures read more like a brief history of how black women worked their way into traditionally white, male jobs. And while it was still interesting and a good read, I found myself having to readjust my expectations in order to finish the book.

My one issue with it was that it just wasn’t long enough. As author Margot Lee Shetterly herself said, she had to cut some parts out. And as I read the book, I wanted more. It seemed like this book could easily have been 400 or 500 pages, including more biographical detail and going deeper into the interactions between the women. But, perhaps that is what the film will accomplish.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read, satiating my appetite for learning, even as it whetted it more. I’ll have to revisit my to-read list, I know I’ve got a few more science-related books on there.