Outer space, in a wider sense, can be considered both a beauty and a mystery. From the conception of the universe such as the “Big Bang Theory”, to the discovery of the different planets through powerful telescopes, nothing proves to be more ambitious than to have “manned” explorations on outer space. Indeed, when Sputnik was launched in outer space in 1957, it triggered the so-called “space race” between the America and the Soviet Union. The race began with Sputnik in 1957 and culminated by walking on the moon of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in 1969.
The book, Epic Rivalry: The inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race, narrates the space race of these two powerful nations during the Cold War. Written by Von Hardesty, a Smithsonian guardian or curator; and Gene Eisman, it showed how the compelling rivalry had played a significant role in space exploration both with Russian and with the American point of view. The book also showed scores of unpublished, exceptional, and powerful photographs and the apprehensive drama of the two nation’s progress with Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev and America’s John F.
Kennedy at center stage. The foreword, written by Sergei Khrushchev, was eventually the son of Soviet Union premier Nikita Khrushchev The title of the book was also significant: the main title, Epic Rivalry, focused on the premature heated antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union. The duration of the conflict started in 1957 when Sputnik went to outer space up to the Apollo landing on the moon in 1969.
The book covered a balance, straightforward, and a chronological assessment of that period including the events during the 1940’s and 1950’s that led to the birth of the Space Age. The central characters of the book were Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, and supported by other astronauts, cosmonauts, engineers, and even politician of that time. The chapters were separated by two and four paged sidebars on topics that were technical such as atomic propulsion, and orbital mechanics.
Several photographs were also included, black and white and also of colored nature, upon which some came from Russia and rarely been published. The subtitle of the book, “The inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race”, revealed the “inside stories” behind the space race though some people who lived on that era may know the story behind it. These could be eminent since the book relied on secondary sources such as articles, books, and only a few based on the endnotes can be attributed to primary sources such as interviews, and historical documents.
Except for the foreword, written by Sergei Khrushchev who once worked as an engineer in the era of the space program, that offered an inside account of the early Soviet Union’s space program. The narrative point of view of the author had a twofold approach: to restructure the corresponding universes of the Russian and the American space exploration programs, and then to recognize how these two separate nations interacted in a fateful and necessary means. The apparent race became the point of study in a contrasted approach.
The author emphasized that both nations had used their corresponding military technology to structure their space programs. The Russian developed their space program in absolute secrecy and concealment, even the long term and specific goals, not to mention their leader in the space program were never divulged, while the Americans remained unfasten and depended on public support except for the military aspects of their space programs. Aside from these, the book also examined the key role of politics and the significant political figures in shaping the route of the space exploration program.
The key person on the Soviet side was Premier Nikita Khrushchev who took an ardent interest in the space exploration programs seeing the potential of the propaganda “space first”. The United States was not as keen at the beginning on the space program with Dwight Eisenhower being hesitant on the expensiveness of the program. The U. S. took cautions on their space programs until John F. Kennedy presided over Eisenhower and made considerable turn-around on their space programs. He eventually pushed through the program when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first manned orbital journey, and with the context of the then Cold War.
Thus, Kennedy committed to the U. S. to send the first humans on the moon. His advocacy was clearly supported by Lyndon Johnson and followed by Richard Nixon. Also included on the book were the talented engineers, scientists, and managers whose creative and ingenious works had helped significantly the development of their nation’s respective space programs. Notable were the two main characters of the book: Wernher von Braun who came to the U. S. at the end of World War II together with the group of experienced German rocket technicians.
His team contributed much to the advancement of the rocket program of the United States. Afterwards, James Webb together with capable administrators oversaw the space program of NASA. On the other side, Sergei Korolev (also known as the inexplicable “Principal Designer”) headed the Soviet Union’s space program. Located at the remote area of Baikonur spaceport, he worked also with highly competent and motivated engineers and designers. Both nations eagerly pursued their space programs collectively with missile development and research.
The space travelers were also central in the book such as Yuri Gagarin of Russia, Alexei and Titov Leonov of Germany; John Glenn, Alan Shepard, and Gus Grissom of the United States. All of them displayed exceptional skills and courage and therefore gained popularity. The Apollo 11 mission, wherein Glenn, Shepard, and Grissom were the astronauts, had brought almost a decade of space race between the Russia and the United States to a remarkable conclusion. From the standpoint of technological advancement, the book effectively described how the two powerful nations had engaged in a subsequent “race” towards the space explorations.
The different relevant factors were clearly included such as the engineers, scientists, politicians, astronauts and cosmonauts. Though much of the book used secondary sources, there were some primary sources that can be seen on the endnotes and those people who lived on that era would actually now what transpired even not reading the book.
There were also some errors such as the statement that the MIR remained in orbit from 1971 to 2001 (Hardesty and Eisman p. 249) or some minor slip-up such as referring to the map of Kennedy Space Flight Center (Hardesty and Eisman p. 159). But nonetheless, the book displayed the relevant story behind the space exploration between two power nations: both in the context of the American and of the Russian point of view. These undertaking started what seemed to be the present space age and will effectively give aspirations and relevant information to the youth of today.
Hardesty, Von and Eisman, Gene. Epic Rivalry: The Inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race. Random House Publishing. September 2008.