The First Space Race
Launching the World’s First Satellites
Matthew A. Bille and Erika Lishock
Narrated by Kirk O. Winkler
Approximately 9 hours
Book published by Texas A&M University Press
The First Space Race reveals the inside story of an epic adventure with world-altering stakes. From 1955 to 1958, American and Soviet engineers battled to capture the world’s imagination by successfully launching the world’s first satellite. The race to orbit featured two American teams led by rival services—the Army and the Navy—and a Soviet effort so secret that few even knew it existed. This race ushered in the Space Age with a saga of science, politics, technology, engineering, and human dreams.
Before 1955, the concept of an artificial satellite had been demonstrated only on paper. The first nation to transform theory into practice would gain advantages in science, the Cold War propaganda contest, and the military balance of power. Visionaries such as America’s Wernher von Braun and Russia’s Sergey Korolev knew these fields of endeavor would be affected by the launch of a satellite. Moved by patriotism, inquisitiveness, and pride, people on both sides of the Iron Curtain put forth heroic efforts to make that first satellite possible.
Some aspects of this story, like the Navy’s NOTSNIK satellite project, are almost unknown. Even some details of well-known programs, such as the appearance of America’s pioneering Explorer 1 satellite and the contributions made by its rival, Project Vanguard, are generally misremembered. In this book, authors Matt Bille and Erika Lishock tell the whole story of the first space race. They trace the tale from the origins of spaceflight theory and through the military and political events that engendered the all-out efforts needed to turn dreams into reality and thus shape the modern world.
Matthew A. Bille is a former Air Force officer who now works on launch systems and space law. He is currently an associate with the global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, and he works on space launch, microsatellites, and other space policy and technology projects. He is also a science writer with numerous publications on space, history, and zoology.
Erika Lishock has worked extensively as a launch operations engineer on major military satellite programs and has written a number of studies on satellites and launch vehicles. She is currently an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton supporting current and future communications satellite projects. She is also an avid mountain climber and a trainer with Market America, Inc., specializing in concepts of mass customization and one-to-one marketing.
“The authors skillfully utilize more recent historical studies of early Soviet space activities to craft a balanced comparison and sense of interaction between Soviet and US initiatives. Their own original research and interviews address historical questions unresolved in existing accounts... brisk and engaging... solid and engaging... the authors’ enjoyment of their subject shines through, allowing readers to enter readily into their story.”... the authors do a good job of bringing together salient elements from a wealth of serious historical writing on the subject in the last decade. This represents the best narrative available synthesizing this story. The authors also make some key contributions that have not been explored before. This is especially true of their discussion of the Navy program known at Notsnik, an effort to build an orbital satellite in the 1950s that was even largely secret from the Navy.”
—Dr. Roger D. Launius, Chair, Space History, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
“This is a remarkable book indeed! Its authors, in contrast to the authors of some other recent books on rocketry and space flight, possess a solid understanding of and appreciation for technical and scientific matters. They rely on carefully selected reference documents; they avoid value judgements of their own; and they fully succeed in creating a description of the complex story of the many launchings of the first Earth satellites that will be gratefully accepted and happily acknowledged as truthful by those who were personally involved in this dramatic phase of mankind’s history during the 20th century. Oldtimers who participated in those early satellite projects will read this book with great interest and distinct pleasure, and sincerely hope that the book will find a large readership.”
“It was only 11 years from the first satellite to the moon landing. This was a remarkable technological achievement that amazed the world, but the launching of the first satellite was a similar venture into the unknown. True, it was a much smaller venture but it was a long extrapolation from the short range rockets then available, and it also amazed the world. The first satellites were launched in 1958, over 40 years ago. During those years we have seen astonishing technical progress in many areas in addition to space. We now take artificial satellites for granted. For example, we can even buy a small hand-held instrument that uses a satellite to tell us our exact location on land or sea. Against this background of technical progress it is well to remember the history of the first steps into space.”
—W. H. Pickering, Retired JPL Director
“Through thoughtful analysis of events familiar to space historians and vigorous pursuit of details obscured by the passage of time, they supply new insights to one of the Cold War’s most dramatic chapters.... Readers will have difficulty putting down The First Space Race before turning the last page.”
—Air Power History
“Bille and Lishock have done a good job distilling these events into a detailed yet concise book ... the authors have managed to unearth some interesting facts and insights that overrule conventional wisdom about these historic events.”
—The Space Review
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