"Prelude to Space" is the first novel by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008) and was published in 1951 in the series of Galaxy Science Fiction novels. Originally this short novel was written in 1947. According to the introduction which he wrote, Clarke wrote the entire novel in just 20 days, but it took a while to get it published even though he was a successful writer of short fiction. The story is about the first manned mission to the moon. Some of the correct predictions that Clarke made include the first Lunar impact in 1959 and he had the number of astronauts on the lunar mission correct, but much more impressive was his discussion of telecommunications satellites. He didn't do too bad with his prediction of when the landing would be, as he was within a decade by setting it in 1978.
The story is told in three parts, the first of which takes place in England where we meet Dirk Alexson, a historian who has been hired by Interplanetary to record the project of sending men to the moon for posterity. This section provides the background of how man came from the end of World War II to the verge of space travel. Clarke believed that the rocket would be nuclear powered, and that the mission would be one supported by many nations, and in particular England, with Australia being the launch site due to the vast unpopulated areas in the interior. In part two the preparations are made for moving the operation to Australia in preparation for the launch. Part three details the final preparations and finishes with the launch itself. There is an epilogue which looks back from further in the future as man continues to reach out to other planets in the solar system.
The strength of this story is the science. Clarke has done an excellent job of putting together a realistic scenario of a trip to the moon, which holds up today. The weakness of the story would be in the characters. There are a couple who are well done, such as Dirk Alexson and Professor Maxton, but many of the others are rather shallow as there is a parade of people who Dirk interacts with in order to get their stories, and the science.
While this is far from Clarke's best work, when one considers that it was written in just 20 days it is rather amazing, and those who like hard science fiction will appreciate the effort which Clarke made here. He obviously had been preparing such a story for a while before starting to write it. It tied for 25th on the Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll in 1956 for science fiction books.