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Single Stage to Orbit: Politics, Space Technology, and the Quest for Reusable Rocketry [Hardcover]

Andrew J. Butrica , Roger D. Launius
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 22 2003 New Series in NASA History
While the glories and tragedies of the space shuttle make headlines and move the nation, the story of the shuttle forms an inseparabe part of a lesser-known but no less important drama-the search for a reusable single-stage-to-orbit rocket. Here an award-winning student of space science, Andrew J. Butrica, examines the long and tangled history of this ambitious concept, from it first glimmerings in the 1920s, when technicians dismissed it as unfeasible, to its highly expensive heyday in the midst of the Cold War, when conservative-backed government programs struggled to produce an operational flight vehicle. Butrica finds a blending of far-sighted engineering and heavy-handed politics. To the first and oldest idea-that of the reusable rocket-powered single-stage-to-orbit vehicle-planners who belonged to what President Eisenhower referred to as the military-industrial complex.added experimental ("X"), "aircraft-like" capabilties and, eventually, a "faster, cheaper, smaller" managerial approach. Single Stage to Orbit traces the interplay of technology, corporate interest, and politics, a combination that well served the conservative space agenda and ultimately triumphed-not in the realization of inexpensive, reliable space transport-but in a vision of space militarization and commercialization that would appear settled United States policy in the early twenty-first century.

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A history of one particular aspect of US space history-the attempt to develop a single-stage-to-orbit launcher... it is a story of muddle and waste... Butrica provides a competent and readable account of this debacle, which concentrates on the small research vehicle, DC-X. -- D. M. Ashford Times Literary Supplement 2004

About the Author

Andrew J. Butrica, a historical consultant, is the author of, among other works, To See the Unseen: A History of Planetary Radar Astronomy, which won the 1998 Richard W. Leopold Prize awarded by the Organization of American Historians.

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"In a village of La Mancha, whose named I have no desire to remember, there lived not long ago one of those gentlemen who keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and greyhound for coursing." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
Andrew Butrica's new book is part of a growing literature on the politics of space. The best known work in this genre is Walter McDougall's Pulitizer Prize-winning volume, "...the Heavens and the Earth." While McDougall's work was written in the early 1980s (published in 1985), still inside the framework of the Cold War, "Single Stage to Orbit" is able to take a more wholistic approach allowed by the passage of more time. That is also partly because Butrica's subject focuses on a single type of space hardware after its demise. His analysis clearly extends and to some extent revises McDougall's conclusions about the nature of technocracy in modern American society.
Butrica does a brilliant job explicating how the American political right gained hold of the ideology of progress in the last two decades of the twentieth century. His goal is to place the history of the Strategic Defense Initiative Office/"single stage to orbit" spaceplane effort in the context of the United States' well-documented political "right turn" of the past two-plus decades. He is very successful in examining the foundation and growth of the "conservative space agenda" and its linkage to various space advocacy groups. He also shows how conservative space advocates were able to manipulate the political system to achieve funding for their technological goal, a "Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO)" reusable launch vehicle.
Butrica's book is the only book-length history of SSTO technologies other than memoirs of participants, and hence it addresses an important original topic.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of the Search for Spaceflight's Holy Grail Jan. 6 2004
By Roger D. Launius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Andrew Butrica's new book is part of a growing literature on the politics of space. The best known work in this genre is Walter McDougall's Pulitizer Prize-winning volume, "...the Heavens and the Earth." While McDougall's work was written in the early 1980s (published in 1985), still inside the framework of the Cold War, "Single Stage to Orbit" is able to take a more wholistic approach allowed by the passage of more time. That is also partly because Butrica's subject focuses on a single type of space hardware after its demise. His analysis clearly extends and to some extent revises McDougall's conclusions about the nature of technocracy in modern American society.
Butrica does a brilliant job explicating how the American political right gained hold of the ideology of progress in the last two decades of the twentieth century. His goal is to place the history of the Strategic Defense Initiative Office/"single stage to orbit" spaceplane effort in the context of the United States' well-documented political "right turn" of the past two-plus decades. He is very successful in examining the foundation and growth of the "conservative space agenda" and its linkage to various space advocacy groups. He also shows how conservative space advocates were able to manipulate the political system to achieve funding for their technological goal, a "Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO)" reusable launch vehicle.
Butrica's book is the only book-length history of SSTO technologies other than memoirs of participants, and hence it addresses an important original topic. What makes the book worthy of serious and sustained attention, however, is its explicit examination of the "politics of space" and its linkage of space politics to a specific set of technologies and management practices. The conservative space agenda he reveals in this book has not yet been the subject of historical analysis, and this is the book's primary contribution to the space history literature.
In itself, there is nothing overwhelmingly compelling about the story of SSTO. It was an effort begun in the 1980s, emphasized by Reaganite technological afficianadoes, to create a new space access capability through the development of a new space launcher. SSTO had long been the "holy grail" of spaceflight, the creation of a vehicle that could take off like an airplane, accelerate to hypersonic speeds, reach orbital velocity and enter orbit, and then return from space and land like an airplane on a runway. This is a very complex flight regime and one that has been impossible to achieve up to this time. Most engineers have thought it unachievable, and appropriately so, but it remained an enticing goal.
During the Reagan administration, some enthusiasts argued that technological stretch could make possible the "single stage to orbit" goal, and they achieved approval for a succession of SSTO programs. The tensions of the story are those of domestic politics and of engineers associated with industry versus those with government. The story plays out over several design projects from the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) through the DC-X to the X-33 of the 1990s. The story of these efforts is told in detail in this important new book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sure Thing Aug. 25 2008
By Christopher Gaska - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is an account of the behind the scenes machinations that occur when a particularly large and lucrative rice bowl is tipped over. G. Harry Stine has written on the subject along with Dr. Jerry Pournelle. If you are interested in the inside scoop on doing business in the aerospace industry, there are insights to be gleaned from this tome. Good modern history lessons here.
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