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This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age [Hardcover]

William E. Burrows
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 22 1998
It was all part of man's greatest adventure--landing men on the Moon and sending a rover to Mars, finally seeing the edge of the universe and the birth of stars, and launching planetary explorers across the solar system to Neptune and beyond.
        
The ancient dream of breaking gravity's hold and taking to space became a reality only because of the intense cold-war rivalry between the superpowers, with towering geniuses like Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolyov shelving dreams of space travel and instead developing rockets for ballistic missiles and space spectaculars. Now that Russian archives are open and thousands of formerly top-secret U.S. documents are declassified, an often startling new picture of the space age emerges:

the frantic effort by the Soviet Union to beat the United States to the Moon was doomed from the beginning by gross inefficiency and by infighting so treacherous that Winston Churchill likened it to "dogs fighting under a carpet";

there was more than science behind the United States' suggestion that satellites be launched during the International Geophysical Year, and in one crucial respect, Sputnik was a godsend to Washington;

the hundred-odd German V-2s that provided the vital start to the U.S. missile and space programs legally belonged to the Soviet Union and were spirited to the United States in a derring-do operation worthy of a spy thriller;

despite NASA's claim that it was a civilian agency, it had an intimate relationship with the military at the outset and still does--a distinction the Soviet Union never pretended to make;

constant efforts to portray astronauts and cosmonauts as "Boy Scouts" were often contradicted by reality;

the Apollo missions to the Moon may have been an unexcelled political triumph and feat of exploration, but they also created a headache for the space agency that lingers to this day.

        
This New Ocean is based on 175 interviews with Russian and American scientists and engineers; on archival documents, including formerly top-secret National Intelligence Estimates and spy satellite pictures; and on nearly three decades of reporting. The impressive result is this fascinating story--the first comprehensive account--of the space age. Here are the strategists and war planners; engineers and scientists; politicians and industrialists; astronauts and cosmonauts; science fiction writers and journalists; and plain, ordinary, unabashed dreamers who wanted to transcend gravity's shackles for the ultimate ride. The story is written from the perspective of a witness who was present at the beginning and who has seen the conclusion of the first space age and the start of the second.

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More comprehensive than The Right Stuff, more critical than Apollo 13, This New Ocean is a near-perfect history of the men (and occasional women) who have "slipped the surly bonds of Earth." Eminent science journalist and space expert William E. Burrows covers just about everyone in history--from Daedalus to John Glenn--who ever designed or flew a rocket, trying to "ride the arrow" to the moon and beyond. It's a trail of testosterone from start to finish, but it makes for an engrossing read. One of Burrows's most interesting points is that without the cold war we never would have made it into space. He writes, "...the rocket would forever serve two masters at the same time, or rather a single master with two dispositions: one for war and one for peace." Werner von Braun, Robert Goddard, and other rocketry pioneers may indeed have wanted to explore space, but they knew the only way to get there was on the military's back.

Burrows extensively researched his subject, and he seems to want to include a little bit of everything; too much detail bogs down the narrative in places. Then again, he is no apologist for the space programs of the United States and the former U.S.S.R., and to tell their complete stories requires laying a great deal of political and scientific groundwork. When it comes to the great, memorable moments in space history, Burrows really shines. In telling the stories of Sputnik's first orbit, Neil Armstrong's moonwalk, Challenger's fiery death, and Sojourner's Martian road trip, he captures both the gee-whiz technological accomplishment and the very human emotions of the men and women involved. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

"The cold war was over. The great space race was over. And the first space age was over, too." With these simple sentences, written in the past tense, Burrows (Deep Black; Exploring Space, etc.), director of NYU's Science and Environmental Reporting Program, connects with Gen-X readers, to whom space exploration has always been part of history; with pre-baby boomers, who have seen the full unfolding of humanity's great leap outward in their lifetimes; and with everyone in between. Burrows's richly documented book tells the story of how simple earthlingsAfallible creatures living under imperfect political systemsAtranscended foibles, corruption, depravity and flawed machines to discover other worlds and, what is more important, their own. For the space enthusiast, Burrows offers a complete, authoritative history of the technology that allowed us to explore space and the people who created and managed that technology. For those who struggle to understand the nature of humanity, it offers new insights into old paradoxes. For those who ask where we are going, it offers hope. Although we have the potential to destroy our species and our planet, the second space age now beginning, Burrows makes clear, will be marked by our arrival and survival in other worlds. The legacy of the first space age, as expressed through his remarkable book, is the knowledge that our species is capable of both outliving our planet and destroying it. The legacy of the second will be the choices we make based on that knowledge. We are voyagers embarking on yet another "new ocean"; Burrows provides invaluable lessons to help us navigate the sea of stars. Sixteen pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly a political history June 8 2004
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book very much, and thought it filled a niche I hadn't thought of before. Its strongest focus seems to be on the political environment of space exploration, where "political" has 2 meanings: 1) The traditional fight for funds in the US Congress and also the environments in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and 2) the infighting for limited funds among the different areas of the civilian and military space establishments. (The "office politics" of space, if you will.)
In this context, the book could be thought of as a space history from a management point of view. There's not a lot of technical detail here, esp. for those who have read a lot of space books. But Burrows does a good job of explaining why certain decisions were made in the different programs, given the historical context. It leads to a greater understanding of why we have the systems we have today, and how they have evolved, fight by political fight. The parts about the US spy satellites, the space shuttle, and solar system exploration were definitely enlightening from this point of view.
As noted with other reviews, "This New Ocean" has rather startling breadth, but sometimes maddeningly little depth. This is OK and to be expected in a survey book; my only problem was that it felt uneven. Some parts were covered with a broad stroke that gave the outlines but not every last detail, while others felt tacked on or thrown in. In particular, the development of the Russian space program after Khrushchev felt shallow, esp. coming after an extended section on the US program. This was a little unsatisfying, given the importance of Russian rockets in the more commercial environment of the post-Cold War world.
Overall though, this book is clearly recommended reading. It enlarged my view beyond just the science and technology to see how things get done, and has stimulated me and made me aware of new areas and ideas to learn about.
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Format:Paperback
William E. Burrows brings to the task of writing a comprehensive history of spaceflight a wealth of background and understanding. He added to that in-depth research and lucid writing to place between two covers the most exhaustive and complex history of the subject ever published. At some level, perhaps, he tries to do too much, but overall he succeeds admirably in explaining the political, technical, scientific, economic, and cultural history of humanity's recent adventure in space. It is a long read, and sometimes requires effort on the part of the reader to wade through exceptionally complex scenes, but "The New Ocean" is overall a stunning achievement. The chances are pretty good that readers will be able to answer almost any question they might have about spaceflight by referring to this book. And if they cannot find everything they want on the subject, the exhaustive bibliographical references point to additional material. I recommend this as a starting point for serious exploration of the history of spaceflight worldwide.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too many good stories for one volume Aug. 9 2001
Format:Paperback
The breadth of "This New Ocean" forces Burrows to treat the most compelling technical and personal achievements of the Space Age too lightly. With rocket launches more reliable today than fifty years ago, it's difficult to understand what the big deal was about the early rocket launches. A deeper engineering background than he offers would permit a better appreciation of the early rocketeers' work. Moreover, Burrows' writing seems heavy-handed at times (especially in condemning the effects of the Soviet political structure on research there). Burrows seems most comfortable writing on space-based reconnaissance (thanks to his earlier work on that subject), and he carefully relates the internecine funding battles of the 1950s and 1970s to the political climates of those times.
This volume is best used to place technological developments in a political context; look to Baker's "History of Manned Space Flight" or "The Rocket" for more careful consideration of the engineering.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and incredibly re-readable Oct. 12 2000
Format:Paperback
On the 30th anniversary of the 1st lunar landing, it was refreshing to read an account of the space race that looks past the heroics of manned space flight into the real dynamics of space exploration - the cold war and the internecing politics that fueled both civilian and military applications for spaceflight technologies. Beginning in the early 20th century and progressing with wartime Germany's co-opting of rocket science, we see a hobby for dilettantes become a mortally serios scientific endaevor. America's efforts, long considered lackluster throuought the war, had progressed far enough by its end to have surpassed the work of Robert Goddard, America's homegrown rocket-visionary. Progressing through the cold-war, overcoming Eisenhower's warnings of the big government needed to run both warlike and peaceful space efforts, the space race accelerates the pace of military technology and the military-industril complex, even as the US gov't strives to present civilian applications for rockets - manned exploration and satellites. As comprehensive a work as this, the author sometimes swamped by his own history. That the author can display a definite bias against manned spaceflight seems less a black mark against this heavy tome than a reminder that he has reoriented himself. A heavy work you'll have to read over and over.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thoroughly Researched History of Space
Burrows offers the best attempt so far at a comprehensive history of the Space Age in a single volume. There are two flaws. Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2001 by Matthew A. Bille
3.0 out of 5 stars A fine Space history book at someplaces.
This book is very loosely a space exploration history dealing with the actual missions. It is more of how space exploration happens and not what happened during the missions. Read more
Published on March 29 2001 by John Hawkins
2.0 out of 5 stars Overly biased and superficial
Rather than providing us with an impartial, well-told narrative of space exploration, Burrows apparently feels the need to tell the story of virtually every political and... Read more
Published on June 4 2000 by Tyler Peterson
4.0 out of 5 stars Broad, politically-focused account of the space program
Whew! I feel as if I've spent a significant chunk of my life reading this book! It's a sweeping history of the space program that delves deeply into the background and... Read more
Published on April 16 2000 by Kevin W. Parker
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
More a political history than a technical one, and not very engaging. I agree, though, that the research is broad.
Published on Oct. 14 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars For serious space enthusiasts only
An exhaustive and outstanding compendium that catalogues the entire space effort over the past fifty years with emphasis on both civilian and military ventures as well as manned... Read more
Published on Sept. 16 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history of "the space age"
This was an enjoyable read and it would take a good read to make me hang in there for 650 pages (not counting biblio and index). Read more
Published on July 28 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars THE comprehensive history of space exploration
William Burrows has compiled a complete and detailed history of the space program from the earliest thoughts and writings about the nature of space and space travel, to the present... Read more
Published on April 27 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Do the world a favor, read this book and pass it on.
The first two chapters offer a summary of humankind's attempts at space travel OVER THE LAST THOUSAND PLUS YEARS -- information which can be found easily no where else. Read more
Published on April 23 1999
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