John Gribbin

Fly Me to the Moon

Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age

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Bloomsbury 322pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest

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Jonathan Cape 320pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Among the flood of books pegged to the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, these two form a nicely complementary pair. Matthew Brzezinski concentrates on the story from the Second World War up to the launch of Sputnik and its belated American counterpart Explorer, with particular emphasis on the Soviet side of the story. Gerard DeGroot takes the story all the way up to the first moon landings, but focuses on the American space programme. Between them, the books make absolutely clear the appalling waste of resources that was involved in the space race, in particular the manned space programmes. It has almost become a cliché to say that the Soviet Union was destroyed by, as much as anything else, its economically unsustainable militaristic competition with the United States; and manned space missions using 1960s technology were never anything other than militaristic propaganda. But Dark Side of the Moon also spells out just how much American progress in dealing with issues such as poverty and civil rights was held back by the lunar commitment. Arguably, both former adversaries are still suffering the consequences.

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