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   A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 - The Space Race Begins

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Author Topic:   A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 - The Space Race Begins
cspg
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posted 07-10-2007 10:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 — The Space Race Begins by Michael D'Antonio
quote:
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael D'Antonio captures the wackiness of the first year of the space race as the Americans scrambled desperately to match the Soviets and President Eisenhower intervened to guarantee that the space program would not be run by the military.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite into orbit around the earth. Little more than a month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik II. News of Sputnik created panic in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States. Within days, the U.S. military began a madcap race to space full of crashes, skullduggery, and backstabbing until Eisenhower's secret civilian program surpassed the Soviets by putting the first American -- a hero monkey named Gordo -- into orbit.

D'Antonio draws on archives, film footage, and interviews with many of the scientists, reporters, and others who were involved in the first year of the space race. He recounts the early days of the space race with all the zaniness and urgency of the time, just in time for fiftieth anniversary commemorations.


  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743294319
  • Amazon.com Link

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-10-2007 10:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am currently reading this book, on assignment to review it for Ad Astra magazine. I plan to share my review on cS as well, when ready.

cspg
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posted 07-11-2007 12:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert,

looking forward to your review. I guess that many more books will come out over the next year (Sputnik and NASA at 50) so it's good to have some feedback on those publications.

Chris.

art540
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posted 07-11-2007 06:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The comment about Gordo going into orbit needs to be corrected. One site mentioned his flight went beyond earth orbit... I assume it meant the Jupiter trajectory was higher than a low earth orbit satellite would reach.

Dwayne Day
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posted 08-24-2007 11:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From Publishers Weekly
The Soviet Union captured the world's attention in November 1957 when it shot a shaggy little mutt named Laika (Barker) into space on Sputnik II, which followed closely after Sputnik I, the first satellite ever launched. Pulitzer prize–winning journalist D'Antonio (The State Boys Rebellion) recounts how Americans, even though frightened by the Soviets' apparent superiority in space, warmed to Russian reports on the pooch. The daily paper in Huntsville, Ala.—where Nazi rocket meister Wernher von Braun was scheming to get his Redstone rockets into space—advertised the local pound with a picture of a refugee from the Soviet space program suspended from a parachute. D'Antonio chronicles the frenzied year of 1958, when the U.S. Army and Air Force hawked their competing rocket designs to a president apparently more interested in his golf game, and an ambitious senator named Lyndon Johnson made political hay out of rockets exploding on the launch pad. American rocketeers wrapped up the year by sending a laid-back monkey named Gordo into orbit. Space buffs will be familiar with most of the details of D'Antonio's story, but his fast-paced narrative incorporates firsthand accounts of everyday citizens caught up in the excitement of America's push into space. 8 pages of photos.

ColinBurgess
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posted 08-24-2007 11:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Having recently had "Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle" published (co-authored with Chris Dubbs) I have quite an interest in this book and have placed a pre-order with Amazon. I just hope that the Publisher's Weekly reviewer got it wrong about Gordo and not the author: Gordo only flew a suborbital ballistic mission, not one that orbited the Earth.

Colin

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-24-2007 11:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ColinBurgess:
I just hope that the Publisher's Weekly reviewer got it wrong about Gordo and not the author: Gordo only flew a suborbital ballistic mission, not one that orbited the Earth.
Indeed, it was the publisher; D'Antonio describes BioFlight 1 as the suborbital flight it was.

Gordo's story plays a very minor part of the book, sharing a chapter that devotes more of its focus to Project SCORE.

So long as you're not expecting a book to delve deeply into the technical details of any of the flights of 1957 and 1958 but rather deliver a social history of the start of the space age, I suspect you'll enjoy A Ball, a Dog and a Monkey. It was a quick read and one that kept me engrossed with both new and familiar details about those early years. Much of its charm is derived from the cast of characters D'Antonio chose to profile — from "Wickie Mouse's" namesake to the U.S. airman who stole Sputnik from the Soviets.

My review is running in the next issue of Ad Astra and as soon as it appears, I'll reprint it here.

Philip
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posted 08-25-2007 01:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Guess we will see lots & lots of books commemorating the Half Century birthday of space events

cspg
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posted 08-26-2007 12:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Philip,

see my previous posts in this section!- June 15, July 10. (I haven't seen any new titles since my last post).

Chris.

Philip
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posted 08-26-2007 02:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
O.K. Chris, I just wanted to point out that since 2007, all space events are going to celebrate their Half Century anniversary... Good occasion(s) to write about those missions that particularly interest writers

cspg
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From: Geneva, Switzerland
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posted 08-26-2007 10:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Philip,

I know, I know!
By the way that's just what David Harland is doing with his collection of Apollo-mission related books (have to wait until 2012 for Apollo 17!).

And if authors and/or publishers could read and post on collectSPACE their upcoming publications, that would be great! (and I wouldn't have to do it ).

Chris.

Dwayne Day
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posted 08-27-2007 10:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
to the U.S. airman who stole Sputnik from the Soviets.

So what does he say about this?

I had not heard of that incident before, although a friend tells me that it has appeared in print. I have written about the overnight kidnapping of the Lunik in Mexico City.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

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posted 08-27-2007 10:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwayne Day:
So what does he say about this?
Well, I don't want to steal D'Antonio's thunder, but the basics are that a U.S. airman, who a year earlier was among the first Americans to detect Sputnik (though he/they didn't know what they were intercepting at the time), with a group of unidentified (in the book, at least) intelligent officers "borrowed" a Sputnik from the Soviet pavilion at Expo 58 in Brussels. Not much was learned from the heist, as by then the Soviets had shared the details of the instrumentation package and their photos of the satellite's innards showed no other equipment than what had been released. Still, the caper went unreported for years.

Dwayne Day
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posted 08-27-2007 01:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Well, I don't want to steal D'Antonio's thunder...

...Still, the caper went unreported for years.


Thanks. A friend says he has seen this report before, so I suspect that D'Antonio got it from a secondary source.

We researchers learn that there's a difference between "new information" and "new to me..."

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-27-2007 01:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwayne Day:
A friend says he has seen this report before, so I suspect that D'Antonio got it from a secondary source.
D'Antonio makes no allusion in the book that he is breaking news, but he did interview the airman in question for A Ball, a Dog and a Monkey and thus its firsthand information. My reference to not wanting to steal his thunder was more in regards to not wanting to give away the book or what I thought was one of its more charming chapters.

Dwayne Day
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posted 08-27-2007 03:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
but he did interview the airman in question for A Ball, a Dog and a Monkey and thus its firsthand information.

That's good to hear. I'm glad that he did some primary source research.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

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posted 10-04-2007 05:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A Beep, a Bark and a Bioflight
A half-century after it began, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist looks back at the first year of the Space Age.

"A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 — The Space Race Begins"
Michael D’Antonio
Simon & Schuster, New York, 2007

Review by Robert Z. Pearlman

Historical anniversaries, especially those that fall at the quarter, half and century marks, are popular fodder for historians, authors and filmmakers. Space exploration milestones in particular, being a popular topic with the general public, have inspired several shelves-full of retrospectives, biographies and pretty picture books.

The fiftieth anniversary of the space age / space race is no exception. At the time of this writing, there are nearly a dozen new or revised titles planned to coincide with the October 4, 1957 anniversary of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, entering Earth orbit. Among these are coffee-table books, sweeping compendiums of the last 50 years in space, and studies of how one small sphere changed the world.

A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey is none of these. Rather, author Michael D'Antonio delivers a detailed, often engaging and, at times intimate view of the events of the first year following the launch of the Soviet Union's and the United States' first satellites.

Beginning before the first rocket left the atmosphere, D'Antonio introduces the reader to the figures on both sides of the Atlantic that would play a pivotal role in the shape of things to come. Behind the Iron Curtain were Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who initially didn't comprehend the scientific -- or more importantly, propaganda -- value of Sputnik but very quickly came to embrace its role; and the hidden man behind its design and success, known only as the Chief Designer (both to the world at the time and to D'Antonio's readers until well into the book).

In the United States were, of course, President Eisenhower and his administration, as well as scientist James van Allen, whose experiments would fly aboard America's first satellite, Explorer I; and Wernher von Braun, who with Army General Bruce Medaris, would simultaneously compete for the job against the Air Force and develop the rocket that would loft Explorer.

Their story and the events they made happen between 1957 and 1958 have been told in numerous other books, and D'Antonio cites them in his retelling. Where A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey separates itself from other Sputnik-inspired stories is the inclusion of lesser known but no less important individuals, who either shaped policy or the way in which we, the public, learned of the results.

Bradford Whipple, for example, was a 20-year-old airman serving in West Germany, transcribing Russian voice intercepts when the yet-to-be-announced Sputnik flew overhead. His and his fellow airmen were likely the first Americans to detect the new satellite, though they didn't know it at the time. That alone might be enough of a 'claim to fame' for Whipple, but his next encounter with the Soviet sphere would be far more dramatic, if not far closer, as well.

Nearly a year later, under the guise of darkness and under the influence of a few rounds of beers, Whipple and a small group of unidentified intelligence officers would set out and succeed at temporary "borrowing" a Sputnik from the Soviet's pavilion at the 1958 world's fair ("Expo '58") in Brussels. Though the caper would return little if any useful information but to confirm the lack of any secret instruments inside, the night Sputnik was stolen would go unreported for years.

There's little doubt that Jay Barbree and Wickie Stivers, two other "characters" from D'Antonio's tale, would have jumped at the chance for such a story, if only they were to have known. Among the first reporters to cover the space beat from the Cape, Barbree -- long before becoming the NBC veteran he is now -- was better known at the time as "Mobile Mike", providing local traffic reports for Cocoa Beach commuters. Stivers' name would become known as a result of her lending it to a mouse, "Wickie Mouse" during one of the first biological test flights conducted by the U.S.

D'Antonio, who shared the Pulitizer Prize with a team of writers at Newsday, and whose earlier non-fiction work includes a biography of "Chocolate King" Milton Hershey and a history of American Eugenics (The State Boys Rebellion), crafts his account of the early space age to read more like a novel than a text book, drawing the reader back into the late 1950s. His 'cast of characters' comes alive in their settings -- from the White House and Congress in Washington, DC, to the burgeoning "Rocket City" in Huntsville, Alabama, and from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the USSR's Baikonur Cosmodrome -- in no small part thanks to his attention to the smaller details of their surroundings.

A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey derives its title from three events during those early years. The 'Ball' is Sputnik; the 'Dog', Laika, the first living creature to enter orbit aboard Sputnik II; and a 'Monkey' refers to Gordo, a squirrel monkey chosen for its tendency to fall asleep inside its space capsule and who would ultimately take the very long sleep in the name of exploration. While these milestones help shape the course of D'Antonio's book, it is the people he chose to profile, rather than the payloads they made possible, that bring the reader into the space race, 50 years later.

Philip
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From: Brussels, Belgium
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posted 10-08-2007 03:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
O.K. Robert ... reading books on assignment must be great

cspg
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posted 10-09-2007 12:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Depends on the book!
And if you're being paid or not!
At least you've got a free copy.

Chris.

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