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To a Distant Day – Chris Gainor ***

It’s entertaining, in a way, that the expression ‘It’s not rocket science’ has such a hold because if there’s one bit of technology that’s not rocket science, it’s, er, rocket science. I am not saying that it is easy to get successful rockets into space – the many failures, crashes and burns of the early space programme attest to this, and space flight remains a risky activity. But the science itself is pretty straightforward – far more Isaac Newton than Einstein.

This is an effective and straightforward history of the development of rocket flight in the US, Russia and Germany. With some background on the history of rockets, we find out plenty about key characters like Goddard, Tsiolovsky, Oberth and von Braun. All the successes and failures along the way are carefully spelled out. There is enough about the people to avoid this being a purely technological saga – all in all, it does the job well.

This book is not really in competition with an in-depth study of the key US versus USSR period, typified by Deborah Cadbury’s Space Race. In fact it stops once manned space flight has begun. But it fills in considerably more detail about those early faltering steps than other books and is well worth adding to a spaceflight library.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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