This 1985 book by Walter A. McDougall is a real eye opener, especially if all you know about the early space program is the famous excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s speech laying out the “end of the decade” target for landing humans on the moon.
It starts much earlier than that, really with the beginning of the 20th century. Most revealing is the recounting of the post World War II race by the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. for missile dominance. The chapter on the first satellite launches is very interesting and shows how close the U.S. had been to actually being the first to orbit a satellite.
The subtitle is quite accurate; this is a political history, not a technological history. The ins and outs of the debates during the Eisenhower administration show how the foundations of NASA and the U.S. space program were forged. The role of Lyndon Johnson is detailed, as is Eisenhower’s very practical and pragmatic approach to promoting civilian control - and economy - over the U.S. space program.
This is a long book with over 552 pages. The interested reader can dive in at any point and be rewarded by learning something.
Copyright (c) 2004 by Dennis D. McDonald