To the Moon

A Review of Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space
by Deborah Cadbury

Author Biography

Deborah Cadbury is a highly acclaimed, award-winning author, producer and journalist. She has written several books, including Dreams of Iron and Steel, The Lost King of France, and Terrible Lizard. She has won numerous international awards, including an Emmy, as a producer for the BBC, specializing in fundamental issues of science and history and their effects on today’s society. She is now living in London.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s lunar module separated from Mike Collins and the Saturn V rocket to start the descent to the moon’s surface. At 3:17 pm central time, the lunar module landed on the surface of the moon as the astronauts reported that the “Eagle has landed.”1 As Armstrong left Aldrin on the lunar module, he stepped onto the ladder and descended into the history books, as the first man, the first American on the moon. As he stepped off the last rung and made the first footprints on that cold, distant world, 600 million people watched from their televisions on earth. Even the Soviets tuned in to the see the historic event which they thought would be theirs. There Armstrong was in his “strange white suit, his golden helmet meant to ward off the sun’s rays, its reflective visor obscuring his features, turning him into Everyman.”2 Then, he spoke the immortal words, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”3 Unfortunately, it is not common knowledge of what it took to get to that point. There were lives lost and sacrificed to get the basics of rocket science. The space race became a competition between the two great superpowers, America and the Soviet Union, as a face off between “capitalism and Communism.”4 Not only was this a matter of victory and national pride, but also of the nation’s security and worldwide steadiness.

On January 17, 1945, the Soviet army was getting close to Peenemünde. Kammler, the director of a German rocket research facility, told his staff that if need be, they were to take up arms and fight. Wernher von Braun, the leading engineer, pulled his advisors and senior staff aside and made a pact, “They would follow Kammler’s orders, but their secret goal was America.”5 Ever since he was a little boy, he had dreamed of building rockets that would take man into space and he knew that America was the only country that could financially help him. Hitler finally decided to move Wernher von Braun and his team to Mittelwerk, where the V-2 rockets were made by slave labor, in central Germany to keep them safe. Near the end of the war, this complex would be “one of the largest operational industrial complexes in Germany.”6 Hitler was losing, so he ordered that anything valuable that could fall into enemy hands must be destroyed. Von Braun and his team knew they needed to escape, or risk being killed. Von Braun only trusted two men, Dieter Huzel and Bernhard Tessman, to hide the valuable blueprints of the rockets. Meanwhile, U.S. Major Robert Staver was put in charge of finding the new German weapon and the men who designed it. He joined with Col. Tofty to investigate Peenemünde, salvage what was left, and look for the scientists. When von Braun and his team arrived in the Alps, they were kept as prisoners; the German army didn’t want their scientists to escape or worse, to fall into enemy hands. Von Braun now knew they had to escape. So on May 2, Magnus, von Braun’s brother and fellow scientist, was sent out to find the Americans so they could help the scientists flee from their German imprisonment. He rode down the mountain and found them; he explained their situation and the Americans came to the rescue. Major Staver was overjoyed now that he had the scientists that he needed under American protection.

Boris Chertok and Aleksey Isayev helped the Soviets find the parts of the V-2 rockets and Vasily Mishin was the scientist who figured out how to make the V-2 from the partial blueprints found in the tunnels. German scientist Helmut Gröttrup had worked on the original V-2 design and decided to join the Soviet side along with Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, a fellow rocket scientist. Back in America, the War Department approved Operation Overcast on July 19, which stated that the civilian scientists could come to the US and work for the government. Korolev and Mishin helped found the Institute Nordhausen where Korolev was made deputy director and leading engineer. On April 29, 1946, the Allies banned rocket research of any type. Ignoring this, the Soviets launched the Soviet V-2, renamed R-1, on October 18, 1947. During this first launch, the platform started to tilt because one of the support beams had become loose. While the scientists and officials ran for cover, the workmen rushed towards the fully fueled rocket without any regard for their own lives. The launch was then a successful one. Back in America, during September of 1947, a report submitted by the U.S. Office of Military Government stated that von Braun and his fellow colleagues were “regarded as a potential security threat.”7 A few months later on December 4, 1947, the Director of Joint Intelligence was unhappy with this report and made them issue another. On February 26, 1948 they cleared von Braun and his scientist’s completely.

In August 1949, when the Soviets had tested an atomic bomb, the American public was now terrified that they would be attacked. The U.S. army asked von Braun and his team to make a nuclear weapon that could travel over 200 miles, and, in November of 1952, they detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb. On September 20, 1956, the Pentagon rejected the plan by Wernher to launch the Jupiter C which was capable of taking a satellite into orbit. The lone rocket reached a height of 682 feet traveling at 3,335 miles at 16,000 mph. Then, at 10:45 pm, on January 31, 1958, the Explorer satellite was successfully launched into orbit with its signal loud and clear. The signal they heard “was the sound of success.”8 On May 15, two minutes into the flight, Korolev’s R-7 rocket failed, one of the strap-on rockets fell off and the rocket plunged into the ground. Korolev then took the next step and sent a dog, Laika, into space. Unfortunately, she died only 6 hours into the flight from over-heating.

On July 29, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed and von Braun was made director of the entire NASA center. On April 9, 1959, NASA announced the seven astronauts that would be the first Americans in space. They were John Glenn, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. Slayton, M. Scott Carpenter, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. ‘Gus’ Grissom and L. Gordon Cooper. Finally, on September 9, 1959, “Big Joe” was launched, and successfully fell into the Atlantic ocean, only 500 miles off target.9 On August 19, 1960, in the USSR, another canine launch took place sending Belka and Strelka into orbit, the first living creatures to return to Earth alive. Korolev chose Yuri Gagarin to be the first Soviet cosmonaut and man into space. He was launched in the Vostok 3A on April 12, 1961, at 9:07 am. At 10:25 am, the retro rockets didn’t fire all the way, sending him into a spin. Gagarin barely had time to press the ejection button and fell home to receive a hero’s welcome.

The Soviet space program made another breakthrough with the August 13th launch of the cosmonaut Titov, who made a twenty-four hour orbit around the earth seventeen times. The USSR set another milestone on June 15, 1963 by sending the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space. The Soviets became the first to have men orbit the moon on October 12, 1964, and Alesky Leonov became the first man to take a space walk. The first American manned Gemini mission was flown by Gus Grimssom and John Young in the Gemini 3. Shortly afterwards on June 3, 1965, Edward White made a 20-minute space walk on Gemini 4. In December, Americans made a new record of two-weeks in space with the Gemini 7. On January 12, Korolev was hospitalized with a malignant tumor in which his heart gave out after an eight-hour surgery. After his death, the Kremlin decided to unmask the man behind the Soviet’s success in the space race. Hundreds of thousands attended his funeral to pay their respects to the man who gave them “the greatest victory of mankind.”10 Then, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong won the race to the moon for America by being the first man to walk on the surface of the moon.

Deborah Cadbury identifies in this book, two men willing to give their lives for the chance to see their creation take people to the moon and beyond: Sergei Korolev and Wernher von Braun. Both men went through horrible ordeals before they started work for the Soviet Union and America respectively. Von Braun chose to work with the United States, claiming that they were the only country that would have the money to support a space program. However, he received a challenge produced by Korolev who chose his native country—the Soviet Union. Cadbury’s point of view is very middle-of-the-road. She displays both sides of the story without bias. She doesn’t make the Americans sound great and the Soviets sound evil despite being an American. Both of these men gave their hearts, bodies, and souls into their work for their countries, and Cadbury respects that in her telling of their stories. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the American public had a real trust problem with their government. First, there was the Vietnam War where the president told the Senate and the House a made up story of a navy ship being attacked. Then, there was the Watergate scandal with Nixon. The Space Race, during Kennedy’s presidency gave Americans hope that their government was doing something for them. This same hope was smashed by the later events of the era.

This book was published in 2006 and has the “whole exhilarating story of the race into space based on just-released material from the Soviet archives.”11 Now, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the space program’s secrets that were guarded fervently by the Kremlin for decades have finally been exposed. Cadbury was even able to locate and read Korolev’s private diaries and look at the entries from when they launched the rockets. A weakness of this book would be how she divides it up. While reading it, it is easy to get lost as to whom the section is talking about. She switches back and forth between the United States and von Braun, and the Soviet Union and Korolev. Cadbury could have also organized the chapters in her book better, such as by year or by country. Also, there aren’t always years on the dates that she uses. Even the prior text doesn’t show what the year is. In certain parts, there isn’t a year for pages, making it difficult to know what was happening in America relative to what was happening in the Soviet Union. In addition, Cadbury could have put more commentary into the book, making it more than just facts; she could have put more of her own personality into the pages.

In Kirkus’ 2006 review of the book they call it “First-rate research and reporting.”12 Cadbury has made a four-part BBC/National series about this same topic. She depicts both sides of the story through the main characters of each: Sergei Korolev and Wernher von Braun. One was a “homegrown hero”13 and the other an “American immigrant warrior.”14 When America caught von Braun, they won the biggest scientist prize, the master engineer and designer himself. The author explores von Braun’s horrific, unsettling past as a member of the SS and the Nazi party. Then, the United States covered this up along with his part with slave labor and the designing of the bombs that destroyed London. Though the Soviets had more firsts, like the first man and woman in space, the first animals, and the first satellite into orbit, the Americans pulled through in the end to win the ultimate prize of landing on the moon. It was a “swift, exciting history of the race to the moon, from Sputnik to ‘The Eagle has landed.’”15

Deborah Cadbury’s Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space is the first book to finally tell the truth about both sides. She uses “never-before-seen documents and source materials” to tell the entire story.16 Cadbury illustrates the two main differences between von Braun and Korolev their budgets. While Korolev had to struggle with almost no budget, von Braun had unlimited resources. If Korolev failed, he could have been killed or tortured, therefore, failure was not an option for him. On the other hand, von Braun became one of the first celebrities out of the space program. But they had one big thing in common; they were both passionate and committed to sending man to the moon. This amazing book brings together exploration and nervousness with a moving insight into the human mind during the race to be the first in space, the first in orbit, and the first on the moon.

This was a major event in the United States history with nothing like a race between two superpowers to get to the hearts of their citizens. Politically, this showed that our country was superior. That, at the end of the day, capitalism would beat the idea of Communism. Since America has democracy and is a free nation, its people are happier and will work harder. It has a higher sense of patriotism due to the fact that it gave its society rights and freedoms that the Soviets didn’t have. When it comes to economics, the United States makes more money than the Soviets because it is a capitalistic society. The more the country looks like its doing well, the more things like the stock market go up. And when the stock market goes up, the economy booms. Historically, it gives Americans something to be proud of, something that they all have in common and can look to as inspiration. If those men went to the moon, anything is possible.

Before the United States went into the Cold War with the Soviet Union, it was post-WWII America. Times were hard as money and food were scarce, but things were looking up. The hippies were around and the youths were running wild. New electronics and computers were coming out to improve the household and lives of people. When America started making advancements in its space program, it showed the people that their government was doing something for them, and people starting believing in their government. They had hope. They trusted their leaders more. They weren’t afraid of putting money into banks or paying taxes because they knew it was going towards a better future. Their government was working on improving the image and reputation of the United States. Due to the events in the 1960s and 1970s, America is different today. America has the privilege of saying it sent the first man to the moon. Women, blacks and youths have more freedoms and rights. It is not unusual to see women in the workplace, or a youth in a tie and suit going to an internship, or an African-American man or woman in a leadership role. True, some of the sixties and seventies were rocky, and the drugs and sex didn’t show America in a good light, but America is better today because of it. America has taken tremendous steps forward since then, but they don’t forget their history and how they got there today.

The American and Soviet race to space was a thriving era. The competition fueled technology to go above and beyond anything that could have been foreseen. This battle made it possible for man to walk on the moon and see earth from more than 200,000 miles away. In her book, Cadbury shows the true fathers of the modern space programs of Russia and America. Korolev was the anonymous chief engineer who led his team to numerous victories for the Soviet Union and who later became the father of the Soviet space program. Then there’s von Braun, to whom Cadbury poses the question “Was the man a genius… or a war criminal?”17 The book depicts him as a man trying to follow his dream. Both men have sacrificed everything they had to build their dreams and see them come true. This is a book of determination, imagination, and inspiration. They stuck to their goals, and took to the moon.

review by Erin Langdorf

  1. Cadbury, Deborah. Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space. ` HarperCollins Publishers, 2006, 333.
  2. Cadbury, Deborah 333.
  3. Cadbury, Deborah 333.
  4. Cadbury, Deborah ix.
  5. Cadbury, Deborah 14.
  6. Cadbury, Deborah 24.
  7. Cadbury, Deborah 120.
  8. Cadbury, Deborah 174.
  9. Cadbury, Deborah 197.
  10. Cadbury, Deborah 295.
  11. National Book Review Service Space Race by Deborah Cadbury. Online. 31 May 2006. .
  12. Kirkus Reviews Space Race by Deborah Cadbury. 05 May 2006. Online.02 Jun 2006..
  13. Kirkus Reviews.
  14. Kirkus Reviews.
  15. Kirkus Reviews.
  16. National Book Review Service.
  17. Cadbury, Deborah 36.

© 2006 Irvine High School

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