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29 June 2021 IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON: AMERICA. RUSSIA, AND THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE SPACE RACE by Amy Cherrix, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, February 2021, 336p., ISBN: 978-0-06-288875-4


“What goes up, must come down”

-- David Clayton-Thomas, “Spinning Wheel” (the #2 top song when the Eagle landed on the moon in 1969)


I vividly recall that night at Boy Scout camp in Gloversville, NY. We were sitting around the dining hall long after dark, munching snacks and watching a small TV, as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface and made history. 


The space race that led up to that moment is the subject of IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON. Author Amy Cherrix frames the often-deadly race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as a competition between two dynamic, enigmatic engineers. The Russians had Sergei Korolev, who had suffered in prison, under Stalin, and whose identity was heavily guarded. The Americans had Wernher von Braun, whose background was, likewise, long hidden from the American public--with good reason:


“On July 20, 1969, seventeen days after the second failed N-1 rocket launch in the Soviet Union, Von Braun prepared to watch as his lifelong dream of space travel came true. America was about to attempt the world’s first moon landing. It was the realization of Wernher von Braun’s boyhood vision of building a spaceship. He had doodled its likeness in a school notebook. To secure funding for his rocket research, he had agreed to join the Nazi party and become an officer in Hiter’s SS. As his critics would later argue, this dream was von Braun’s justification for tuning a blind eye to the atrocities at the Nazi’s Mittelwerk V-2 factory. It was the reason he risked his life by betraying the Nazis to surrender to the United States at the end of World War II. During those early, dry Fort Bliss years, it had been his sustaining hope, before the US government opened its mind--and its wallet--to the possibilities of spaceflight. In exchange for his expertise and the V-2 technology, his status as a Nazi officer had been buried within classified documents. Every choice he had made had led to this moment, when his rocket would send humankind to the moon. Twenty-four years after arriving in the United States, Wernher von Braun was considered by many to be an American hero.”


There is plenty to ponder and discuss about the Faustian bargains entered into by the two superpowers in order to win this race.


“In less time than it took for Yangel to take a drag from his cigarette, the rocket’s fuel tank detonated.”


And when you are working with some of the most explosive substances known to man, things could--and often did--go wrong. Control towers were located miles from launch pads for good reason. In one of the most haunting accidents described by the author, The Russians were employing a particularly volatile fuel in 1960 when an “electrical error” led to a three-thousand-degree inferno that instantly incinerated 126 people working at a launchpad.


There are also lighter-hearted moments, like Alan Shepard surviving peeing in his spacesuit when his 1961 fifteen minute flight into space was delayed for hours due to engineering difficulties.


All in all, this is a great piece of American history that will appeal to many kids who otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead reading history books. It will also be embraced by tomorrow’s dreamers and doers who imagine the limitlessness of the universe we inhabit and want a shot at helping explore the unknown.


It’s a true story that I lived through, and whose telling really moved me.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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