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The New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age
WILLIAM E. BURROWS

The New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age by William E. Burrows
23 reviews (1998) (723p)
Pulitzer Prize for History Finalist

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Book Description

It was all part of man's greatest adventure--landing men on the Moon and sending a rover to Mars, finally seeing the edge of the universe and the birth of stars, and launching planetary explorers across the solar system to Neptune and beyond.

The ancient dream of breaking gravity's hold and taking to space became a reality only because of the intense cold-war rivalry between the superpowers, with towering geniuses like Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolyov shelving dreams of space travel and instead developing rockets for ballistic missiles and space spectaculars. Now that Russian archives are open and thousands of formerly top-secret U.S. documents are declassified, an often startling new picture of the space age emerges:

  • the frantic effort by the Soviet Union to beat the United States to the Moon was doomed from the beginning by gross inefficiency and by infighting so treacherous that Winston Churchill likened it to "dogs fighting under a carpet";

  • there was more than science behind the United States' suggestion that satellites be launched during the International Geophysical Year, and in one crucial respect, Sputnik was a godsend to Washington;

  • the hundred-odd German V-2s that provided the vital start to the U.S. missile and space programs legally belonged to the Soviet Union and were spirited to the United States in a derring-do operation worthy of a spy thriller;

  • despite NASA's claim that it was a civilian agency, it had an intimate relationship with the military at the outset and still does--a distinction the Soviet Union never pretended to make;

  • constant efforts to portray astronauts and cosmonauts as "Boy Scouts" were often contradicted by reality;

  • the Apollo missions to the Moon may have been an unexcelled political triumph and feat of exploration, but they also created a headache for the space agency that lingers to this day.


This New Ocean is based on 175 interviews with Russian and American scientists and engineers; on archival documents, including formerly top-secret National Intelligence Estimates and spy satellite pictures; and on nearly three decades of reporting. The impressive result is this fascinating story--the first comprehensive account--of the space age. Here are the strategists and war planners; engineers and scientists; politicians and industrialists; astronauts and cosmonauts; science fiction writers and journalists; and plain, ordinary, unabashed dreamers who wanted to transcend gravity's shackles for the ultimate ride. The story is written from the perspective of a witness who was present at the beginning and who has seen the conclusion of the first space age and the start of the second.


Amazon.com Review
More comprehensive than The Right Stuff, more critical than Apollo 13, This New Ocean is a near-perfect history of the men (and occasional women) who have "slipped the surly bonds of Earth." Eminent science journalist and space expert William E. Burrows covers just about everyone in history--from Daedalus to John Glenn--who ever designed or flew a rocket, trying to "ride the arrow" to the moon and beyond. It's a trail of testosterone from start to finish, but it makes for an engrossing read. One of Burrows's most interesting points is that without the cold war we never would have made it into space. He writes, "...the rocket would forever serve two masters at the same time, or rather a single master with two dispositions: one for war and one for peace." Werner von Braun, Robert Goddard, and other rocketry pioneers may indeed have wanted to explore space, but they knew the only way to get there was on the military's back.

Burrows extensively researched his subject, and he seems to want to include a little bit of everything; too much detail bogs down the narrative in places. Then again, he is no apologist for the space programs of the United States and the former U.S.S.R., and to tell their complete stories requires laying a great deal of political and scientific groundwork. When it comes to the great, memorable moments in space history, Burrows really shines. In telling the stories of Sputnik's first orbit, Neil Armstrong's moonwalk, Challenger's fiery death, and Sojourner's Martian road trip, he captures both the gee-whiz technological accomplishment and the very human emotions of the men and women involved. --Therese Littleton


William E. Burrows Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 1  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 1  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 1 The New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age ·  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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