Breaking The Chains Of Gravity
The Story of Spaceflight before NASA
Amy Shira Teitel BvtnLib 629.4097
Rah rah rocket book. The author is a fan, not a technologist, and repeats what she reads and hears without new ideas or approaches.
For example pg. 94 "It was clear to the Science Advisory Group that if Hitler had given the Peenemünde team priority status and more support earlier in the war, things might have turned out very differently." Perhaps this was the belief of an advisory group, but was the implication (a more successful Nazi Reich) actually true? The Nazis invested enormous resources in rockets and fuel, but their production killed and starved more workers than those rockets killed and destroyed. The food diverted to make alcohol fuel could have fed millions for months. The same resources spent on rockets might have fortified the Normandy beaches. Ballistic missiles without precision guidance (targeted with precision maps) and nuclear warheads are far less effective than bombers with microwave radar. Indeed, more resources devoted earlier to rockets instead of fighters to stop allied bombers might have hastened the allied victory.
There is detail about projects leading up to Mercury and NASA, and many of the aborted projects that went nowhere. But the details are not technical - we do not learn much about what the technologists were actually learning. After the first hundred pages, I skimmed, and found little to slow down for.
I did slow down for some of Eisenhower's guidance and decision to create NASA as a civilian agency, rather than expand ARPA for a more secretive program. Explorer was mentioned as America's first satellite, but not what Explorer's instruments did.
This book is not a bad place to start for someone who wants to learn some space history, without getting into the technical details or the moral controversies. That could have been me, half a century ago. But a book that dotes on von Braun, with no mention of Frank Molina, merely delays the replacement of the Official Story of the 1950s by the real one.