Charged with the ever-present potential for danger and occasionally punctuated by terrible moments of disaster, the history of space exploration has been keenly dramatic. The recent disaster of the Space Shuttle Columbia was a sad but certain reminder that space travel is an extraordinarily dangerous occupation. Oddly enough, it often takes a tragic accident to remind us that we still have a presence in space.
In the decades between triumph and tragedy we tend to ignore the fact that there have been scores of space pioneers who have risked their lives to explore our solar system. Indeed, the International Space Station is sometimes referred to as Alpha, a moniker that implies that it is our first real permanent presence in space. But this notion is frowned upon by the Russians and for good reason. Prior to the construction of the controversial International Space Station, a host of daring Russian cosmonauts, and a smaller number of intrepid American astronauts, were living in space for months, some of them for over a year.
In this definitive account of man s quest to become citizens of the cosmos, noted space historian Robert Zimmerman reveals the great global gamesmanship between Russian and American political leaders that drove us to the stars. Beaten to the Moon by their Cold War enemies, the Russians were intent on being first to the planets. They believed that manned space stations held the greatest promise for reaching other worlds and worked feverishly to build a viable space station program one that would dwarf American efforts and allow the Russians to claim the vast territories of space as their own.
Although unthinkable at the time, the ponderously bureaucratic Soviet Union actually managed to overtake the United States in the space station race. Leveraging their propaganda machine and tyrannical politics to launch a series of daring, dangerous, and scientifically brilliant space exploits, their efforts not only put them far ahead of NASA, they also helped to reshape their own society, transforming it from dictatorship to democracy. At the same time, the American space program at NASA was also evolving, but not necessarily for the better. In fact, the two programs were slowly but inexorably trading places.
Drawing on his vast store of knowledge about space travel, as well as hundreds of interviews with cosmonauts, astronauts, and scientists, Zimmerman has superbly captured the excitement and suspense of our recent space-traveling past. For space and history enthusiasts alike, Leaving Earth describes a rich heritage of adventure, exploration, research, and discovery.
"...a well-written, informative account of the orbital outposts -- space stations -- launched and operated by the Soviet Union, its successor, Russia, and the United States over the past three decades. ... All in all, Leaving Earth is a good read and perhaps the best source of information on a neglected part of space history: the experience of living and working in space for days and weeks at a time, often under trying conditions."
-- Astronomy, October 2003
"As we debate anew the issue of sending people into space, this book weighs in with harrowing, yet inspiring stories from the Soviet and Russian space station program."
-- Science News, February 28, 2004
"It is well researched, well written, and contains valuable insights into the interplay between national politics and space programmes. The book forms a useful backdrop to the debate on the present crisis in manned space flight, over its unclear objectives, increasing costs and declining public support. ... Zimmerman provides many fascinating examples of the interplay between space, personalities, and Cold War politics. ...Leaving Earth is the best analysis of its subject yet to be published."
-- Times Literary Supplement, January 9, 2004
"Leaving Earth offers perhaps the best single-volume history of space station development yet written. Given how unfamiliar most Americans, even those who consider themselves space advocates, are of Russian space history, this book does a valuable service by introducing them to the cosmonauts who pioneered space station development for decades."
-- The Space Review, April 12, 2004
"So many hundreds -- if not thousands -- of books have been written about the space programme that one may reasonably ask: do we need another? The answer in this case is definitely yes, because Robert Zimmerman's book gives a unique insight into the Russian space programme, which was not available -- and indeed was almost unthinkable -- up until a few years ago."
-- The Times Higher Education Supplement, July 18, 2003
"Zimmerman presents a profusion of striking vignettes, including a Skylab crew cobbling together a 25-foot-long tool with a wire cutter at the end to free a stuck solar panel and a desperate Soviet cosmonaut dashing blindly through a smoke-filled cabin to find the source of a sudden fire."
-- Invention & Technology, Fall 2003
"[Leaving Earth] will undoubtedly be the leading book on the Russian space station program for the foreseeable future."
-- Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003
"Space enthusiasts worried about where the manned space program is headed will take some heart from reading Robert Zimmerman's Leaving Earth: Space Stations Rival Superpowers and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, in which the author tells how determined men and women have mastered, if not totally overcome, many of the hazards of living in space. ... Mr. Zimmerman shows that engineers and astronauts have the ability survive, and even thrive in space, to conquer everything that can be thrown at them by nature and their fellows. ... Man has the ability to travel to the stars. The haunting question Mr. Zimmerman leaves us with is, does he have the will?"
-- The Washington Times, August 31, 2003
"[Zimmerman] capably narrates stories of the numerous Soviet crews that visited the Salyut and Mir space stations in the 1970s and 1980s, an exercise that could have been repetitive and monotonous in less adept hands. He engagingly describes how the Soviets gradually extended the endurance record in space... an engaging narrative of human experiences with longer and longer space missions..."
-- Nature, December 2003
"[Zimmerman's] knowledge and experience working in the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) helps to ground this new book solidly in an understanding of why NASA and the Soviet program moved in the directions that they did in regarding permanent space stations. ... Leaving Earth offers a clear explanation of how politics and space mixed to create a program for exploration, which differed from the engineer's vision. The book provides readers of space history, particularly those new to the history of the Soviet program, an intriguing look at space stations and their place in spaceflight."
-- History: Reviews of New Books, Spring 2004
"Astronauts and cosmonauts experiences are vividly depicted and I really felt that I was getting inside their minds. ... This is an extensively researched work and a highly engaging read which I enjoyed tremendously."
-- Astronomy Now
"...an exceedingly thorough and very enjoyable historical account. ... Zimmerman evocatively depicts space-station life, both the mundane and the dramatic, and, by focusing on the human aspects of living in space, creates a real feeling of 'being there' with the crew. ... It seems meticulously researched; many of the vignettes of space-station life were sourced from interviews with the ground crew and spacefarers themselves, and I particularly liked the little details such as the amount of bone mass lost by each astronaut and cosmonaut after their flights and the on-going struggle to grow viable plants in space. Also, the book is even-handed in the amount of attention it gives to the astronauts and cosmonauts involved, thankfully steering clear of the temptation to focus only on the 'celebrities' of space flight. ... Zimmerman's writing is chatty and obviously North-American, a style that sits well with the narrative design of the book. ...if you are looking for an easy-reading but detailed history of the space station that will hold your interest throughout the book, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Leaving Earth, by Robert Zimmerman."
-- Observatory, June 2004
"Space and history buffs alike will enjoy reading this detailed description of mankind's space travel beginnings. ... Let not the history lesson deter you as the book, though replete with references and the results of first hand interviews, contains excitement, poignancy and edge of chair suspense. For American space professionals and enthusiasts alike the book offers an 'in depth' look at the formidable Russian space effort traditionally slighted or totally ignored in the western press."
-- History of Physics Newsletter, Fall 2004
"The personal lives and abilities of the station residents are well covered, as are Soviet and Russian advances in space flight endurance -- the groundwork for interplanetary travel. ...the accounts of the close calls and disasters are often fascinating..."
-- Library Journal
"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read."
-- Arthur C. Clarke
"This is a scientifically vivid and intensely personal book that explores the people and their relationships as much as the technology. ... It's a grand chronicle of an overlooked human adventure, and also asks some difficult questions about the direction of the current space program. Recommended for all space fans, and for historians too."
-- Focus, December 2003
"...an excellent interpretive history about the USSR's successful attempt to establish the world's first permanent space station. Leaving Earth is written in plain English yet remains scrupulous to technical detail without resorting to the mind-numbing acronyms and stilted prose typical of technical histories. In make the subject accessible to the average reader, Zimmerman does not compromise his narrative and details the key events of each missions described. ... This book is superior to many aerospace histories done by professional historians and 'space experts.'"
-- Eyepiece, December 2003
"The book is a 'must-read.' As the first American member of a Russian crew, I thought I knew it all but the book revealed aspects of the Shuttle-MIR program and my MIR 18 mission of which even I was unaware. I found myself muttering 'So that's what was going on!' Be prepared to learn the 'real' story behind the race to the colonization of space."
-- Norm Thagard, former NASA astronaut and the first American to fly on a Russian rocket and to live on Mir
"Zimmerman's new work is an exciting, authoritative, meticulously researched history of long-term human presence in space. We visit the American Skylab, the seven Soviet Salyuts and Mir, and the evolution of tentative Freedom and Alpha designs to the current International Space Station. Especially intriguing are Zimmerman's brilliant interweaving of events on the ground--often political--with those of Mir crews in orbit, and his description of cultural trials facing Americans and Russians learning to work together in orbit. A literary tour de force."
-- Frederick I. Ordway III, author of The Rocket Team and Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space
"A great book!"
-- David M. Harland, space historian and author of The MIR Space Station: A Precursor to Space Colonization
"In the 18th century, a handful of Russian adventurers--who 'lived' where other navigators only 'explored'--established a series of colonies on the Alaskan coast. So it has been in space. Zimmerman's comprehensive account of the push to 'live' in space is necessarily populated largely by Russians, but it is an adventure that belongs to the entire human race."
-- George Dyson, author of Project Orion and Darwin Among the Machines
"Leaving Earth is a provocative voyage through thirty years of space exploration to the threshold of interplanetary flight. This adventurous book features sharp analysis and engaging writing."
-- Tom Jones, former NASA astronaut
"A seamless recounting of methodical discoveries and political maneuverings alike, Leaving Earth is a super contemporary history and a welcome contribution to the History of Science reference collections in general, and Space Exploration reading lists in particular."
-- Library Bookwatch, December 2003
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