From Publishers Weekly
In the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, Americans may have forgotten that for a quarter-century men and women circled Earth in space stations for as long as a year at a time. Most of these astronauts were from Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries. Zimmerman (Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8) recounts this era of space exploration, beginning with the American-Russian rivalry in the 1960s and concluding with their present-day collaboration on the International Space Station. He reminds us about the short-lived 1970s Skylab program, which was to have been followed by other U.S. space stations. Granted access to Russian archives and interviews with cosmonauts and their families, the author describes the Soviet program in great detail. The original Russian space stations, he reports, were intended primarily for propaganda and military purposes, but they also included a variety of scientific experiments and perfected the use of unmanned "freighters" to bring supplies and parts from Earth. If readers remember anything about the Russian program, it is probably the troubled final months of the Mir station, but Zimmerman describes the heroic efforts of cosmonauts to put out fires and make extended space walks to undertake complicated repairs. The Russians also conducted extensive research on the effects of living in space on the human body, research that will be invaluable for possible future travel to other planets. This book will be of interest primarily to scientists and hard-core science buffs, but it will undoubtedly be the leading book on the Russian space station program for the foreseeable future.Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"...a scientifically vivid and intensely personal book... a grand chronicle of an overlooked human adventure..." -- Focus, December 2003"...an exceedingly thorough and very enjoyable historical account. .. an easy-reading but detailed history of the space station..." -- Observatory, June 2004"...an excellent interpretive history... This book is superior to many aerospace histories done by professional historians and 'space experts.'" -- Eyepiece, December 2003"...the accounts of the close calls and disasters are often fascinating..." -- Library Journal"...well-written, informative account... good read and perhaps the best source of information on a neglected part of space history" -- Astronomy, October 2003"A seamless recounting of methodical discoveries and political maneuverings alike, Leaving Earth is a super contemporary history..." -- Library Bookwatch, December 2003"Space enthusiasts worried about where the manned space program is headed will take some heart..." -- The Washington Times, August 31, 2003"Zimmerman presents a profusion of striking vignettes..." -- Invention & Technology, Fall 2003"an engaging narrative of human experiences with longer and longer space missions..." -- Nature, December 2003Winner of 2003 Emme Award -- American Astronautical Society
Insight from the Russian Experience in Space
Robert Zimmerman, space historian and enthusiast, combines a love of technical issues with extensive background research in this account of the nine space stations flown so far some crews (generally 2 men for the Salyuts) got along famously, but others quickly got on one another's nerves and bitterly endured through months of orbital isolation.
Human failure is here too - the toothaches, infections and heart problems of normal life, and then also the worrying problem of loss of bone mass - up to 2 percent a month, in zero gravity. And political failure, which showed up in relationships with ground controllers who seemed to cease caring, in later years, about what were very serious problems in orbit.
The first failures were docking problems, and sadly, the loss of three cosmonauts. Brezhnev gave the go-ahead to the Salyut program apparently to improve international public relations for the Soviet Union, and so missions were much more public than they had been in the past. Soyuz 10, the first mission to Salyut 1, failed in attempts to dock, and had to return. Soyuz 11, carrying a last-minute crew, successfully docked, and was met the last launch of a Saturn V rocket - during launch part of the meteor/heat shield was ripped away, destroying one solar panel and tangling another so it could not open, and exposing the workshop enclosure to direct sunlight, raising its temperature to as high as 130 degrees (F). Skylab's first crew, launched 10 days later, managed to fix essentially all the problems (except for the lost solar panel) through ingenuity and hard work.
Follow-on crews learned a lot about living in space - but ironically, the science experiments approved did not include any of the plant-growth experiments the Soviets were so keen on - growing plants in zero gravity was not something US scientists were funded to study, despite the apparent usefulness for long-term living in space.
The Soviet Salyut stations followed one after another; the first really successful one, as described these early experiences with fires in space explain why the later fire on Mir was much more frightening to the American on board, than to the Russians. Salyut 7, which was still orbiting when Mir's first pieces launched in 1986, suffered a very severe propellant leak that nearly disabled the station; a later crew ripped open the outer shell of the station to get at the various bits of tubing they needed to test and replace, and managed to make the repairs needed over a series of space walks
that amounted to more than all previous Soviet space walks combined.
The Russians had learned how to deal with problems in space, how to fix them with their own ingenuity. Since Salyut 1 they have not lost a single person, not even had any severe injuries. There had certainly been some very close calls - the fire on Mir and the later collision of a Progress freighter with the station could have been very serious. But somehow they managed, through luck and ingenuity, to keep things working. As Zimmerman puts it, the station had proved that the technology for going to other planets was available, and buildable. "Provide human beings with the necessary tools and supplies and they can go anywhere."
The Soviet space program had become, in the new Russia, independent and profit-oriented - driving hard bargains and keeping a technology edge. In the US, in contrast, things had become very rigid, bureaucratic, and "focusless". In Zimmerman's phrase, the two "ships passed in the night": America's efforts in space now resemble those of the early Soviet Union; astronauts have little freedom to do their own things, with everything prescribed down to the minute. No room for learning, or ingenuity among those who are actually experiencing spaceflight firsthand. Problems and risks are ignored or downplayed but this also leads to many somewhat formulaic biographies of many cosmonauts and figures such as Boris Yeltsin. The psychological interactions among the different crews are certainly interesting, as are all the wonderful historical details Zimmerman has dug up. A great book for space history buffs, and anybody interested in the experiences of the first to practice what we'll need to do to travel between the planets.
Every page of this interesting book is packed with details of the evolution of the Russian manned space program. It is very well researched and Robert Zimmerman does an excellent job describing the interaction between on-the-ground politics and space science. The stories of life, survival and endurance on the space stations is facinating. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the history of man's quest for conquering the many problems of surviving in the harsh space environment.
A Short History of Long Duration Space Flight
Zimmerman has crafted a compelling history of long duration space flight. By necessity, the story is 80% Soviet / Russian. Zimmerman must have tapped into some new sources for material as there are plenty of new revelations of both good and bad aspects from inside the Soviet program. I was especially impressed by Zimmerman's treatment of the underlying political machinations, both Soviet / Russian and American, and their effects on each country's space exploration program (and bonus: one of the few balanced accounts of Reaganomics!) The diagrams of the various stations are excellent, and you will find yourself constantly referring back to them as Zimmerman takes you through each station's growth and evolution. On the down side, there is only one chapter devoted to all three Skylab missions, and I couldn't help but wish this received more attention. Additionally, the volume suffers from a lack of any photographs whatsoever. All in all, this volume still ranks as one of the best factual accounts of manned space flight that I have read. It is an excellent companion to Burrough's "Dragonfly" and Burrows' "This New Ocean."
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