Red Moon Rising

The Soviet side of the Moon race
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Matthew Brzezinski
Bloomsbury Publishing
£17.99
322 pages , Hardback

As soon as I began reading this book, I realised it was something exceptional. I was very much around at the start of the Space Age with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, but almost all published accounts gave the purely American point of view. Reactions in the US were very mixed: America had fallen behind in the Space Race, and the White House was uncomfortably aware that if the Soviets could launch an artificial satellite, they could also launch an atom bomb.

There was also the unpalatable fact that NASA’s most brilliant rocket expert was not an American but a German, and it was widely believed that the Soviet programme had proceeded smoothly under their shadowy Chief Designer, later identified as Sergei Korolev.

In fact, that is certainly not true. Korolev had survived imprisonment and torture in Stalin’s concentration camps, and did not have an easy time. When he died unexpectedly, there was nobody of comparable calibre to succeed him, which is one reason why the Americans were first on the Moon. Brzezinski writes with great authority – if you are interested in the history of astronomy, read this book.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Patrick Moore is the presenter of The Sky At Night on BBC TV

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