I finally finished the first two books in the Outward Odyssey series, both by Colin Burgess and Francis French, about some of the earlier days of the human space exploration. The first book, Into That Silent Sea, covers the first space missions, from Yuri Gagarin's training and historic flight to the stars, to the end of the Soyuz missions, as well as the Mercury and Gemini flights that were the precursor to the famous Apollo missions. In the Shadow of the Moon, the second book, we start with Gemini and go through Apollo 11. Future books in the series will cover the rest of space flight.For years, I have been interested in the moon, sharing with many young boys the dreams of becoming an astronaut and flying to space. I had a book on the moon landings with some fantastic illustrations of how everything worked that captured my imagination, and in 1997, when the Star Wars movies were re-released, my interests in space took another direction, and eventually, I've settled on history.
These books are essentially the culmination of everything that I've been interested in and have sought to study. Rather than a technical history of the space agency, looking largely at the science involved, these two books look at the raw history of the the earlier space projects, going into painstaking detail to tell what seems to be the most complete story of human space exploration yet. Both books capture the human side of this elegantly, capturing the joys, determination and frustrations on both the American and Russian spacefarers alike, and introduces the reader to a host of characters that are deserving, if not more so, of the fame that has really only been bestowed upon Neil Armstrong. We meet Yuri Gagarin, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, and numerous other astronauts and cosmonauts that have given so much for what has proven to be an incredible realization of a dream that has since stalled. These books examine each of the astronauts and their missions in exacting detail, while also looking at the side events going along around them, mainly, the Cold War, and the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union is really put out there, examined largely without much of the military connotations that the cold war generally gets.
These books are incredibly dense and rich in history and detail that it might be hard for a regular reader to really pick up, but these two books are really what the public needs to read - this is the story of, in my opinion, the last heroes that the world has seen in years, and unfortunately, their impact in the public consciousness has really waned. This is not a bad thing, because these books are well written accounts of history that do not pander down to a lower denominator - this isn't part of the popular history that seems to have plagued the World War II bookshelves at bookstores. While events such as Challenger and Columbia grab headlines and even to the point where minor technical problems are highlighted in the hourly news, there has been little in the space program that has galvanized the public like those early missions.