I tried this book. It is an ambitious project. It is stimulating but it is hardwork and I did not finish it. The research and authority is impressive, but too much detail does not make it compulsive reading.
The story takes us from the mid nineteenth century musings of great imaginations, through development of rocketry by individual scientists and engineers, via the wartime development of rockets, the competition between the Russians and Americans to capture the German brains behind their advanced technology to the investment of vast sums of money by those same nations in their effort to dominate the space age.
Burrows interprets the grand sweep of what he calls "the greatest odyssey in history" whilst describing in immense detail the technology, the events and the people and the power politics in both the US and Russia. He waxes eloquent on the ground thrusts, the velocity, heights, speeds achieved by rockets with different fuels.
It is fascinating how the imaginations of fiction writers inspired the early rocketeers. Fiction writers, like H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, together with Lowell's observations and innovations and Jules Verne's brilliant scientific prophesies fired the imaginations of the giant fathers of rocketry - Tsiolkovkovsky, Goddard and Hermann Oberth.
He describes the development of rockets by societies of amateurs. But even before the war it had become apparent that the guided missile's size and complexity required a degree of management and funding so large that only national treasuries could provide it.
Nazi Germany recognised the potential of missiles and Von Braun and his team developed the V2 missile programme which nearly changed the outcome of the war decisively. At the end of the war the War the Americans managed to spirit von Braun and his team to the US before the Russians could get hold of them.
But it was the Russians who launched the first satellite to orbit the earth, Sputnik, in 1957. This created immense apprehension in the US. As Lyndon Johnson put it "the Roman Empire controlled the world because it could build roads.The British Empire was dominant when it had ships. In the air age the US were powerful because they had airplanes. Now the communists have established a foothold in outer space." The cold war that resulted was an unmitigated blessing for both sides' rocketeers and the rest of the space fraternity.
Rockets were always developed for the wrong reasons but they were developed. Huge resources were devoted to rockets and the space race. And within both Russsia and the US there was intense competition for resources. IN the US, the army claimed priority believing that guided missiles were really long range artillery; the Navy valued the potential of the launched satellites for reconnaissance; others saw the potential of travelling to the Moon, Venus and Neptune. Many physicists thought that putting people into space as wasteful distraction when they should be used as dumb slaves to carry measuring devices to where they are needed. Some, for example Amitai Etzoini, an eminent sociologist, thought that the space race would not benefit ordinary citizens in any way and that people neither knew nor cared who was winning the space race. But Burrows maintains that space reconnaissance and missile early-warning satellites helped prevent a major war between the two superpowers.
For those interested in space, this must be a primary source, but too intense for me.