Category: Nonfiction
Reviewed by: Ted Spitzmiller
Title: Proposal for Man-in-Space (1957-1958)
Editor: Robert Godwin
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Format: Paperback
Pages: 159
Publisher: Apogee Books
Date: 2019
Retail Price: $25.95
ISBN: 978-1989044063

For those old enough to recall, the content of this book will bring back lots of memories of an almost forgotten aspect of the early space race era. While it can be difficult reading because of its blending of numerous DoD/USAF papers and reports of the time, it provides an essential perspective of American space history. Editor and historian Robert Godwin has done a creditable job of ferreting out essential documentation that presents the early planning by the U.S. Air Force, not only to get a man-in-space-soonest (Project MISS) but follow-on human expeditions to the Moon and Mars. These plans were preempted by the Eisenhower Administration’s desire to have America’s space program be perceived as primarily a civilian effort directed by a newly created NASA.

However, some elements, which are verbatim from the Air Force records, contain obvious errors. On page 21, one document noted that “…the Department of the Navy presented a review of its Project Orbiter.” The Navy program was Vanguard; Orbiter was the Army satellite program, headed by Wernher von Braun for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). Conspicuously absent from any of the Air Force documentation is reference to ABMA or von Braun, who could have launched a satellite with their Jupiter-C (also not mentioned) in 1956—a full year before Sputnik I.

There is an interesting June 1955 comment from then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Donald A. Quarles, that “…no service is authorized to proceed with any satellite program.” This statement (on page 22) was directed at the Army. They were about to engage in nose cone reentry tests with their Jupiter-C rocket. There were some “rumors” that the von Braun team would “accidentally” launch a satellite. Although this was not possible with the particular configuration of the Jupiter-C being used, Quarles did not want his lack of detailed knowledge to allow such an event. There was significant discrimination against the German team because of the tenuous Nazi affiliation of von Braun. It was that group that developed the German V-2 and who were brought to the United States after World War II for technology transfer.

Had NASA not been created, most of the early space exploration would have been accomplished by the Air Force under the auspices of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, which later became DARPA). These include the Original Pioneer Lunar launches in 1958-59.

If you are a serious student of early space history, this book has a wealth of information of which you should be knowledgeable.

© 2020 Ted Spitzmiller

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