Review: Amazing Stories of the Space Age
by Jeff Foust
|Pyle specializes in these could-have-been stories in the book. Each of these accounts is entertaining, and he offers details that should be new to even many hardcore space enthusiasts.|
The book’s subtitle gives it something of a sensational feel: Nazis in space! Soldiers on the Moon! It seems better suited to the pages of a tabloid like the Weekly World News than a space history book. But both are firmly rooted in factual studies, recounted in the book’s initial chapters. The former is about studies in Nazi Germany of the Silverbird, a suborbital spaceplane that could fly from Germany and drop bombs on America. The latter is about Project Horizon, a US Army study from the dawn of the Space Age that studied establishing a military base on the Moon, including plans to defend the base from invading Soviet troops. Neither, of course, got off the ground.
Pyle specializes in these could-have-been stories in the book. There are chapters about efforts ranging from the nuclear-powered Project Orion spacecraft concept to the Air Force’s “Blue Gemini” and Manned Orbiting Laboratory projects to studies in the 1960s of human missions to fly past both Mars and Venus. There are, though, real-life accounts in the book as well, including the loss of Soyuz 1 and the demise of the Viking 1 lander because of a coding error.
Each of these accounts is entertaining, and he offers details that should be new to even many hardcore space enthusiasts. The book’s one flaw, though, is a lack of rhythm: there’s no obvious order, either chronologically or by subject, of the stories he tells in the book. For example, the chapter on Project Horizon and one on LUNEX, a similar Air Force study of a lunar military base, are separated by chapters on Project Orion and Wernher von Braun’s 1950s concepts for Mars missions. One ends up with historical whiplash going from decade to decade and topic to topic.
In the book’s final chapter, about the “Major Matt Mason” toy line of the early Space Age, Pyle looks ahead to the future and a changing, more commercial space era that he hopes will reinvigorate public interest in spaceflight. “In this brave new world of space,” he writes, “many oddball designs and plans will come and go, just as they did in the 1950s and 1960s.” Which means there should hopefully be many more amazing stories from this new space age.