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To a Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers

To a Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers by Chris Gainor. University of Nebraska Press, 2008, 264 pp.

The history of rockets did not begin with Sputnik. Rather, it had a much longer story, and the science involved had an international flavor including much more than just the efforts of the USSR and United States. In modern times, the work began with individuals but eventually required the establishment of large organizations for research and development to reach the threshold of space. To a Distant Day focuses on the story up to Sputnik I in 1957 and then adds the tale of carrying the competition to the moon landing in a summary way.

Author Chris Gainor emphasizes biographical matters, notwithstanding the fact that from World War II onward, most of the space research, development, and testing emerged from large organizations in the USSR and the United States. Furthermore, he recognizes that competition between those two for international prestige represented the major motivation for the advance to the moon landing. Unfortunately, that rationale obscures the very real scientific gains that came out of the moon landing, as well as the continuing need for more such advances. The author regrets the subsequent emphasis on a trip to Mars, feeling that additional moon exploration would prove much more productive.

A nice international quality about To a Distant Day gives credit where credit is due. It explores early foundations of the science in the USSR and United States and covers the role of rocket enthusiasts in Germany, both before and during Hitler’s regime, in a deliberate way. Particularly interesting is the way the United States captured German scientists and their technologies, successfully harnessing their talents to its own rocket and space effort—no easy task. Gainor also makes the valid argument that, generally, his neighbors to the south have no familiarity with the substantial contribution that Canadians made to the US effort in rocketry and space.

To a Distant Day is a worthy read for aspiring warrior-scholars. However, for more comprehensive treatment, they would do well to examine David Spires’s Beyond Horizons: A Half Century of Air Force Space Leadership and Walter A. McDougall’s The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age—both of which Gainor cites in his bibliography.

Dr. David R. Mets

Niceville, Florida

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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