Heroes of the Space Age: Incredible Stories of the Famous and Forgotten Men and Women Who Took Humanity to the Stars

Heroes of the Space Age: Incredible Stories of the Famous and Forgotten Men and Women Who Took Humanity to the Stars

by Rod Pyle


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Featuring Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin! A NASA insider tells the exciting story of the people, both well-known and unrecognized, who were responsible for so many daring space missions.

Award-winning science writer Rod Pyle profiles the remarkable pilots, scientists, and engineers whose work was instrumental in space missions to every corner of our solar system and beyond. Besides heralded names like Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Gene Kranz, the author highlights some of the "hidden figures" who played crucial roles in the success of NASA, Soviet, and international space exploration.

For example, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to travel into space, aboard Soviet spacecraft Vostok 6. American Margaret Hamilton was an accomplished mathematician and one of the first female software engineers to design programs for spaceflight, software that proved critical to the success of the moon landing. And Pete Conrad, "salty sailor of the skies," flew twice in the Gemini programs, landed on the moon in Apollo 12, and was the commander of the first crew to visit America's new Skylab space station—its first ever—in 1973.

Complemented by many rarely-seen photos and illustrations, these stories of the highly talented and dedicated people, many of whom worked tirelessly behind the scenes, will fascinate and inspire.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633885240
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Pages: 315
Sales rank: 1,159,758
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author


Rod Pyle is the author of many books, most recently Interplanetary Robots and the widely acclaimed Amazing Stories of the Space Age; Curiosity: An Inside Look at the Mars Rover Mission and the People Who Made It Happen; and Destination Mars—called "the best recent overview of Mars missions" by the Washington Post. Other books include Destination Moon, Missions to the Moon, Mars: Making Contact, Blueprint for a Battlestar, and Innovation the NASA Way. He is the senior editor for Ad Astra magazine, the official publication of the National Space Society, and writes for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He has produced numerous documentaries for the History Channel and Discovery Communications, including the widely praised Beyond the War of the Worlds and Modern Marvels: Apollo 11. He has also worked in visual effects on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica. Pyle has been an assistant professor at the University of La Verne and a lecturer with NASA's Johnson Space Center, and creates award-winning media for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Read an Excerpt


In these pages you have met just the smallest sampling of people who were a seminal part of the first human expansion beyond our planet. This is just an example of some of the amazing people who took those first fledgling steps into the last and greatest frontier, a vast realm beyond our world that offers an endless bounty for humanity — both in space and here on Earth. The next great expansion of our species is coming, and coming soon, for we are on the cusp of a new age of exploration in space.

As you read this, in countless places all over the world, a new generation of engineers, scientists, businessmen, investors, tinkerers, and technicians are working tirelessly to take this next great step. Spaceflight is no longer the exclusive domain of two superpowers as it was in the 1960s, and the driving force is no longer the great game of geopolitics that was at the core of the first space age. For reasons ranging from the imperiling of our home planet by overpopulation and rampant industrialism to the emerging business opportunities offered by the development of space itself as a resource, new efforts are being undertaken in places and in ways that could never have been imagined during the first space age. To be sure, powerful and inspiring programs will continue to be driven by governments, which now include not just the United States and Russia, but increasingly by China, Japan, India, Europe, and other countries. But private industry, driven both by visionary billionaires and regular citizens, is emerging in most developed countries, and is slowly but inexorably spreading to smaller, less industrialized nations as well. With much of the heavy lifting done by the competition to land a man on the moon in the twentieth century, which defined and developed the root technologies that can carry humans to Earth orbit and beyond, enterprises both large and small are utilizing new technologies born of the twenty-first century to take the next steps in the development of the solar system for the benefit of all humanity.

The most obvious examples are the tireless efforts of American billionaires and entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in the United States. Musk’s SpaceX is building new and powerful rockets that have captured much of the global launch market, and is currently fabricating the largest rocket in history, the Big Falcon Rocket and associated Big Falcon Spaceship, which will be able to carry enormous cargoes and large groups of passengers to the moon and Mars. For his part, Bezos is investing a billion dollars of his personal wealth each year into his own rocket company, Blue Origin, to design and build rockets that will perform tasks ranging from the carrying of well-heeled tourists on suborbital excursions to boosters that will launch huge payloads into space, enabling ever greater adventures. Both companies will perform these feats at prices that will allow a vast acceleration of space enterprise — it is truly a new era in spaceflight.

Smaller undertakings follow directly behind them. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is poised to carry space tourists on short trips to near orbit, as well as to deliver satellites and other space cargo into orbit at unheard of prices with ever-increasing frequency. Rocketlab, based in both the United States and New Zealand, is flying smaller rockets that will carry the increasingly miniaturized payloads that will soon dominate our orbital operations. Other companies in the United States, Russia, and China are endeavoring to follow suit and are making great strides.

But rockets are just one facet of the new age of spaceflight. Other companies, mostly small and funded by private investment, are creating 3-D printers that will be able to use raw materials carried into orbit, and later, resources sourced from asteroids and the moon, to print the machines and structures that will open the final frontier. New software firms are popping up globally that utilize data derived from satellites to refine and streamline human enterprise, from agriculture to freight transport to retail sales (Target and Walmart use satellite imaging to count shoppers in their competitor’s parking lots, for example). New investment firms have come to the fore to channel money from investors all over the world into space-related enterprises, and this investment extends into double-digit billions each year and is growing.

And this trend extends beyond moneymaking enterprises. Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire, has pledged $100 million of his money to discovering possible intelligent extraterrestrial species with his Breakthrough initiatives — a purely scientific endeavor. Other similar science and exploration-driven efforts are likely to follow.

In university labs and garage workshops worldwide, students and young entrepreneurs are building a new generation of tiny spacecraft that will perform a wide array of functions in low Earth orbit and beyond — they are capitalizing on the fact that microprocessors such as the ones found in your cellphone can now do the same work that warehouses full of computers did in the 1960s. There are even hackathons where large groups of young programmers assemble to code the future with no expectation of financial return.

Into this new marketplace steps the youth of today — educated, driven and impatient — who will continue to open the space frontier for their generation. They come from many nations and backgrounds, with a common goal of bringing the bounty to be derived from the development of space to their home countries.

All these endeavors rely on new and engaged minds to drive the expansion of humanity into space. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life will be needed, and increasingly, there are good-paying jobs in the space sector to employ them. From these ranks will emerge the new icons of spaceflight. Some will become famous and wealthy — studies indicate that the first trillionaires are likely to emerge from the space business sector — and others will labor in relative anonymity, satisfied with the knowledge that they are engaged in the work that drives them and inflames their passions.

These will be the leaders of the new space age, whose brilliance and dedication will transform the lives of each and every one of us.

Here’s to the new heroes.

Table of Contents

Introduction 9

Chapter 1 Yuri Gagarin: The First Starman 11

Chapter 2 John Glenn: The Clean Marine 29

Chapter 3 Valentina Tereshkova: Flight of the Seagull 77

Chapter 4 Gene Kranz: Stars and Stripes Forever 101

Chapter 5 Margaret Hamilton: The First Software Engineer 155

Chapter 6 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin: "First Men" 171

Chapter 7 Pete Conrad: Salty Sailor of the Skies 243

Chapter 8 Heroes of a New Space Age 283

Notes 287

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