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Book Reviews

Stepping Stones to the Stars: The Story of Manned Spaceflight
Author: Terry C Treadwell

Publisher: The History Press

ISBN: 978-0-75-245409-2

Price: £16.99 (Pb), 220pp

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The story of a Russian space drama matching in excitement NASA’s Apollo 13 is told for the first time in this latest history of manned spaceflight. The facts and figures of every manned spaceflight from Russia’s Gagarin to the final Shuttle missions at the end of 2010 are packed into 220 pages, and most are familiar. But the author has had unusual additions provided by Colonel Vladimir Kondratenko former Commander of Russia’s Test Pilot School, as well as NASA’s veteran astronauts Hank Hartsfield and Bruce McCandless.

In April 1975, five years after Apollo 13, Russia launched Soyuz 18A, with two cosmonauts who were meant to board their new space station, Salyut 4. It was all much more acrimonious than the American drama. The second rocket stage failed to separate from the spacecraft, and with it still firing the cosmonauts called on Ground Controllers to abort the mission. For some time they refused, seeing nothing wrong. When after much arguing, an emergency re-entry was initiated, the wretched cosmonauts were subject to 20g, more than 20 times their own weight as they re-entered the atmosphere. The spacecraft crashed into the Altai mountains, then tumbled wildly down the mountainside until coming to rest on the edge of a precipice – saved from plunging to final disaster because the parachute snagged on a tree. Cosmonaut Vasiliy Lazarev was severely injured and never flew again. He and his companion Oleg Makarev were then refused the usual post-flight bonus of 3,000 roubles on the ground that they had not completed their mission! Appeals against the decision were taken right up to President Leonid Brezhnev before it was reversed.

Makarev made two more flights to Salyut space stations and died aged 70 in 2003. Lazarev, a physician, died at 62 in 1990. In common with many other manned spaceflight histories, Treadwell provides little more than facts and figures about the missions. Now that the International Space Station has been manned for nearly 10 years, and recently fitted with a cupola providing all-round views of Earth and sky, one looks forward to some detailed accounts of what can be achieved by the international crews in terms of scientific and astronomical research.

Reginald Turnill

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