“The History of Human Space Flight,” by Ted Spitzmiller, University Press of Florida, 2017, 648 pages, hardcover, $39.95

The Space Age opened in 1957 with the launching of Sputnik I. Humans began traveling in outer space soon after that and have been a space-traveling race for over half a century.

“The History of Human Space Flight,” by Ted Spitzmiller, attempts to capture that history — all of it.

It is an ambitious undertaking. Spitzmiller does a good job, starting at the beginning and continuing to the present.

What is the beginning? As Spitzmiller shows, it depends. His opening chapters define outer space, showing the various ambiguities in the definition. From there he explores the first attempts by humans to safely leave the earth’s surface, starting with the Montgolfier’s first balloon ascent.

He briefly puts ballooning and heavier-than-air craft into historical perspective, before discussing the first attempts to put people into outer space. These include Jules Verne’s fictional attempts to reach the Moon, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s theoretical underpinnings, the practical experiments by Robert Goddard and the German Verein fur Raunshiffahrt, and balloon attempts to pierce the stratosphere in the 1930s.

These threads came together in the late 1940s and 1950s. Spitzmiller explores development of different systems needed in space. The origins of pressure suits, environmental systems, attitude control, propulsion, navigation system and the other elements come alive in these chapters.

From there he explores actual human spaceflight — from Gargarin’s first fractional orbit through today’s International Space Station. This includes Chinese and commercial spaceflight.

Some of the most fascinating chapters touch on the space rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union. As Spitzmiller shows there was a real space race, one the Soviets successfully hid after coming up short in reaching the moon first.

This book is as comprehensive a discussion as can be found on human spaceflight. It is presented in language which the layperson can understand and anyone working in human spaceflight can still appreciate. While maintaining rigorous accuracy, Spitzmiller tells an exciting story. It captures readers’ attention, making you want to keep reading.

Whether you are familiar with human spaceflight or seek a good introduction to its history “The History of Human Space Flight” is a book worth reading.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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