Book Review: To a Distant Day

Being part of a series on a “people’s history of spaceflight”, Chris Gainor’s book entitled “To a Distant Day – The Rocket Pioneers” relives the onset of humankind’s age of rocketry. Though starting from a broad, distant vantage point that includes Galileo and Copernicus, this book quickly jumps to Tsiolkovsky and other recent rocket luminaries. Then, it speedily presents the wondrous people and their amazing effort that led to human spaceflight.

In keeping with being a people’s history, this book compliments the individuals involved and maintains a positive attitude to all segments of aerospace development. As well, Gainor has done his homework, as the book includes a broad swath of detail and still branches a little off the normal path. For example, it includes finer details like Kondratyuk’s mysterious name change, the German Raketenflugplatz group and the Manhigh balloon program. Sometimes the book wanders a bit too far, as when it discusses the origination of Murphy’s Law. But, it’s these additions that would keep this book interesting to the casual, non-technical reader.

Were history simply a recitation of the facts, then this book admirably fits the bill. It includes most of the common space lore and a list of sources that reflect its role as popular history. From these, a reader can appreciate the huge effort expanded to make us a space faring species. But, the purpose of an historical analysis is to find relevance to today. The book includes tidbits in support of this, such as billing space as an empty canvas, free of social problems and ready for exploitation. And it pronounces the dramatic shift in the method of advancement, from a lonely creative genius to a broad, team based effort. However, these perspectives are few and have no discussion on their relevance to today. Thus, as entertaining and informative as it is, this book fails to add to the existing broad reviews of the history of the rocket pioneers. However, it does provide a very nice encapsulation of the advancement of rocketry leading up to the first human spaceflight.

For someone who hasn’t much background in rocketry and who has a casual interest, Chris Gainor’s book “To a Distant Day – The Rocket Pioneers” is a great resource. As it aptly states, with the great efforts of many people across a broad range of technical fields, “Poyekhali!” (as Gagarin said, “We’re off!”).