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Two Sides Of The Moon: Our Story Of The Cold War In Space
David Scott and Alexei Leonov
Pocket paperback £8.99

review by Patrick Hudson

In this fascinating book, two space pioneers - one an American astronaut, the other a Soviet cosmonaut - tell the story of the space race from either side of the contest. David Scott was recruited in the third batch of astronauts in 1963, initially for the Gemini mission and later for an Apollo trip to the Moon. Alexei Leonov was one of the first cosmonauts, the first man to 'walk' in space and commander of the Apollo-Soyuz space mission in 1976.

The two men's stories unfold side-by-side, starting with their childhoods, their early air force careers, recruitment into the space programmes of their respective nations, the trials and tribulations of day-to-day space exploration and their eventual moves out of the space business. Both concede that the space programme was used as a propaganda tool to demonstrate the superiority of their respective political systems, but it's clear that their minds were on matters of science and, in many cases, sheer survival rather than politics.

Scott and Leonov come off as very different types. Scott is very focused on the flying and technical elements of the missions. He is stoic, somewhat reserved, and unfailingly gracious about his fellows, who are all great pilots and swell guys that became firm friends. Leonov, on the other hand, comes across as a more peppery character. He is quite open about what he sees as mismanagement or incompetence that lead to the gradual decline of the USSR's space programme. Having missed out on a walk on the Moon by just a few months (the Soviet's never managed to get a man on the moon - Leonov was to be their first) his disappointment is perhaps understandable.

I was startled to discover that the Soviets learned more about the American space programme from Life Magazine than they did from the KGB. The NASA programme depended on popularity to ensure its political masters provided funding, and so the controllers were anxious to provide a steady stream of feelgood news. The astronauts in Scott's group signed contracts with Life for exclusive coverage and were regularly sent out on the road to promote the idea of manned space flight. Scott frequently agonises over how the programme's various setbacks will be received by the media and Congress, and on a couple of occasions senior NASA officials step in to spin the disappointments in a certain direction to avoid too much adverse publicity.

In the Soviet Union, by contrast, the day-to-day goings on of the space programme were kept largely under wraps, with only the successes making it into the news at all. For ideological reasons, technological progress was very important to the Soviets, and so political support was more stable than the US. However, after the twin blows of the death of chief designer Sergei Korolev in 1965 and the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969, the Soviet programme lost its momentum.

Much is made of the occasional contact between the Soviet and American pilots, and the seed of this book lies in the friendship established by Scott and Leonov on the several occasions when their paths crossed during the 1960s and 1970s. When thrown together, the two quickly found their mutual interests lead to friendship under the watchful eyes of their security guards and, more often than not, the influence of large amounts of vodka or beer. Both Scott and Leonov served as military pilots at airbases in the Cold War hot-spots of Europe, and both are highly patriotic men, but their love of science and flying, and their belief in the importance of what they were doing, drew them together regardless of political differences.

Scott and Leonov were both closely associated with the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission, and the background given here is rather sketchy, given the detail we've had on their earlier missions. Perhaps there wasn't the drama of the groundbreaking missions of before, such as Scott's Moon shot or Leonov's space walk. However, Leonov traces how the Soviet side of the mission grew out of early Soviet research into long-term exposure to zero gravity environments and led to the Mir space station and, eventually, the ISS, showing how the gradual build up of knowledge in the early days still guides current space exploration.

The authors express their own love of flying and space exploration eloquently. Leonov, in particular, has a real knack for describing the wonder of space and the drama of every moment in the capsule. Even the stoical Scott comes away changed by his experiences. Although he is first to admit that he struggles to find the words to describe the effect of standing on the Moon, the passages where he talks about the changes in his fellow lunar explorers reveal that they all found it a profound experience.

If you're a real space nut you'll likely find little new information here, although Leonov's account will no doubt provide something of interest from the less well-known Soviet missions. If you're a more casual reader with a passing interest in space travel, this engaging account of two careers lived in tandem provides a genuine insiders' look at the golden age of space exploration from both sides of the Cold War.
Two Sides Of The Moon

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