Break­ing the Chains of Gravity

Amy Shi­ra Teitel
  • From the Publisher
January 5, 2017

NASA’s his­to­ry is a famil­iar sto­ry, cul­mi­nat­ing with the agency suc­cess­ful­ly land­ing men on the moon in 1969, but its pre­his­to­ry is an impor­tant and rarely told tale. Amer­i­ca’s space agency drew togeth­er some of the best minds the non-Sovi­et world had to offer. At the end of World War II, Wern­her von Braun escaped Nazi Ger­many and came to Amer­i­ca where he began devel­op­ing mis­siles for the Unit­ed States Army. The engi­neer behind the V‑2 rock­et, von Braun dreamt of send­ing rock­ets into space. Ten years lat­er his Jupiter rock­et was the only one capa­ble of launch­ing a satel­lite into orbit.

The Nation­al Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee for Aero­nau­tics and the U.S. Air Force, mean­while, brought rock­et tech­nol­o­gy into the world of manned flight. NACA test pilots like Neil Arm­strong flew cut­ting-edge air­craft in the thin upper atmos­phere while Air Force pilots rode to the fringes of space in bal­loons to see how humans han­dled radi­a­tion at high alti­tude.

Break­ing the Chains of Grav­i­ty looks at the evolv­ing roots of Amer­i­ca’s space pro­gram – the sci­en­tif­ic advances, the per­son­al­i­ties, and the rival­ries between the var­i­ous arms of the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary. After the Sovi­et launch of Sput­nik in 1957, get­ting a man in space sud­den­ly became a nation­al imper­a­tive, lead­ing Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­how­er to pull var­i­ous pieces togeth­er to cre­ate the Nation­al Aero­nau­tics and Space Administration.

Discussion Questions