Beyond: The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space by Stephen Walker; HarperCollins Publishers; 512 pages; April 2021; Hardcover: $29.99.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the pioneering flight of “Cosmonaut Number One,” this tell-all book recaptures the remarkable trek of the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin.

The author has written an incredible account, not only revealing details about that first human space sojourn into Earth orbit, but the now-faded Cold War facts about Soviet-U.S. “space race” rivalry. Walker has chronicled Gagarin’s epic flight on April 12, 1961, counterpointing the early years of a just-launched NASA and its fresh set of Mercury astronauts.

“But the way was opened by Yuri Gagarin,” Walker states, “the man who did it first, when he strapped into his little sphere on top of his rocket sixty years ago, and stepped into the beyond.”

One item detailed is the decision-making on whether Gagarin or Gherman Titov would be tapped for that first human spaceflight. The author points out that strain gauges had been placed underneath their night-before-launch mattresses. Those gauges were monitored by a technician and a psychologist, recording any tossing and turning during the night that might impact their piloting skills. Gagarin might have lost his chance to step into the history books “simply by moving in bed too much,” Walker says. Titov would later orbit the Earth in August 1961 – the second person to circle the Earth.

This book is an exhaustive culling together of original research, along with testimony of eyewitnesses that is riveting, well-written and provides little-known details of Gagarin’s heralded flight of 106-minutes. The volume is jam-packed with historical gems; to this day no one knows the exact spots where either Gagarin or his Vostok sphere landed, for example. Both places were originally marked with simple posts which soon disappeared, Walker notes.

“In the immediate aftermath of his flight the Soviet government showered Yuri Gagarin and his family with rewards. A secret decree from the ministry of defense, issued just four days after the Red Square celebrations and only published fifty years later, offers a revealing glimpse into the state’s power and reach over all of their lives; and perhaps too, the relative material poverty of those lives beforehand,” Walker explains.

Divided up into four acts – “Four Months Earlier,” “Decision,” “Final Countdown,” “Launch,” followed by an “Endgame” epilogue, this volume is an extraordinary look at two space superpowers that took major risks to hurl a man into space first, the Americans in the full glare of the press, the Soviets in secretive and deep cover mode.

For more information on this book, go to:

And also Stephen Walker’s website about the book at:

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