Interview series with the authors of “Into that Silent Sea,” French and Burgess, Part two

Today in Space History (TISH) has been granted an exclusive opportunity to interview authors Francis French and Colin Burgess based on their book “Into That Silent Sea,” which TISH highly recommends for reading. This is part two.

Archives for the complete interview series | one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight | Nine | Ten | Eleven | Twelve | Thirteen

TISH: Your book focuses on “trailblazers of the space era, 1961 – 1965”. If you could list and summarize 4-5 key characteristics that many of these trailblazers shared, what would they be?

FF: The most interesting thing about the earliest spacefarers, I think, was how different they were, rather than what they had in common. Neither superpower really knew what effect space travel might have on a person or what qualities were needed. While they generally chose the same pool of people – young, caucasian, physically fit men with jet piloting experience – the personalities were very different – from brash and arrogant to mellow and easygoing. And some had very different backgrounds, like a textile factory worker who became the first woman in space. While we were interested in the technology, the very diverse human stories were what really interested us – especially the lesser-explored ones, such as the Soviets. We found some fascinating tales buried behind the official propaganda of the time, which in many cases came from the spacefarers themselves.

CB: When writing about the cosmonauts, Francis and I shared a lingering amusement about their ‘official’ biographies which inevitably had each of them building and displaying model airplanes in their childhood bedrooms. But the serious side of this was trying to discern the truth in stories previously mired in those obviously propaganda-based biographies, and I think we succeeded beyond our expectations. As for the first astronauts, they were all college graduates with degrees in science, mathematics or engineering, and all military test pilots (the latter not a requirement for the first cosmonauts). But let’s also consider these facts: all seven of the Mercury astronauts were first-born children, and four of them had the suffix Junior after their name. Expanding this out even more, 21 of the first 23 American astronauts in space were either the eldest or only child. Does this say something about a determination to succeed?

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~ by tellinghistory on December 11, 2007.

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