Many historical accounts of space exploration and rocketry has been published, a number of which concentrate on the American involvement in space. In Daring the Unknown, Smith includes the classical points of rocketry history, but he also provides a number of facts not commonly discussed, such as the contributions of Tsiolkovsky. One of the more important aspects of Smith’s presentation of the history of NASA is the way in which it explores some considerations not commonly found in histories of space exploration—those related to the political context within which space exploration ideas and projects form. For example, the pressures and alternatives that shaped President John F. Kennedy’s decision to commit the resources of the United States “to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth” are explained. The Soviet Union’s decision not to send cosmonauts to the moon is also described within a contemporary political framework. Most other authors disregard this perspective, choosing to focus only on the accomplishments, the “whats” of space exploration, while ignoring the “whys and hows.”
Another way in which this work brings history to life is the inclusion of a number of interesting and little-known facts about important events in space exploration that many major works omit. These details include Robert Goddard’s launch of his first rocket at his Aunt Effie’s farm, John Glenn’s descriptions of his views of...
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Space exploration is a popular subject among authors of literature for young readers. Howard Smith has taken this topic and effectively expanded the context of exploration to include interesting traits of the people who were the main players in the events of space exploration. The author has also done a good job in leading the reader behind the scenes into the political considerations that drive scientific efforts.
Thus, while the events that Smith describes are those one would expect to find in a work of this type, his descriptions of the characters and occurrences that surround and shape these events offer a fresh look at that which can easily become the commonplace. Famous people are portrayed in terms that emphasize their human nature. Instead of appearing as unapproachable folk heroes, the astronauts become as real as the people next door.
Daring the Unknown is a valuable resource in several subject areas. It offers a fresh historical account of the history of NASA, and it presents scientific information in a clear, approachable fashion, successfully integrating history and science to create an interesting work for young people.