Form and Content

Daring the Unknown provides a historical account of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), looking first to the early scientists, such as Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braun, who provided much of the early research and technology that culminated in the creation of the United States’ space program. In thirteen chapters, Howard E. Smith presents the successes that nations and individuals have achieved in space exploration. The author also furnishes insights into the ramifications of the political decisions underlying many of NASA’s accomplishments. These decisions are set against the background of the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States and the accomplishments made by the Soviet cosmonauts, which provided much of the incentive for the U.S. program. Complementing the narrative are sixteen color photographs and forty-two black-and-white photographs depicting the people, places, and events that constitute NASA’s history.

Smith traces the history of rocketry leading up to the creation of NASA, starting with the earliest rockets invented by Chinese scientists, probably in the thirteenth century. Another early contributor to space travel discussed in the book is the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, whose writings in 1895 described many of the major problems that would be faced by those traveling by rocket. The next major figure in the development of space travel was Robert Goddard. His first...

(The entire section is 549 words.)