Review: A Ball, A Dog, and A Monkey
by Jeff Foust
|The book does serve as a reminder that the history of that era is about not just about satellites and rockets, but also the people who created them or were touched by them in some way.|
With a story as well known as the opening of the Space Race, and one with few new revelations and insights, A Ball, A Dog, and A Monkey focuses primarily on stories from some of the people (primarily American) involved in that first year of the Space Age. Some of them are famous: Eisenhower, Wernher von Braun, and James Van Allen, the Iowa physicist whose experiments were flown on Explorer 1. Others are more obscure, yet still interesting. For example, there’s the story of Bradford Whipple, an airman assigned to a listening post in West Germany who was one of the first to detect the signals from Sputnik after its launch. The following summer, while on leave in Brussels to attend the world’s fair there, he is recruited by a mysterious American—presumably an intelligence agent of some sort—to stand guard outside the Soviet pavilion there one night while a group steals the Sputnik model on display there, returning it a couple hours later after studying it. Then there’s the case of the young man who managed a trailer park in Cocoa Beach that was home to many Cape workers: he discovered that some of their wives, lonely while their husbands worked long hours, could be particularly… hospitable.
These vignettes don’t provide a lot of new insights into how the beginning of the Space Age unfolded, but do liven up what would otherwise be a rather ordinary book about that era. A Ball, A Dog, and A Monkey is probably best suited for more general audiences, who have, at best, just a cursory knowledge about that era; space aficionados are unlikely to learn more beyond some of minor but entertaining tales involving spacecraft model heists and desperate aerospace housewives. (Moreover, one of the people profiled in the book, reporter Jay Barbree, has his own just-published book that covers that era from his perspective in greater detail.) A Ball, A Dog, and A Monkey does serve as a reminder, though, that the history of that era is about not just about satellites and rockets, but also the people who created them or were touched by them in some way.