Walker, Stephen

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to go into space. This book, published on the sixtieth anniversary of that epic flight, tells the astonishing story of how it happened, why it happened – and what happened next.

‘Whoever controls space controls the world.’ Lyndon B. Johnson 1958

Gagarin’s flight was a world-changing moment in history, a staggering technological triumph which would forever change the way we look at, and think about, our own planet. From the windows of his tiny spaceship, Gagarin witnessed our world as nobody had before, racing across a sphere in the limitless blackness of space; a sphere of great beauty, vivid with colour and yet terrifyingly fragile, with only its razor-thin blue atmosphere enabling life to exist at all. Gagarin saw all this, recording his impressions on a reel-to-reel tape recorder as he flew, his exhilaration and awe still palpable in those recordings today.

It is one of the great paradoxes of this story that Gagarin was only able to witness all this beauty of our planet by riding a missile designed specifically to destroy it. For his triumph was not only technological. It happened at one of the most dangerous moments in history, when two nuclear superpowers confronted each other across a political divide, splitting the world along ideological fault lines and threatening at any moment to annihilate it.

Beyond tells a thrilling story whilst unpacking secrets and deaths hidden for decades: the hushed KGB input, the enormous risks taken; how exactly the Russians outfoxed the USA, and the wonder of this monumental human achievement. It also sets the space race in its political context: as a crucial, public battle between the world’s two superpowers, both fighting for Cold War victory, international power, and dominance on the extra-terrestrial plane.