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02Jul

The Greatest Adventure by Colin Burgess review – a history of human space exploration

From the first race to the moon to the plutocrats’ search for the next Earth, a story of great risks offers rewards

At the end of July the second richest man in the world, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, plans to blast himself into space, a project that has prompted a satirical global petition asking him to stay there. If the history of human space exploration ended at that moment, with the phallic self-launch of a narcissistic tax avoider, it would be a bathetic endpiece to a remarkable story that began with Nazi weaponry and has encompassed arguably the greatest achievement to date of human civilisation.

It is nearly 50 years since people last walked on the surface of the moon – the moon! – in an age with no internet or smartphones, driven there in rattling tin cans at unimaginable speeds by huge controlled explosions. Boosters of the modern app economy love to claim that right now the pace of technological change is the fastest it has ever been, but they are somehow forgetting the period between 1957, when the USSR put the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit, and 1969, when three men flew to the moon and two of them descended in a separate spacecraft, walked around collecting rocks, and then blasted off again, docking with the original spacecraft, before flying back to Earth and splashing down safely in the ocean.

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