"Live from Cape Canaveral": Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

by Jay Barbree

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“From Sputnik to the International Space Station, Jay Barbree has seen it all, and reported it well. ‘Live from Cape Canaveral’ encapsulates the most technically exciting half century in history.” –Neil Armstrong

Some fifty years ago, while a cub reporter, Jay Barbree caught space fever the night that Sputnik passed over Georgia. He moved to the then-sleepy village of Cocoa Beach, Florida, right outside Cape Canaveral, and began reporting on rockets that fizzled as often as they soared. In "Live from Cape Canaveral," Barbree—the only reporter who has covered every mission flown by astronauts—offers his unique perspective on the space program. He shares affectionate portraits of astronauts as well as some of his fellow journalists and tells some very funny behind-the-scenes stories—many involving astronaut pranks. Barbree also shows how much the space program and its press coverage have changed over time. Warm and perceptive, he reminds us just how thrilling the great moments of the space race were and why America fell in love with its heroic, sometimes larger-than-life astronauts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061735899
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/17/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 40,529
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jay Barbree, seen left reporting live from the launch of Gemini 6 in December 1965, has covered the space race since Sputnik as a correspondent for NBC. The NBC space unit won an Emmy for its coverage of the first Apollo moon landing. Barbree also broke the world news exclusive on the cause of the Challenger explosion. The coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Moon Shot, he lives near Cape Canaveral.

Read an Excerpt

"Live from Cape Canaveral"
Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

Chapter One


In 1957, Cape Canaveral was the most vital and most intensely exciting place in the country. It offered cutting-edge technology in a time of nineteen-cent-a-gallon gasoline, nickel Cokes, two-bit drive-in movies, and the hit of the television season Leave It To Beaver. It was a time when doors went unlocked, when virgins married, when divorce ruined your social standing, and when folks spent their lives working for the same company with the promise of lifelong retirement checks.

In 1957 few that walked this planet reflected on the fact they were actually inhabitants of a mortal spaceship eight thousand miles in diameter, circling one of the universe's 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (ten to the twenty-fourth) stars at 67,062 miles per hour.

However, two groups of men and women—given the era, it was mostly men—were actually consumed, day and night, by the realities that we were all astronauts living on spaceship Earth. One group worked in the United States at Alabama's Redstone arsenal; the other busied itself in a Soviet hamlet called Baikonur on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Like the American group, the Russians developed and worked on machines to lift nuclear warheads and stuff off our planet, and on the evening of October 4, 1957, one of their creations, a large white rocket called R–7, was being fueled for what some would call the single most important event of the twentieth century. Nearby, inside a steel-lined concrete bunker, an intense middle-aged man named Sergei Korolev was at work. Hisjob, as the chief rocket engineer for the USSR, was to orchestrate the stop-and-go countdown. But unlike his American counterpart, Wernher von Braun, Korolev had the full blessing and support of his country's communist government.

While Korolev had been chasing the goal of space flight at breakneck speed, Dr. von Braun had been pleading with President Dwight David Eisenhower to let him launch an Earth satellite. Only the year before, von Braun had moved his rocket and satellite to its launch pad without permission. He was going to launch it anyway, pretending that the satellite accidentally went into orbit. But Lieutenant Colonel Asa Gibbs, Cape Canaveral's commander, ordered the satellite launcher returned to its hangar. Colonel Gibbs cared more about his ass and making full colonel than he did history.

Now, with von Braun's rocket in storage, Sergei Korolev's R–7 was fueled, and his launch team was ready to send a satellite into orbit and send Russia into the history books.

"Gotovnosty dyesyat minut."

Ten minutes.

Steel braces that held the rocket in place were folded down, and the last power cables between Earth and the rocket fell away.

"Tri . . .

"Dva . . .

"Odin . . ."



Flame created a monstrous sea of fire. It ripped into steel and concrete and blew away the night. It sent orange daylight rolling across the steppes of Kazakhstan, quickly followed by a thunderous train of sound that shook all that stood within its path.

R–7 climbed from its self-created daylight on legs of flaming thrust and soon appeared as if it were an elongated star racing across a black sky. It fled from view and left darkness to once again swallow its launch pad as it became just another distant star over the Aral Sea.

While others strained to see the final flicker of the rocket, Korolev was interested only in the readouts. He sat transfixed by the tracking information streaming into the control room. The data were perfect. He was intently interested in each engine's shutdown. Separation of each stage had to be clean. And when the world's first man-made satellite slipped into Earth orbit, he permitted himself to rejoice with the others.

It would be called Sputnik (fellow traveler), and ninety-six minutes later, it completed its first trip around our planet, streaking over its still-steaming launch pad, broadcasting a lusty beep-beep-beep.

A dream had been realized.

Wild celebrations exploded across the Soviet Union.

In the NBC newsroom in New York, editor Bill Fitzgerald had just finished writing his next scheduled newscast when the wire-service machines began clanging. The persistent noise rattled most everything. Fitzgerald ran to the main Associated Press wire and began reading.


London, October 4th (AP)

Moscow radio said tonight that the Soviet Union has launched an Earth satellite.

The satellite, silver in color, weighs 184 pounds and is reported to be the size of a basketball.

Moscow radio said it is circling the globe every 96 minutes, reaching as far out as 569 miles as it zips along at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

Fitzgerald froze. He didn't want to believe his fully written newscast had just been flushed down the toilet.

"Damn!" he cursed in protest before hurrying across the newsroom and bursting into Morgan Beatty's office. "Mo, we've gotta update," he shouted. "One of the damn Russian missiles got away from them, and they lost a basketball or something in space."

Beatty, a World War II correspondent, never came unglued in battles and he wasn't about to be upset by an agitated editor. "Give me that," he demanded, snatching the wire copy from Fitzgerald's hand.

Beatty's eyes widened as he read. "Jesus Christ, Bill, you know what this is? The Russians have put a satellite in Earth orbit! They've been talking about it, and damn it, they've really done it!"

Fitzgerald took a deep breath. "Okay, what do we do, Mo?"

The veteran newscaster didn't hesitate. "We've got to get this on the air, now!"

Sputnik came around the world, streaking northeast over the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama. Its current orbit took it south of Huntsville, where the U.S. Army's rocket team at the Redstone Arsenal was enjoying dinner and cocktails with some high-powered brass from Washington. One of the guests was Neil H. McElroy, who was soon to be the secretary of defense. Wernher von Braun was delighted. He judged McElroy as a man of action and when he replaced the current defense secretary, Charles E. Wilson, action would be . . .

"Live from Cape Canaveral"
Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today
. Copyright © by Jay Barbree. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Preface   Tom Brokaw     xi
Sputnik     1
The Early Days     14
The Astronauts     31
First in Space     47
John Glenn     65
On Orbit     81
The Worst of Times     95
Gemini     105
"I've got a fire in the cockpit!"     121
A Christmas Moon     136
The Secret Side of Space     144
Highway to the Moon     149
The Landing     159
Moon Walk     167
The Successful Failure     175
On the Moon     188
After the Moon     199
A Handshake in Space     204
Down Home with Jimmy Carter     211
The Space Shuttle Era     216
Challenger: A Disaster     226
What Happened?     236
An Eternity of Descent     249
Sudden Death     254
How High Is Up?     269
As the Century Turned     279
Columbia: Had They Only Looked     291
That's a Wrap!     300
Index     309

What People are Saying About This

Larry King

“Jay Barbree of NBC News is arguably the best correspondent to ever cover the space program.”

Neil Armstrong

From Sputnik to the International Space Station, Jay Barbree has seen it all, and reported it well. 'Live From Cape Canaveral' encapsulates the most technically exciting half century in history.

Tom Brokaw

“This man knows more about space than anyone I know.”

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Live from Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Space flight is mankind's greatest adventure, and Jay Barbree has been there for all ot it. He started covering space-related stories shortly after Sputnik was launched, and has not stopped yet.He conveys beautifully the beauty, mystery, and wonder; the pranks, the engineering successes and failures, and the tragedies. The saddest part of the whole book is that none of the three tragedies - the Apollo 1 fire and the two lost shuttles - was inevitable. They could have been prevented. Prior to the Apollo 1 fire in which Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee died, Grissom came to Barbree and asked for help. He said the contracts for the Apollo components had been given to cronies, and the items they were producing were of poor quality. Barbree tried to persuade NBC to cover the story of the poor quality, but the higher ups didn't want to do so. As for the two shuttle explosions, fears were raised in both instances about exactly the things that went wrong, but in both cases it was decided the flaws weren't serious enough to stop the flights.Barbree also conveys the joys of space flght, and a sense of some of the personalities involved. His admiration for the astronauts and others who work with them is clear. Barbree doesn't expect to be around when humankind lands on Mars, but if he is, he'll happily cover the story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just got done reading the sample and it hooked me. I've been trying to read up on my space history larely and this is one of the few that didn't get stuffy. It also has pictures (some times thats a plus.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book wil make you laugh, make you cry and may even make you angry. If you want a first hand account of the space program you need to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What could have been a ho-hum chronological documentary has become a joyride into space with the word weaving magic of Jay Barbree. I laughed out loud as 'Live' took me into the no less than brilliant, side-splitting antics of men attempting to 'one up' each other and bust the stress levels. I cried as the bitter pain of lives lost all too soon was relived. 'Live' took me behind the scenes with lessons in history, political manipulations and personal pride that will never be equalled. Fifty years of reporting and he has not left out anything!Bravo, Jay! Bravo!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
not read