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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 1999
Mr. Ryan corrects a long-standing error in our history of the space program by chronicling the manned ballooning programs that occurred before NASA, and still continued to explore the limits of man's endurance while NASA was still finding its niche.
While scientists debated the limits of man's endurances to high gravity stress, a group of underfunded doctors and test pilots in New Mexico were pushing these limits on their own. While forgotten to most Americans who have learned to revere Shepherd, Glenn, and Aldrin, the contributions of Stapp, Kittenger, and the others made the space program possible. While others were focusing on rockets, these people used the relatively cheap balloons to send men high enough to determine if manned space travel was even possible.
Mr. Ryan's narration is brisk, but yet detailed enough to give you an appreciation for the risks these people took. The events are exciting and groundbreaking, and Mr. Ryan does them justice with his narrative style.
As an Air Force member, I was stationed at Holloman AFB, NM (the site of most of these events) 15 years ago and had heard of these programs and what these scientists and pilots accomplished. I have been looking for a history of these programs ever since, and Mr. Ryan has provided it.
Highly recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 1999
Craig Ryan takes us on a thrill ride of great adventure, daring and courage of aerospace feats that most people on the face of this Earth never knew happened. Having grown up in the forties and fifties and having read about these balloon exploits firsthand in Life, Post, and Time, Mr. Ryan has allowed me, through vivid detail, excellent research and great writing, to re-live a part of my life as if it where happening all over again. This book is for anyone interested in the history of aerospace development, human courage and true-action adventure.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2000
Craig Ryan's history of high-altitude manned ballooning is one of the most compelling books I have ever read. Taking place on the fledgling edge of the space age, this is the true story of men who, on an almost non-existent budget, originated the hitherto unknown fields of space medicine and safety. Dr. Stapp and the men and women who worked with him pioneered new technology and conducted valuable research that, in the end, was largely lost to history -- research and technology that might have saved lives in the Apollo 1 and Challenger disasters. This book is a tribute to their almost-unknown accomplishments and a reminder never to let something so valuable be lost or forgotten.
And if you don't care for the science side of the story, just as incredible are the tales of personal courage. This book also tells the story of Joe Kittinger, who stepped out of an open balloon gondola in his pressure suit nearly 20 MILES above the surface of the Earth and parachuted safely to the ground after almost 5 minutes of freefall (a feat never since equalled or exceeded). Personally, Mr. Kittinger gets my vote for the biggest balls ever. You have to admire the man who was the first person ever to break the sound barrier... WITHOUT a vehicle!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 1998
I was drawn to this book after seeing a photograph taken from the gondola of a baloon that shows the curvature of the earth and for all practicle purposes was taken from space. A little research lead me to Mr. Ryan's book of high-altitude ballooning, which is just perfectly written, and which I found as exciting as any of the adventure/naturalism books that are all in vogue presently. Yet, Ryan shows that these adventures into the stratosphere were no mere acts of hubris, but a great and necasary step in the advancement of aeronautics. Filled with many interesting facts, I have to this day a much greater appreciation for the thin atmosphere that sorrounds our planet. And the step from the gondola that Kittinger takes from 105,000 feet still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. You think braving a storm in the North Atlantic is frightful or find traffic jams on the face of everest titilating, try this puppy on for size!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 1999
Craig Ryan's book, obviously diligently researched and brilliantly written, may ultimately serve as one of the most illuminating tributes to an amazing American, Dr. John Paul Stapp, who died this Fall (1999). Dr. Stapp is one of the major characters in the stories that Ryan weaves and should be recognized as a one-in-a-million renaissance man of the Twentieth Century.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2008
This book is about, as its title suggests, the pre-astronauts--the men who braved the edges of space before those more famous men who went into orbit, and to the moon--the men who took balloons above the Earth's atmosphere, above the blue of the sky, above the curve of the world.

The people you will meet within this book are unforgettable. There's Joseph Kittinger, of course, who took a balloon 103,000 feet above the Earth and then jumped. There's Clifton McClure, one of the bravest and most indomitable people ever, who managed to stay conscious during temperatures that would have killed others. And there's Scott Stapp whose experiments in high speeds and high-speed braking literally emblazoned images onto his retinas.

In addition to the people, the book will give you a great idea of the complexities and dangers of the upper atmosphere, the fragility of earth, the progression of technology, the importance of courage and daring and discovery.

THE PRE-ASTRONAUTS is, without exaggeration, among the very best books I have ever read. I can think of few non-fiction books that tell a more compelling story in a more compelling way. In fact, off the top of my head, I can think of none. Craig Ryan keeps the story speeding along, the story he has to tell is just mind-blowing, and every detail feels valid and necessary, fascinating and exciting.

After reading this, not only did I buy just about every other book on the subject, but I bought all of Ryan's other books as well. This book is potentially life-changing. After reading about what these guys did, it will make you want to do something huge and meaningful yourself. It will drive home reality of the closeness of space to where you are right now, and will very likely make you want to go there yourself.

Buy this. Read it. It really is amazing, and I wish there were more books like it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Bungee Jumping! Bull....! Test your nerves at 100,000 feet where you view the curve of the earth. Imagine not knowing whether your floating up into outerspace or falling from outerspace. This book chronicles the men who defined space for mankind. A must read for any thrill seeker!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2002
This book is a complete history of Project ManHigh and includes a full story about all three flights. It also details the flights of Project Excelsior, Project Stratolab, and the flights of aeronaut Nicholas Piantanida. A must-have for aerospace enthusiasts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book is an awesome book about an awesome feat of humans thirst and curiosity to go higher!!! I love this books look at this interesting program. I would recommend it to any and all space fans!!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2004
This book tells a story that happens in a time when the romantics were more powerfull than the cynics. This happens at a time when it was possibe to be non conformist and still contribute in very valuable ways to the advancememnt of humankind.
The book of Mr Ryan is instructive yet very pleasant and relaxing to read. It is very rigourously documented, logically organised, systematically researched. He was able to tell the facts, while at the same time describe the human beings and analyse the human factors . The autor worked hard to write so you can effortlessly witness the lore of these chivalrous people.
At the end, you will find yourself more knowledgeable and emotionally moved. You will feel like these heros are your personnal friends.
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