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Falling Back To Earth: A First Hand Account Of The Great Space Race And The End Of The Cold War Paperback – June 2, 2011
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About the Author
Dr. Mark Albrecht has been a leading figure in the American space program for over twenty years. He has been the principal adviser on space to President George H.W. Bush as Executive Secretary of the National Space Council. He has been a senior aerospace executive as President of Lockheed Martin’s International Launch Services company. He has served on numerous panels and boards of advisers to the United States Air Force and NASA. He has served as a member of several private boards of directors and currently is the Chairman of the Board of USSpace, LLC a company offering innovative approaches to meet US Government requirements through privately financed acquisition of rapid response on-orbit capabilities. Dr. Albrecht is the recipient of the U.S. Department of Defense Distinguished Civil Service Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the National Space Society Space Pioneer Award He is a graduate of UCLA with Phi Beta Kappa honors and received a PhD from the Rand Graduate Institute of Public Policy, the Rand Corporation.
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Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately, the NASA part of the book is sandwiched between two irrelevant sections. The first tries hard to rehabilitate two of that Administration's dimmest political bulbs, John Tower and Dan Quayle. The last part is a maundering account of his visits to Yeltsin-era Russia as a Lockheed-Martin executive, filled with descriptions of furniture and lunches.
Even the space policy part of the book is extremely disappointing. Albrecht gives us lots of details, including seemingly verbatim versions of meetings and conversations, but never really gets down to the real issues. Why did senior executive branch officials think that a 24% increase in the NASA budget would be approved by a hostile Democratic Congress? Why did they expect Truly (a former Shuttle astronaut) to help them dismantle Shuttle and Station and promote vague ideas for "new technology" and "new approaches". What was really going on with Lowell Wood and his crazy fly-to-Mars-in-balloons proposal? Why did Albrecht choose Goldin to replace Truly? You won't find any answers here.
The only real value of this work is that it reminds us that the increasing irrelevance of the NASA manned program was becoming obvious to some people over 20 years ago, and that even the smartest people in the business have not thought up a post-Cold War rationale for it (Norm Augustine has tried twice).
The level of technical detail is consistently inconsistent: while describing NASA's unsatisfactory plans for SEI, he does not consider NASA's plans or technology development approaches in any detail. By contrast, chapters of the book on military space (SDI, the Star Wars program) and Lockheed commercial launch services are quite detailed. The author proves himself an expert on these topics. As a result, the tone of this memoir comes across as dismissive, rather uninformed about civilian aerospace, and deeply partisan.
This is unfortunate because the author does does pull out several difficult truths about the civilian space program that are entirely too relevant now. The same charges of management challenges for NASA ring out from GAO, OMB, and "blue ribbon" commission reports today. His recommendations for fixing NASA, while not original, are certainly clear-sighted and accurate. And his characterization of working with Soviet and then Russian colleagues is right on target. But these strengths are buried by the greater flaws and, ultimately, missed expectations. This could have been a fascinating memoir into the tug of war that goes into NASA policy.
(In the interest disclosure: I did work for several years in one of the large programs that the author reviles in this book. During my time, I too saw the problems of accomplishing great feats with rusty bureaucratic machinery. I worked there after SEI, but wounds from that disaster were still healing. SEI was a war story told to NASA newbies as a cautionary tale.)
Albrecht combines the street savvy of a veteran political operator with a historian's sensibility--a rare, and valuable, combination. This book sent me back to reread Bush and Scowcroft's A WORLD TRANSFORMED, another underappreciated memoir of a time whose dangers, and opportunities, were grasped by only a visionary few. If you lived through the late 1980s and early 1990s and are intrigued by space exploration, this book will take you behind the scenes of policymaking that brought NASA into the new century. If you do not know the broader history, read FALLING BACK TO EARTH in conjunction with A WORLD TRANSFORMED, and thank people like George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Mikhail Gorbachev, and their space officials--especially Albrecht--for building orbital bridges between nuclear-armed nations.
The author shares interesting thoughts about complex times. He touches on problems within NASA and discusses the cultural influences on those who sought to promote cooperation with Russia.
With insight and wit, Dr. Albrecht reports on events, ever mindful of the need to re-inspire the post-Cold War approach to space exploration.
Many readers will take an interest in the serious, reflective, and open approach of Vice President Dan Quayle during the first Bush administration.