Ambassadors from Earth


Ambassadors from Earth

Pioneering Explorations with Unmanned Spacecraft

Jay Gallentine

Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight Series

520 pages
49 photographs, 1 illustration


June 2014


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eBook (EPUB)

November 2021


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About the Book

Ambassadors from Earth reminds us that our first mad scrambles to reach orbit, the moon, and the planets were littered with enough histrionics and cliff-hanging turmoil to rival the most far-out sci-fi film. But it all really happened!

Drawing on original interviews with key players and bolstered by previously unpublished photographs, journal excerpts, and primary source documents, Jay Gallentine delivers a quirky and unforgettable look at the lives and legacy of the people who conceived, built, and guided our first unmanned spacecraft and planetary probes. From the Sputnik and Explorer satellites of the late 1950s, to the thrilling Voyager “Grand Tour” of the ’70s and ’80s, they yielded some of the most celebrated successes and spectacular failures of the space age.

Confessed one participant, “We were making it up as we went along.”

Gallentine fearlessly clambers to the bottom of a surprisingly bitter controversy over who first developed the technique of using gravity to steer a spacecraft. Also of special note are his candid discussions with James Van Allen, the discoverer of the rings of planetary radiation that now bear his name.

Author Bio

Jay Gallentine is a space historian who strives to tell never-before-heard stories of the space age in a lightheartedly appealing, readable, and nontechnical style.


"Many space buffs, especially young ones, should find this a satisfying narrative."—Publishers Weekly

"Ambassadors is written in an accessible and engaging style, introducing readers to behind-the-scenes players most of us have never heard of."—Russell Lewis, NPR

"[Ambassadors from Earth] offers an accessible account of the U.S. and Soviet planetary missions of the Space Race era, as well as the more widespread efforts of more recent times."—Roger Launius, Air & Space Magazine

"Utilising original interviews with key players, bolstered by never-before-seen photographs, journal excerpts, and primary source documents, Gallentine delivers a quirky and unforgettable look at the lives and legacy of the Americans and Soviets who conceived, built, and guided those unmanned missions to the planets and beyond."—Philip Corneille, Spaceflight

"This book provides a wonderful way of renewing interest in the pioneering contributions of the robotic space programs pursued by the United States and the Soviet Union."—De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Quest

"An intriguing and essential read on the history of unmanned space programs and especially the tug-of-war between the United States and the Soviety Union for space supremacy in the late 1950s and the decade of the 1960s."—Dale A. Stirling, Journal for the History of Discoveries

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Aboard the Glacier

2. Problem Child

3. The Convict

4. Light Fuse, GET AWAY

5. New Moon

6. Let's Make a Deal

7. The Creators and the Makers

8. Storming the Sea of Dreams

9. Moving at the Speed of Design

10. Job Number MA-11

11. The Science and the Cyclist

12. Get Off the Bus

13. Swing in Time

14. The Meeting and the Mechta

15. Think Like Gravity

16. Didn't They Get It?

17. The Death and the Funeral

18. One Hundred Percent Failure

19. Three-Problem Shipley

20. Pete and Al's Little Field Trip

21. Irradiated Plans

22. Embarking

23. Get It

24. Instant Science

25. Circles of Gold

26. Last Light

27. Continuum




Winner of the 2009 Emme Award for Astronautical Literature, sponsored by the American Astronautical Society

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