9.07 a.m., April 12, 1961. A top-secret rocket site in the USSR. A young Russian sits inside a tiny capsule on top of the Soviet Union's most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile – originally designed to carry a nuclear warhead – and blasts into the skies. His name is Yuri Gagarin and he is about to make history.
Travelling at almost 18,000 miles per hour – ten times faster than a rifle bullet – Gagarin circles the globe in just 106 minutes. While his launch begins in total secrecy, within hours of his landing he has become a world celebrity – the first human to leave the planet.
Beyond tells the thrilling story behind that epic flight on its sixtieth anniversary. It happened at the height of the Cold War as the US and USSR confronted each other across an Iron Curtain. Both superpowers took enormous risks to get a man into space first – the Americans in the full glare of the media, the Soviets under deep cover. Both trained their teams of astronauts to the edges of the endurable. In the end the race between them would come down to the wire.
Drawing on extensive original research and the vivid testimonies of eyewitnesses, many of whom have never spoken before, Stephen Walker unpacks secrets that were hidden for decades and takes the reader into the drama – featuring the scientists, engineers and political leaders on both sides, and above all the American astronauts and their Soviet rivals battling for supremacy in the heavens.
Stephen Walker was born in London. He has a BA in History from Oxford and an MA in the History of Science from Harvard. His previous book was Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima, a New York Times bestseller. As well as being a writer he is also an award-winning documentary director. His films have won an Emmy, a BAFTA and the Prix d’Or, Europe’s most prestigious documentary award. Young@Heart, a film about an American chorus of seniors, won the Los Angeles Film Festival Audience Award in 2007 and was subsequently released to critical acclaim in cinemas across the US by Fox Searchlight.
"This book is a triumph"
– Dan Snow
"Just a wonderful book, I can't recommend it enough"
– Giles Coren
"The thrilling story [...] is not the first study of Gagarin and the Vostok missions, still less of Nasa's "Mercury Seven" astronauts – but bringing the two stories together is a masterstroke. Stephen Walker is a documentary film-maker as well as a historian, and it shows in the sophistication of the storytelling [...] It is high-definition history: tight, thrilling and beautifully researched"
– Sunday Times
"Many intriguing revelations [and an] extensive, blow-by-blow account of the race to put a human in space [...] Tells the full story of the finest two hours of [Gagarin's] tragically short life"
– Literary Review
"Brings to life the space race and the extraordinary story of Yuri Gagarin. Using first-hand testimony, Stephen Walker evokes the personalities, the science and the atmosphere of the time in a history that reads like a thriller"
– Anne Applebaum
"The very best account of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering space mission – vivid, thoughtful, and respectful of the characters in the story. A wonderfully rendered story of an epochal event"
– Asif Siddiqi
"Beyond has the exhilaration of a fine thriller, but it is vividly embedded in the historic tensions of the Cold War, and peopled by men and women brought sympathetically, and sometimes tragically, to life"
– Colin Thubron
"Suddenly, every previous biography of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and his epic Earth-orbiting flight has been superseded [...] A spellbinding and completely authoritative account [...] The finest, best researched book ever written on the subject"
– Colin Burgess
"Dramatic and dynamic. Stephen Walker's passion for his subject along with his exceptional research and attention to detail have brought my father's extraordinary journey vividly to life"
– Elena Gagarina, daughter of Yuri Gagarin