Foreign Relations & International Law

Chatter: The Harrowing History of the Soviet Space Program with John Strausbaugh

Shane Harris, John Strausbaugh
Tuesday, June 4, 2024, 9:52 AM
Discussing the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

In the wake of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union set off on the great space race, competing to see which super power could put the first human in space and eventually land them on the Moon. As historian John Strausbaugh writes, that race should have been over before it even started. 

Strausbaugh’s new book, The Wrong Stuff: How the Soviet Space Program Crashed and Burned, is a harrowing and frequently hilarious account of how political leaders and engineers slapped together a space program with little apparent concern for the lives of the cosmonauts they hurled into Earth’s orbit. Moscow blustered about the size of its rockets and the triumph of its space pioneers. But that patriotic rhetoric hid the true nature of a program that was harried and haphazard, and whose leaders weren’t quite sure how to return their pilots to Earth after launching them into space. 

The Soviet space program stands in stark contrast, Strausbaugh told Shane Harris, to the methodical and comparatively risk-averse NASA program, which eventually overtook its rival. 

Books, historical figures, and near-death space walks discussed in this episode include: 

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.

Shane Harris has written about intelligence, security and foreign policy for more than two decades. He is a staff writer with The Washington Post, covering U.S. intelligence agencies and national security. He was part of the team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for stories about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and efforts to overturn the presidential election. In 2019, he was part of the team that was a finalist for the Public Service award for coverage of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Shane has previously been a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, and National Journal. He is the author of two books, "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State" (Penguin Press, 2010) and "@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). He frequently appears on national and international television and radio. He is also a co-host of the weekly podcast "Chatter." Shane graduated from Wake Forest University in 1998. He lives in Washington.
John Strausbaugh is an American author and cultural commentator.

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