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.