Baikonur Man

Space, Science, American Ambition, and Russian Chaos at the Cold War's End

Non-Fiction - Drama
236 Pages
Reviewed on 05/11/2023
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Author Biography

Barry Stoddard was born in Montana and has lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of his life. He graduated from Whitman College in 1985 and then earned his doctorate in 1990 from MIT. After further training at the University of California in Berkeley, he joined the faculty at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle Washington, where he has run a research laboratory ever since. While this is his first book intended for readers of all backgrounds, he has previously authored hundreds of research studies and serves as the senior editor of a scientific journal. He believes that interesting and enjoyable writing is universal regardless of its audience and purpose.

Barry lives in Bellevue Washington with his wife Amy, not far from his sons and their families. He enjoys reading, traveling, theater, music, skiing, golfing, diving, drinking good wine and interesting cocktails and eating virtually anything (except olives, lentils and especially beets, which he grew to hate in the former Soviet Union and still despises to this day). He has always been willing to try anything interesting at least once and has yet to regret doing so. Among the many adventures that his career in science has brought into his life, working with Payload Systems and the Soviet and Russian space program remains at the very top of the list.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Maria Victoria Beltran for Readers' Favorite

Baikonur Man: Space, Science, American Ambition, and Russian Chaos at the Cold War’s End by Barry L Stoddard is a non-fiction drama set against the backdrop of the Cold War. The story is about an American start-up forging a secret deal to place American scientific payloads aboard the Soviet space station MIR. This agreement was negotiated and approved behind the backs of NASA and Congress, with the assistance of officials inside the Commerce and Defense departments. This grueling saga of how science, camaraderie, hardships, and madness led to the first American experiments and payloads to be brought to space on Russian rockets, as recounted by one who witnessed history itself. Stoddard was present when the company founder of the start-up met with three students and their professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This is his story.

Barry L Stoddard’s Baikonur Man is an ambitious and gripping narrative about how a group of young scientists and a small company ran experiments in space in the 1980s. However, it is more than just about our world's social or political landscape. Stoddard goes personal as we are immersed in a first-person adventure full of unexpected moments, wit, humor, drama, and hope. This fascinating narrative is much more than just about science. It is also about the resilience and beauty of the human condition during sociopolitical change. It's a must-read for those interested in science and history. Highly recommended!

Grant Leishman

Following the tragic explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986, western scientists who wanted to test the effects of zero gravity on their experiments were left without options. Baikonur Man: Space, Science, American Ambition, and Russian Chaos at the Cold War’s End by Barry L. Stoddard recounts the situation from the experience of one of the pioneers in using space to advance his field of crystallization of proteins. Recruited by a small American start-up, Stoddard and his team set about negotiating the opportunity to place their crystallization experiments aboard a Soviet rocket that would take them to the Soyuz Space Station, where cosmonauts would be charged with the task of activating the experiments and then returning them safely to earth after several months. Against all odds and in a highly charged political situation as the Soviet Union begins to unravel, this small team will travel to the Soviet launch facility in Kazakhstan, as well as mission control in Moscow as they experience the differences between U.S. and Soviet, technology, systems, culture, and lifestyle.

Baikonur Man is a fascinating read of somewhat naïve scientists trying to operate in a political environment fraught with tension and danger. Barry L. Stoddard is a highly educated and brilliant scientist, but for the most part, the story, even the science, is well explained and understandable to the lay reader. I will admit, though, to my eyes glazing over once or twice as some of the more technical aspects of the experiments were explained. Stoddard’s trip to Russia and Kazakhstan, when the country was undergoing immense social upheaval and disintegration, is both intriguing and interesting. What shone through the story was that at the personal level, beneath the machinations of political ideologies, scientists and indeed people in general are the same the world over; warm, inviting, and just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. It is well written and, as a first-hand account, utterly trustworthy. This was an excellent read and one I can highly recommend.

Heather Stockard

The United States Space Shuttle Program came to a grinding halt in 1986 following the Challenger disaster. No US shuttles would fly into orbit for two years, meaning an end of zero-gravity research. At the time, Russia with its Mir Space Station was the only other country with access to space. In this gripping memoir, Baikonur Man, Barry L Stoddard details his experiences collaborating with Payload systems and Russian scientists to send research projects to Mir in Russian rockets. Barry and his team worked tirelessly and traveled halfway around the world to complete their mission and discover what effect, if any, microgravity would have on their experiments. Along the way, they would face technical setbacks, diplomatic incidents, and other challenges threatening the entire project and their physical and mental well-being.

Baikonur Man, a memoir by Barry L Stoddard, is an educational account of a fascinating time in American history, the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, the war in the Middle East, and the Challenger disaster. Stoddard’s wit and intelligence shine through as he relates both his personal experiences and the broader goings-on of the world as it was then. He also includes interesting and informative details about his research and experiments on protein crystallization and his academic career. Finally, he gives us an inside look at a little-known project that proved Russian and American collaboration was possible, even in the wake of the Cold War. This memoir is a must-read for any space or science enthusiast.

Essien Asian

At the height of the cold war, Americans had yet to recover from the shock of the Challenger shuttle accident. With so much happening around them too fast for them to process, Barry and his colleagues received an offer so outlandish the very thought of it defied belief. A private American firm was interested in partnering with them in furthering their research on the effects of zero gravity in the creation of protein crystals. Because NASA was not in a position to help, they managed to negotiate an arrangement with the space agency of the Soviet Union. Barry L. Stoddard was a part of this momentous and factual endeavor and Baikonur Man: Space, Science, American Ambition, and Russian Chaos at the Cold War's End is his unbelievable story of scientific progress despite the odds.

Barry L. Stoddard presents the details of what could best be described as a miracle in the middle of the cold war. His account is detailed and technical where it needs to be without boring the reader, while the adventurous aspects of his experiences are mostly funny and easy to follow. When analyzing his story closely you get the feeling that he and his colleagues looked death in the eye on more than one occasion yet escaped unscathed. Just the thought of a pilot handing over the controls of his aircraft to someone who had no business being in the cockpit in the name of being friendly sent shivers down my spine. It is nice to see that the overall importance of their endeavors in the scientific world is not overshadowed by the politics that took an active if not forceful front seat during those heady days. Baikonur Man is a one-of-a-kind book highlighting the memories of a bygone era that we cannot help but appreciate.

Alma Boucher

Baikonur Man: Space, Science, American Ambition, and Russian Chaos at the Cold War's End by Barry L. Stoddard is a unique account of the efforts of a group of young scientists to participate in one of the first experimental scientific initiatives jointly run by American scientists and the Russian space program. Their first hurdle was to get the initial experiments into a Russian space station before the fall of the Soviet Union. The potential value of protein structures in medicine and biotechnology was clear, and the US Space Program wanted to send proteins into space to crystallize. A small American company made a deal behind NASA’s back with the help of US government officials in the Commerce and Defense Departments. This was out of pure desperation after the Challenger tragedy. This is an exciting and eventful true story that will awaken readers' interest in science.

Baikonur Man by Barry L. Stoddard is a fascinating tale. Barry was open and honest and related the experiences of these students with humor. I had fun with the science and enjoyed the stories about their journey. It was entertaining, and I laughed out loud more than once. It was fast-paced and easy to read. Great care was taken to make science understandable and engaging. It was explained in terms that someone like me could easily understand. Barry did a great job describing world events like the Challenger disaster and the fall of the Soviet Union. The developments were well-researched, and the book contains much useful information. The people mentioned were fantastic and entertaining. It was a privilege to join Greg, Roland, and Barry on their journey.