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A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 - The Space Race Begins , By Michael D'Antonio '77

J. Dennis Robinson '73
Alice Fogel '85G
Todd Balf '83
In Their Own Words:
William McGee '59
Bernard Balser '63
Maurice "Moe" Quirin '72
Ron LeBlond '58
Also of Note:
Julie Hardy '99
Jean Mary Flahive '69
Peter Michel
Sandra J. Philipson '70
Louise Rogers '88
News from Theatre and Dance alumni: Kendahl Ferguson '03, Elizabeth (Libby) Stevens '05, Michael Graziadei '01, Veronica DiPerna '05, Greg Kalafatas '03, Sean Quinn '05, Laura Halzack '03, Ian Hanna '03, Sara Desmarais '01, Megan Reilly '00, Travis Bedard '99, Trish Vaillancourt '98, Kim Bird '02 and Liam Billingham '05

A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 - The Space Race Begins
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Michael D'Antonio '77 has written books about a dirt-poor Mexican golfer who made it to the PGA tour, a group of foster boys who retaliated against a system that grossly neglected them, and Milton S. Hershey, an energetic entrepreneur driven by utopian dreams. He is drawn to stories that reveal personal triumph, and a cultural viewpoint that is identifiably American. "I'm always fascinated by the way Americans think at various points in our history, and in my work, I look for exceptional qualities in people that illustrate goodness, or a struggle for something better," he says.

Michael D'Antonio '77

In his new book, A Ball, A Dog, and A Monkey: 1957--The Space Race Begins (Simon & Schuster, 2007), published on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, he follows the lives of rocket scientists, engineers, military personnel and journalists, both American and Soviet, over the course of one tense, productive, and often thrilling year. D'Antonio says he is the kind of person who needs to know the human dimension of historical facts, and so he embeds other threads in the spinning of his main plot, which makes for a very lively prose style. Here's part of his description of the launch of the American rocket "Juno": "Desperate for confirmation that their most important rocket was performing as it should, [General] Medaris and a few others got into waiting cars and sped to a communications and tracking center set up in a nearby Quonset hut. There a team of analysts led by JPL's Al Hibbs was already racing through calculations based on the apparent speed and angle of the satellite's flight. Hibbs was a slightly famous math whiz with a quirky personality. As a college student he and a friend had studied the mechanics of certain roulette wheels and figured out how to beat the casinos in Vegas. The stunt got them into Life magazine and earned them enough money to buy a sailboat and finance an eighteen-month cruise around the world."

D'Antonio entered UNH knowing that he wanted to be a journalist, and found a supportive community. "Don Murray made me believe that it was possible to be a professional writer who made a living out of ideas and skills, but always held me to a very high standard -- he would praise two or three things in my writing, and criticize 9 or 10," D'Antonio says. "From Andy Merton, I learned how a big part of the writer's task is collecting a lot of material, and then finding the telling anecdote or observation that makes someone fully human."

book cover

After graduating, D'Antonio worked at several newspapers, including Foster's Daily Democrat and the Portland Press Herald; he won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team of reporters at Newsday. In 1990, he won the Alicia Patterson Fellowship which funded a book length project on Christian America, and he has written books ever since.

D'Antonio's interpretation of one crucial year in the space race, based on his copious interviews, leaves the reader with many absorbing impressions. For one, President Eisenhower's concern about the ambition and influence of military leaders and contractors, and his resulting policy, emerges as prescient and judicious. And D'Antonio show that all the folks involved, from the rocket scientists to the animal trainers to the people who rented trailers to the space workers, felt that they were part of something extraordinary. "Our nation responded to a crisis in a way that turned out to be flawed but was still positive," D'Antonio says. "With the space race, we essentially fought a war with the Soviet Union by proxy." ~

Anne Downey '95G, a freelance writer who lives in Eliot, Maine, received her Ph.D. in English from UNH.