“Beautifully written. Reveals the vicissitudes of an extraordinarily interesting life.”–Michael J. Neufeld, author of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War “Willy Ley has been a mystery among spaceflight historians for many years. His role as science writer, advocate, and popularizer is known to many but understood by few. This book unpacks that story.”–Roger D. Launius, associate director of collections and curatorial affairs, National Air and Space Museum “Ley lit the fire of interplanetary enthusiasm in the hearts of generations of young space cadets. Long overdue, this biography establishes the details and the ups and downs of his career.”–Tom D. Crouch, author of Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of Balloons and Airships “Beyond recovering the fascinating and many contradictory aspects of Ley’s extraordinary life, Buss has provided a valuable case study of the complex relationship between science popularization, mass media, and scientific advocacy in the twentieth century.”–Asif A. Siddiqi, author of The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857-1957
Willy Ley inspired young rocket scientists and would-be astronauts around the world to imagine a future of interplanetary travel long before space shuttles existed. This is the first biography of the science writer and rocketeer who predicted and boosted the rise of the Space Age.
Born in Germany, Ley became involved in amateur rocketry until the field was taken over by the Nazis. He fled to America, where he forged a new life as a weapons expert and journalist during World War II and as a rocket researcher after the war. As America’s foremost authority on rockets, missiles, and space travel, he authored books and scientific articles, while also regularly writing for science fiction pulp magazines and publishing what he termed romantic zoology–a blend of zoology, cryptozoology, history, and mythology. He even consulted for television’s Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and the Disney program Man in Space, thrilling audiences with a romanticized view of what spaceflight would be like.
Yet as astronauts took center stage and scientific intellectuals such as Wernher von Braun became influential during the space race, Ley lost his celebrity status. With an old-fashioned style of popular writing and eccentric perspectives influenced by romanticism and science fiction, he was ignored by younger historians. This book returns Willy Ley to his rightful place as the energizer of an era–a time when scientists and science popularizers mixed ranks and shared the spotlight so that our far-fetched, fantastic dreams could turn into the reality of tomorrow.