Thanks to movies such as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, pop culture depictions of the Space Race of the 1950s and ’60s almost always focus on the badass dudes who strapped themselves to the tips of rockets and actually went into space—never mind that folks like John Glenn or Alan Shepard were just another payload with above-average PR value. But before the Space Race was the domain of hotshot astronauts, it was the stuff of hotshot scientists. Michael D’Antonio’s latest book, A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957—The Space Race Begins, turns the clock back to when eggheads like Wernher von Braun and James Van Allen were the stars of the American space program. D’Antonio kicks things off with the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in October 1957, then follows as the American political, military, and scientific establishments raced to catch up and eventually beat the Soviets at the high-pressure game of throwing inanimate objects, and eventually quite animate primates, into low Earth orbit. But D’Antonio, a sharp storyteller who draws on dozens of interviews as well as plenty of library work, goes beyond the nuts and bolts, delving into Kremlin politics and the battles between Eisenhower and Pentagon muck-a-mucks. D’Antonio discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at Olsson’s Books & Records, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Free. (703) 525-4227.