Book Review: Space – A History of Space Exploration in Photographs

Andrew Chaikin divides humankind’s history of space and his book into six chapters. The beginning shows a cross section of a model rocket based on Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s designs and a wonderful portraiture of this figurehead of space travel. Thereafter comes a steady and well mixed parade of photographs of people, machines and views from space. It ends with photographs of Yang Liwei in his cabin and the launch of his Shenzhou 5 rocket. Many are related to outstanding achievements like the docking of the space shuttle to Mir though some are of crisis events like the damaged Apollo 13 craft. With the book’s chronological ordering, a reader can easily grasp the challenges and accomplishments that occurred in our escape from the bounds of Earth.

Starting each of the six chapters is a narrative that provides some context into the events of the time. Mostly this contains an overview of the political situation and the significant space events. The result is a perspective on the contents and importance of the following photographs. Also, annotations attached to each photograph clearly tell the reader about the subject and the date which it was taken.

The photographs themselves are all superbly clear. Most are in colour and are well sized and positioned to provide optimum impact. Some might be rare, such as one of the checkout of Apollo 14 and 15’s lunar module at the Kennedy Space Center, or another of the Soviet Union’s one man lunar lander. But, for the most part, the pictures are or, at least were, well known.

The main value of this book is its depth. It includes authentic photographs to cover the complete span of human space endeavours. This collection gives feeling to the power of the ever present natural forces and the precocious nature of our advances. However, even though this book was enjoyable to read through once, thereafter, much like a family photo album, it will likely stay put on a shelf or coffee table until friends come over and show an interest.

Though the international space programs of today may not appear astounding, just remember that, only a short time ago, the first human blasted into space. Since then, humankind has really made significant achievements. Luckily cameras recorded many of these and Andrew Chaikin, in his book Space – A History of Space Exploration in Photographs presents an excellent collection. This book will give you a wonderful excuse to ignore a cold winter and curl up in your favourite chair to look at all the marvels we’ve accomplished.

This review is for the paperback edition, which was just released. The hardcover version was put out over a year ago, but Universe Today didn’t get a copy to review.

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Review by Mark Mortimer