Book Review: Pocket Space Guides

Project Apollo, Exploring the MoonApogee space books has published four more Pocket Space Guides. These small format books are each about half text and half photographs and are based on a narrow, space topic. The result is to be concise introductions and handy references. In addition, the many good quality photographs add flavourful spice to keep the reader interested. The following are reviews for each of the four.

A small book doesn’t necessarily mean a shallow one. Robert Godwin demonstrates this in his book ‘Russian Spacecraft’. This Pocket Space Guide pays homage to the many Russian successes that helped establish humanity’s presence in space.

Godwin uses a casual writing style to present a lot of technology in his book. In a chronological order, his book’s content winds up through the echelon of Russian space vehicles starting in the 1930s and ending in 2006. Though the book’s title suggests only spacecraft, Godwin treats the reader to a high level fly-by of the entire Soviet space program. He notes the major players, such as Korolev and Glushko, together with all the big vehicles, the R family, the N-1 and the UR-500. These show the breadth of material. As well, by continually bringing in comparisons to the U.S. space program, he adds relevance and metrics. Many black and white photographs are sprinkled throughout the text to show launchers and pre-assembled stages, while the final 20 or so pages are devoted entirely to great colour images of luminaries like the Buran, N-1, Spiral and Gagarin’s R-7.

This book is a great reference and refresher of the Russian space program. For those who like simplicity, this is it as the book focuses on what was done, not how. As well, the great admiration and respect for the Soviet’s contribution as Robert Godwin shows in his book ‘Russian Spacecraft’ makes for a pleasant and informative read.

The second Pocket Space Guide is Steve Whitfield’s book ‘Hubble Space Telescope‘. In it, he shows us details and results of our big telescope in the sky.

As we all know, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the first space travelers from Earth that needed corrective lenses for its vision. Whitfield writes about how this telescope is so much more. He describes the telescope’s development program together with the many sensors that make up this research tool. However, the descriptions are very short and somewhat disjointed. The result is knowledge of the sensor’s location in the satellite, its function and its onboard lifetime. About half the book is given to colour photographs showing either the telescope or the results of its observations. These would normally make any book spectacular, but given the small size of this book, the images are lacking. Thus, though this book is a very brief outline of the Hubble telescope, it doesn’t do its subject justice and would be more a teaser than a useful resource.

Steve Whitfield’s book ‘Hubble Space Telescope’ is a brief guide to a wonderful space instrument and shows just how much our knowledge of our surroundings continue to race along.

The third guide is on the Apollo program that placed men on the Moon. Before the journey, however, all aspects of the Apollo vehicle had to be thoroughly tested to ensure safety. Robert Godwin in his book “Project Apollo – The Test Program” describes the main flight tests that convinced all the theoreticians that their pencils were indeed sharp enough.

Godwin’s book uses a chronological time line to show the steady progress as the Apollo space vehicle became man rated. In a short introduction, he writes how from 1963 to 1969, the US space program undertook trial after trial to prove the safety of their craft. After this introduction, he presents; 15 sections for each of the Apollo/Saturn test flights, 2 vacuum chamber tests and one section for the seven Little Joe and Pad Abort tests. Each section has precise, useful data on primary and secondary mission objectives that are broken into launch vehicle and space vehicle where appropriate. Following each is a brief notation on unusual features and relevant remarks. The final part of the book, with colour photographs, shows almost all of the vehicles, usually at launch, but sometimes floating gently through space. Aside from the introduction, there’s little narrative in this book, just a grand collection of data and information.

Robert Godwin in his book ‘Project Apollo – The Test Program’ steps the reader one by one through the major flights and experiments that assured the mission planners that their concepts were indeed valid. It’s a thorough reminder of just what we can do when we put our minds together and our backs to the wheel.

The pot of gold at the end of the Apollo rainbow was placing people on the Moon. Technology and industry came together to accomplish one person’s challenge. The fourth Pocket Space Guide is Robert Godwin’s book ‘Project Apollo – Exploring the Moon‘. It is a simple and sweet summary of the accomplishments of Apollo.

Apollo 11 through to Apollo 17 blasted off the Earth’s surface with the Moon squarely in their sites. Apollo 13 didn’t make it, but all the others did. Godwin’s introduction to this series of events is a bit of soul searching; where he writes of how far we’ve come and yet how far we can still go. In a flight by flight summary, he imparts some emotion to the challenges and human responses to the many issues of the Moon landings. After this, Godwin returns to the same presentation pattern as per Volume 1 – The Test Program. That is, for each Apollo mission, there are the vehicle statistics, unusual features of the mission, objectives and remarks. These are all in the dry bureaucratic style of writing that deliver so much data with so little emotion. So, enjoy the small amount of opinionated material in the book’s introduction.

Again, the later half of the book is filled with period colour photographs. There’s the astronauts, some launches, the space vehicles in their natural environment and many action shots of activity on the Moon.

This volume, like its companion, makes for a great refresher, a handy reference or a possible hook for an eager young mind looking for a challenge to tackle. There’s only a brief mention of Apollo 11, as it has its own Pocket Space Guide, but this doesn’t markedly detract from this book.

Robert Godwin’s book ‘Project Apollo – Exploring the Moon’ presents the facts of Apollo more than the emotion of the time. It provides a clear and concise synopsis of this marvellous, and so far, singular space accomplishment.