Book Reviews: Mars a Technical Tale / Reference Guide to the ISS

Mars a Technical TaleApogee Books have cornered themselves a great niche in publishing books related to space. Their offerings span from the most recent to some dated but vintage fare. Yet all of them seem to add another little sparkle to the crown of our outer space ventures. The following is a review of two of their recent publications.

A recently published though dated book is ‘Project Mars – A Technical Tale‘ by Wernher von Braun. It was written in 1949. However, this is the first time it’s been published. Given the author and the time of writing, this book should have some fascinating contents, and it delivers. It exemplifies the management strengths of von Braun. It showcases his expectations of interplanetary flight as well as Mars environs. Recall that humans had yet to fly in space or send anything into orbit when this was written. And lastly, it presents some social and philosophical issues about exploration and meeting life on other planets. All these have relevance to today’s space undertakings and thus the book provides a chance to see where we’ve progressed and where we’re standing still.

The book’s tale is of a future unified humanity on Earth sending a return mission to Mars. The premise is simple, as are the the characters and plot. Though billed as science fiction, this really is a thinly veiled technical overview of how to travel to Mars. This is not surprising, as a voyage there was always von Braun’s goal. Therefore, the people are mere backdrops, as the precedence is the technology marvel of a human spacecraft fleet that assembles, travels to Mars, meets a few locals and heads home again. Ideas get developed, technology advanced and everyone’s content. This, coupled with an appendix full of equations and formulae, clearly show that von Braun’s book came from a technophile.

If the reader is willing to forgo strong plots and vibrant characters, there’s lots of interest in this technical tale. Anyone interested in today’s efforts to travel to Mars would gain much from reading this. There might be some chuckles about details, given what 50 years have taught us. But, there’s also reference to many unanswered common issues, such as why undertake this expedition. Those interested in the sociological aspects of space flight or accepting no space flight would also be intrigued with von Braun’s views. At the least, it should be a mainstay in the libraries at the Mars analogue stations.

Even in 1949, there were some intoxicating ideas about Mars. Wernher von Braun’s book ‘Project Mars – A Technical Tale‘ built on many of the perceptions of space travel of his time and showed that people could successfully travel vast distances in space. The capability remains, and as shown in the book, we just need the will.

At the other end of Apogee’s space faring timeline is today’s major accomplishment. Here, Apogee publishes NASA’s ‘Reference Guide to the International Space Station‘. This is an original NASA publication, NASA SP-2006-557, which Apogee is reformatting to bring to a wider audience. This book, edited by Gary Kitmacher, compiles a wonderful collage of humanity’s furthest space outpost.

This book is effectively a pictorial guide of the modules that are making up and will make up the space station. Nearly all pictures are from the U.S or other national space agencies. Many are of the space station in orbit, while a sprinkling are of modules that are awaiting their turn to join this research station. Filling out the assembly are computer graphics and artists’ impressions of the space station of the future, as modules combine to complete the finishing touches.

So what does this book satisfy aside from being a glossy promotion of our future home in the sky? It’s greatest strength is to give to the reader a visual appreciation of the appearance of the station and its components. Break outs of systems and their emplacement on an outline of the station’s cross section shows the reader some of the lower level elements. For example, there’s the Human Research Facility, the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer and the Atmosphere Grab Sample Container. It’s an excellent high-level guide of the station’s technical aspect and would probably have warmed Wernher von Braun’s heart.

With all the pictures and few words, this book is well suited for those unfamiliar and curious. The pictures emphasize the reality of the endeavor. The breadth and detail emphasize the complexity. And though there’s solid indication of the benefits of international partners, there’s also hints of the challenges of collaboration, given the number of nodes and the segregation of modules. Nevertheless, both learners and teachers would benefit greatly from having this reference guide to show that humanity can and has taken a step to being a space faring species.

Humanity can come together and continue building on our advances. In the book, the ‘Reference Guide to the International Space Station‘ edited by Gary Kitmacher, there’s clear evidence that multi-national collaborations are possible and fruitful. The reader can see that our technological capabilities can turn dreams into reality.