Voyages of Discovery

[/caption]The end of the space shuttle’s service life lies nigh before us. There’s no surprise then that reviews are coming out as with Robert Adamcik’s “Voyages of Discovery: The Missions of United States Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) 1984-2011“. This book’s faithful compilation of the shuttle, mission by mission, reminds us that we are a successful space faring species with high potential.

Billed as the first production orbiter, Discovery was optimized to haul cargo from the Earth’s surface up to low Earth orbit. Its somewhat extended 5 year build time from about 1979 to 1984 was followed up with 27 years of service. During its operational time, the shuttle will have flown to orbit a total of 39 times. The future tense is appropriate as the shuttle awaits it final flight in early 2011.

The book’s account of this shuttle’s operations is succinct and thorough. The author allocates a chapter to each mission and each chapter lies in chronological order. Each chapters’ format is routine; the mission title, a paragraph or two on noteworthy issues, then crew identities, shuttle payload and usually a paragraph describing each day in orbit. While not particularly imaginative, this makes for a business like rendition of this shuttle’s flights.

Many small black and white pictures greatly add to the prose. Most are of the Discovery whether taking off, in flight or landing. Many exciting pictures of roving astronauts or drifting satellites demonstrate the business end of the orbiter. As well, each chapter includes a copy of the mission patch and many have a posed picture with all the crew members or with a crew member working in the low gravity environment. Often the pictures serve to demonstrate a point in the adjoining text whether a woodpecker damaging the shuttle before flight or a flat tire experienced after landing. In all, these visual treats wonderfully spice up the pages.

Yet, this book does leave some questions. Paramount is “Why prepare a book compiling all the missions when this shuttle has at least one more to do?”. And, “Why was a synopsis created for the Discovery rather than any of the other shuttles?”. Most of perplexing of all though is the book’s lack of a summary. With the shuttle’s service life ending and having completed 39 missions, it needs an all-round perspective on the shuttle’s contributions to humanity. Rather, the book makes for an effective reference for the mission of Discovery but not for a consideration of the shuttle’s over-arching value.

Currently, we are seeing many new opportunities arise in space travel; whether private launch vehicles or newly successful national space agencies. Changes will continue as we learn from our experiences and profit from new capabilities. The shuttle Discovery, ably presented by Robert Adamcik in his book “Voyages of Discovery: The Missions of United States Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) 1984-2011” shows how one vehicle was a robust link in the change. Even as the shuttle program winds down, changes present new opportunities for us to adventure into space.

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