Book Review: Pocket Space Guides

Large meals satiate big appetites; small ones quickly fill those with less ravenous hunger. Apogee Books is continuing publishing selections in their Pocket Reference Guide series. From this, 3 wonderful new treats come ready to serve to please the palate of those slightly curious about our activities in space. Be warned though, a bite from any of these can easily translate into a yearning for much more!

Michael Lennick fills his literary plate via a guide entitled, Launch Vehicles-Heritage of the Space Race; In it, he provides a robust ensemble that describes scientists and engineers who were instrumental in getting people rocketing off the ground. Leading the mix is Tsiolkovsky and Oberth. Write-ups of many other luminaries follow. However, the descriptions aren’t about the people but about the contributions they made to our nascent space travelling efforts. About halfway through the text portion of the guide, Lennick completes the biographies and changes focus to the vehicles. He shows how the German’s V-2 program was crucial in establishing large scale rocketry in the USA and USSR. He continues on with how this evolved into the USs Saturn V and the USSR’s R-7. Though brief, Lennick’s guide captures that illustrious time of rapid development and success due to the space race.

As with other space guides from Apogee, the second half of Lennick’s is comprised completely of pictures. These are mostly photographs that show launch vehicles either sitting on majestically rising moments after ignition. The photographs are all in colour, are very clear and do show the magnitude and power of these engineering marvels. Most photo’s are of major launch systems of the US. As well though, there’s the Pegasus, the Burna and the H-2a amongst a few others less well known. Further, the adjacent captions give the reader brief yet insightful understanding of the history and significance of the photograph’s subjects.

With the ‘Launch Vehicle’ space guide, Michael Lennick has prepared a great treat for emerging engineers. They could easily visualize the utility of their craft. The guide could be improved with a text that extends into launchers past Saturn V, especially as many of the photographs are of current launch vehicles. Yet, this concern is small potatoes for the wonderful fare laid out.

The next guide comes from Stephen Whitfield. He shows us his culinary like skills of the pen in his space guide entitled, Deep Space. Herein, planets are on the menu, especially those outside the orbit of Mars. Whitfield manages to fill up the guide with appropriate tidbits even though few probes were sent to sample these locales. First he outlines the challenges of sending the probes billions of kilometres away. Then he lists each visited planet and discusses much of the general scientific knowledge that resulted. In addition to the well known facts, he offers up the rarer delights such as a description Polydeuces, the Trojan moon. He closes the text section by listing some major missions being planned and their objective. Not all of these are related to sensing planets but each focuses on an issue of deep space.

Whitfield’s illustration section is also mostly photographs or satellite images. Some are close up views of the probes undergoing testing as with Cassini and Huygens. Most others are of planets and their moons. All are colour and include my personal favourite, Io. Equally intriguing is an electric blue aurora from Jupiter. A few smatterings of Hubble eye candy, whether galaxy or nebula, tease the eyes on the final pages.

The breadth of Stephen Whitfield’s space guide ‘Deep Space’ is daunting. It extends from GALEX that studies galaxies over 10 billion years away to the Huygen probe drifting down to Tritan’s surface. Because of this, the flow and scale is a bit uneven. Whitfield may either confuse or tease the reader to no end. In all though, he also serves up a credible dish to wet the appetite of a young astronomer.

The third and final selection for this review is Robert Godwin’s space guide entitled Mars. With so much attention being paid on this planet, his timing is as well done as his presentation. After a one-page fact sheet, Godwin jumps into the human history related to Mars and its been lengthy. After being thought of as the god of war and fertility, Godwin brings in reality with Hershel seeing the polar caps change size. This meant seasons! From here on, Godwin alludes to people’s fascination, even today, with the possibility of life on the red planet. As he puts it, we won’t expect the Martian monsters of Orson Welles fame, yet many believe that some semblance of life may exist or have existed there. Godwin closes his text section with an up to date recount of the most recent probes, Odyssey, Explorer, Spirit and Opportunity.

The photographs in Godwin’s illustration section keep perfect pace with the text. The beginning is a colour map by Richard Proctor dated 1871. A few choice reprints of magazine covers depict the burgeoning interest in this planet. Following are clear images from the most recent probes which give ground level, true colour perspectives of Martina hills, sunsets and even meteorites. With all the information supplied by Godwin, it’s difficult to remember that humans have yet to visit Mars.

Godwin’s guide will have little new for those who have been following the news in the science column or reviews in the entertainment section. But, this guide seems perfect for those interested in pursuing a career that might include rocketing off of this planet. It is their generation that may have the honour of first stepping in the dust of the Martian surface.

These 3 guides from Apogee Books are tasty. Like a snack before the main course, they awake the senses to an exciting sensory experience that’s just ready for the inquisitive to dig in to. Short concise text, vibrant photographs, clear subjects and accurate information make these a wonderful complement to a bookshelf that spans many tastes.

Review by Mark Mortimer