Book Review and Giveaway: Ask the Astronaut

Imagine yourself sitting in front of a veteran astronaut. You are able to ask him or her all the space related questions floating about in your head, with no interruptions and no time limit. While you may think you are channeling the adult version of you with your inquiry list, we all know that curious teen is lurking inside, giddy with the thought that you may grow up to be an astronaut and gleeful that you have a private audience to pick the brain of a real space traveler. Your patient audience of one is a successful, seasoned astronaut. They’ve experienced the countdown clock and ridden several rocket launches; they’ve worked in space, walked in space and thoroughly earned their space wings.

“Exploring Space is Our Destiny” – quote from Astronaut Tom Jones’ website

“Ask the Astronaut,” by 4-time shuttle astronaut Tom Jones, is that virtual astronaut sitting across from you – the answer to your curiosity. Jones brings 25 years of space experience to the table as an astronaut, planetary scientist and space consultant. In “Ask the Astronaut,” Jones ponders over 300 questions, providing thoughtful, honest responses that will surely satisfy any questions about spaceflight.

Thanks to Smithsonian Books, Universe Today has 5 copies of this book to give away. Find out how at the end of this review.

The book is handily divided by topic relating to space. “Training for Space” starts us off then transitions to “Getting to Space”. Within this chapter we learn that a shuttle launch typically took about 8 minutes 30 seconds to reach Earth orbit. Another interesting factoid is that today’s crews are officially designated astronauts when they climb 62 miles above Earth. Did you know that astronaut’s ears do not pop on that ride up? This is due to the continuous cabin pressure, which is unlike the ascent and descent experienced in a regular plane. These snippets barely scratch the surface!

ask the astronaut

Follow along through each chapter and you will be graced with detailed information including subjects such as “Surviving in Space,” “Working in Space,” “Returning to Earth,” and what lies ahead in the future. Curious about EVAs or “Walking in Space”? There’s a chapter dedicated to it.

This book is billed for the ages 10-17, but I believe all ages can benefit from the vast knowledge within, especially that eager inner kid, full of questions, found in all of us. Spaceflight is one of those great endeavors so many dream to be a part of. Tom Jones gives us a glimpse behind the curtain.

The book is published by Smithsonian Books and is available on Amazon on Kindle or paperback.

Tom Jones NASA bio can be seen here, and he also has a website.


The publisher has specified that for this contest, winners need to be from the US.

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Monday, March 28. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing. If you’ve entered our giveaways before you should also receive an email with a link on how to enter.

Book Review and Giveaway: “How We’ll Live on Mars”

Every great adventure begins with a dream. Explorers look into the unknown and set a course for discovery. Many years ago, the US launched men off planet Earth and hurtled them to the Moon. The next great space milestone is certainly to put a human boot print on Mars. In this dream and adventure of exploration, women and men will not only walk on Mars, but inhabit it.

This aspiration of putting humans on Mars is not a new one. As a spacefaring nation, we could have reached there decades ago. In How We’ll Live on Mars, author Stephen L. Petranek examines how we’ll get to Mars within this century and discusses the opportunity for a potential settlement on the Red Planet.

Find out below how you can win a copy of this new book.

As a species it seems necessary and imminent for humans to exist off this singular planet we currently reside on. How will our journey to Mars happen? What are the pitfalls? And, most importantly, who is leading the charge?

Petranek discusses how private companies are filling a vacuum left by NASA’s mothballing of the Saturn V. NASA’s primary focus on the shuttle and then its retirement has left us currently unable to launch humans from US soil. Elon Musk and his Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) are given proper attention in this book thanks to their accomplishments thus far and their push for further achievements including a goal of Mars. Other private companies and in fact, other nations, are setting their sights on sending rovers to and eventually occupying Mars.

Chapter 6 of this book is titled “Living on Mars.” Petranek aptly notes, “Humans need four things to survive on Earth – food, water, shelter, and clothing. Humans need five things to survive on Mars – food, water, shelter, clothing, and oxygen. The successful procurement of these five essential resources will secure humanity’s future as an interplanetary species.”

This presents a major hurdle. For example, an important goal is finding accessible water – a key ingredient for human survival. Making potable water on a planet far from home is not a simple task, but it is a possible one. The challenges for survival do not end there.

How We’ll Live on Mars, a TED Books original publication, is a quick and worthy read. Stephen L. Petranek’s writing style is fluid; the information is well presented and thoughtful. The first human footprint on Mars is fast approaching reality. As a species we will tune in to watch the broadcast – albeit one with a delay for the signal travel time – of a major milestone in history. This book gives a concise examination of where we’ve been, what we’re likely to see on the road to get there and what will happen once on Mars. I recommend adding this to your reading list.

How We’ll Live on Mars is published by Simon & Schuster. Find out more about the book here.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, Universe Today has three copies of this book to give away to our readers. The publisher has specified that for this contest, winners need to be from the US.

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Wednesday, July 15, 2015. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing. If you’ve entered our giveaways before you should also receive an email with a link on how to enter.

Book Review and Giveaway: Know It All: 132 Head-Scratching Questions About the Science All Around Us

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Benjamin Franklin

One of the greatest qualities we possess as humans is our ability to ask questions. Our quest for knowledge and answers about the world carries us beyond our everyday borders and attitudes. Curiosity may not have been good for the cat, but it is an essential growth tool for the human mind.

Know It All: 132 Head-Scratching Questions About the Science All Around Us, is a fun and educational collection of thought provoking questions and answers. Although the collection is edited by Mick O’Hare from New Scientist magazine, the contributors are drawn from the scientific community and amateur experts found around the world. Taken directly from the “Last Word” column at New Scientist, this assemblage is a diverse assortment of Q&As ranging in scope from the microscopic to the hypothetical.

Find out how you can win a copy of this book, below.

The most appealing part of the book is its global spirit of science and thirst for knowledge. One gentleman out of South Africa provides many insightful answers to questions originating from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia. Have you ever wondered why your legs may feel wobbly when standing at a cliff top? J. Richfield from South Africa gives an adept explanation.

On pg. 223 a New Scientist reader from North Carolina, USA brings up the Costa Concordia disaster and asks why there was concern about being ‘sucked under’ if the boat sank. The two cited answers are from the well versed contributor in South Africa and from a gentleman in the UK.

Among my wanderings within the book I have gained insight into the value of regularly using mouthwash and what medicines may last longer than their expiration date and why. I am thankful to the correspondent who asked why trick birthday candles can’t be blown out; now I know that the wick has magnesium powder in it and the accompanying science that goes along with it.

Hungry for answers to a wide assortment of questions? Dive into this book and find a treasure of answers.

Thanks to The Experiment Publishing, Universe Today has one copy of this book to give away to our readers. The publisher has specified that for this contest, winners need to be from the US or Canada.

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Monday, February 23, 2015. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing. If you’ve entered our giveaways before you should also receive an email with a link on how to enter.

We’re only going to use these email addresses for Universe Today giveaways/contests and announcements. We won’t be using them for any other purpose, and we definitely won’t be selling the addresses to anyone else. Once you’re on the giveaway notification list, you’ll be able to unsubscribe any time you like.

Book Review: Space Hoax

The cover of the new book "Space Hoax" by Paul Gillebaard.

Space Hoax, written by Paul Gillebaard, is the adventure filled sequel to his book Moon Hoax (read our review of that book here.) This space thriller begins right where Moon Hoax left off.

Our hero, Peter Novak, living a certainly less than boring life, is on his way back from the Moon. He had launched on what was supposed to be a suicide mission to the Moon in a race to disprove China’s lies. Peter proved our country did go to the Moon; the Apollo missions were not faked. China’s machinations to humiliate the USA in a dizzying plot failed. Saving face and doing the right thing, the two Taikonauts in orbit around the Moon allow Peter Novak to use their Chinese spacecraft as a lifeboat home.

The stage is now set for Peter’s next challenge.

Executives in China are not pleased with their lies being exposed. Ideally, they would love to put an end to Peter Novak. They still wish to embarrass the USA, cripple our space program, and push their own country ahead into the future of spaceflight. Their next possible target: A commercial spaceflight company and the International Space Station (ISS). Any terrorism against the ISS would be incredibly damaging to the USA and the other cooperating space faring nations.

In Space Hoax, Peter is torn. He wants to develop his relationship with the love of his life. She is the daughter of a Cosmonaut, his father’s ally and friend from years past. Once back on Earth, Peter must contend with staying grounded in life and the inevitable pull of his job. He’s trying to move forward with his girlfriend and stay safe for her sake. On the other hand, he is an accomplished astronaut and trusted government agent. When the Space Intelligence Division has a credible threat that a prominent commercial rocket company has a spy within its ranks, Peter Novak is recruited for the job. How much will Peter have to risk this time to complete the mission?

Space Hoax is chock full of rockets, launches, harrowing landings, and spacewalks that all space geeks will love. Paul Gillebaard has a commanding knowledge of aerospace technology and sprinkles the book’s pages with credible tech. As a female reader, Peter Novak’s male swagger can be a bit much, but the plot pulls you in and weaves a plausible tale of high stakes, space race deceit. If you enjoyed Moon Hoax, you will be pleased with its sequel.

You can find Space Hoax on Amazon, and find out more about the author at his website.

Book Review and Giveaway: Flags of the Night Sky by Andre G. Bordeleau

It’s a reasonable assumption that most Universe Today website visitors are, at the very least, intrigued by the night sky. This Universe Today reader, someone who always enjoys learning something new, was surprised to discover yet another cultural association with the wonders of the world around us. Vexillology is the scientific study of flags and apparently has a connection with Astronomy. If you’re looking for a highly informational book mashing up Astronomy and Vexillogy, Flags of the Night Sky, When Astronomy Meets National Pride, by Andre G. Bordeleau is a great resource.

In the United States of America we’re familiar with our country’s flag. We may also know our state’s flag. But, do we know what the colors and patterns stand for? Think about the gathering of the world at the Olympics. There’s something magical about the opening ceremonies of the Games. Talented athletes with a lifetime of hard work and dedication to their sport proudly march behind the honored flag bearer of their nation. As the flags and their teams walk through the arena, the world tunes in to watch centuries of national pride. All of these flags are not pure decoration, they have profound thought and meaning behind them. Flags of the world are displayed on an international Olympic stage; many portraying interesting connections to the night sky.

Bordeleau begins his book with a look at an internationally recognized flag – Brazil’s. Although its history dates back to 1889, its most recent incarnation is the most well known. According to Bordeleau, “The current flag of Brazil is akin to a star atlas featuring 9 different constellations and 27 stars.” The stars are not purely decorative; they correlate to specific states and to the capital. The Astronomy connection is fantastic.

With chapters ranging from sun-bearing flags, moon-bearing flags, and one titled “Starry Flags: Here’s Stars in Your Eyes”, Flags of the Night Sky covers it all. If you’re looking for in depth insight into national cultures displayed through their flags and their connections tied to the heavens above, this is a well organized, great resource.

Flags of the Night Sky is available for purchase or download at

Universe Today and Springer are pleased to be able to offer three free copies of Flags of the Night Sky to our readers. In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Monday, March 10. If this is the first time you’re registering for a giveaway, you’ll receive a confirmation email immediately where you’ll need to click a link to be entered into the drawing. For those who have registered previously, you’ll receive an email later where you can enter this drawing.

Kids Book Review: “Beyond the Solar System”

It is probably a safe bet that even as children, Universe Today readers gazed at the night sky with awe and wonder. Did you wish upon the first star light, star bright in the sky? Cultures across time have spun tales around constellations – images projected on the night’s expanse based on our perceptions. As science and technology progressed we realized the vast depths of space are truly full of wonder. There’s an incredible array of amazing things to be discovered, researched and understood.

Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More; A History with 21 Activities by Mary Kay Carson is an informative and detailed book for both young and old alike. It is written for children and for the inquisitive child within us. The attention grabbing chapters span from space-time tricks and quasars to frothy galaxies. Even as an adult, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection.

Find out how you can win a copy of this book here!

The images within the chapters are well appointed. For example, at the beginning of the book during a journey from prehistory-1600 you’ll find a fantastic Library of Congress image of the Great Bear constellation, joined by the British Library’s ancient Chinese Star Map, that dates back to the 600’s A.D. This reviewer will definitely be trying some of the activities explained among the chapters such as “Make a 3-D Starscape” found on page 32. This craft project demonstrates the artificial grouping we’ve given our constellations and shows that they are actually comprised of stars great distances from each other and us.

Perhaps the best review of this book comes from my 8 year old daughter. For the past week, she has been reading this book in the car while travelling to school. A recent morning’s question from the back seat was “What’s a pulsar?” She’s excited to try all of the activities; first up will be making a radio picture found on page 82 or turning a friend into a pulsar by spinning them in a chair with two flashlights on page 89. In addition to her “two thumbs” up eagerness to read this every morning, she simply stated “I love this book.”

I extend a thank you to the author for creating a fun, educational STEM source that attracted not only the attention of my science oriented 14 year old boy, but also my daughter, who is as equally bright, capable and curious about the world around her.

Book Review: Weird Life: The Search for Life That is Very, Very Different from Our Own

Think about Dr. Seuss’ classic book If I Ran The Zoo. Young Gerald McGrew has an active imagination creating heretofore unheard of creatures to make his zoo the most astounding by far. All of Gerald’s inventions are quite interesting. But add them to the long list of different beings humans across time have dreamt up – from the Sphinx to the Griffin – and they still pale in comparison to actual creatures in existence. And yet, says author David Toomey in his new book Weird Life: The Search for Life That is Very, Very Different from Our Own, there are likely countless undiscovered forms of very weird life that we can’t even begin to imagine.

Find out how to win a copy of this book here!

The very definition of weird involves words such as strikingly odd, strange, and bizarre. David Toomey travels down the strange path of Weird Life starting at the striking discoveries of extremophiles. Extremophile organisms push the boundaries of what conditions we thought life could exist in, thriving in environments too extreme for humans.

Astrobiologists soak up extremophiles because similar environmental conditions in our solar system might correlate with similar extreme life elsewhere. Would life elsewhere look exactly like our cold or acid-loving extremophiles on Earth or would they be even weirder? Vast lakes of liquid methane exist on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Can we find evidence of microscopic life in such an environment? We need to know how to isolate it, what exactly to test for and finance a mission to explore it. The fun part is that Titan is among a handful of strange places we theorize may harbor life in our own solar system. Recent discoveries of planets in other star systems are fodder for speculation of life, familiar to us or what we would deem as weird life.

My family and I recently visited Roswell, New Mexico. The entire town markets itself on the human notion that life exists elsewhere in a varied form from what we see in the mirror every day. Chapter Seven in Toomey’s book discusses “Intelligent Weird Life”. While some scientists having the thrilling job of searching for signs of intelligent life in the universe, some scientists enjoy the search for life on a much smaller scale on Earth – from the ocean’s bottom to the clouds above. Extremophiles push the boundaries of our beliefs and expectations. We are constantly made aware of what little we actually know. It’s possible a strange brew of exotic life exists here on Earth; we’re just not able to detect it, yet.

If phrases like “shadow biosphere”, “silicon life,” “desert varnish,” and “cloud borne Venusians” don’t pique your interest then perhaps this isn’t the book for you. For those interested in life very, very different from our own, this is right up your alley. Chapters entitled “A Bestiary of Weird Life” and “Weird Life in the Multiverse” certainly made this reviewer turn the pages of Weird Life with a childlike glee. Without a doubt, David Toomey’s book will teach you something you don’t know. Information interspersed with humor, appropriate science bios and anecdotes makes this a well rounded book for your bedside reading.

Book Review: Moon Hoax

Apollo 11, a spaceflight forever cemented in history books, signifies the moment when humans first walked on the Moon. Since that historical day, the US has been the only nation to set foot on the Moon.

But what do you do if someone says this event wasn’t real? Conspiracy theorists have always been on the fringe saying the Moon landing was an elaborate hoax, a clever story fabricated in great detail by our government or space agency. But what if — somehow — historical records were changed to show the Apollo 11 mission never happened? In Moon Hoax, a new and entertaining historical fiction novel, author Paul Gillebaard re-writes history with a tale of high-tech subterfuge and deceit played out on the world’s stage.

Currently in 2013, the USA is certainly not the only space faring nation. With the retirement of the shuttle program, we can’t even launch our own astronauts into space. Other countries have a core of trained astronauts and collaboration between nations has become a key mode of operation. Teamwork has become a necessity. The International Space Station circling high above our heads is inspiring proof of countries working together in space research. What if one country wants all of the glory for themselves? What if they have engineered a way to change the face and records of space travel as we know it?

Find out how to win a copy of this book!

Moon Hoax weaves the tale of a rising and formidable superpower country trying to take away our historical facts and show them as false. One of the most populated countries on Earth wants the world to think the United States of America lied and has been lying to them for over 40 years: the twelve amazing American moonwalkers never were. Not only do the antagonists want to rewrite the history books, but they want to stake their claim on the Moon and launch themselves into the annals of space and world supremacy status.

Twisting the truth into an extremely plausible lie is a challenge. Moan Hoax will consistently have you reacting with a range of emotions from dismay and frustration to determination in seeing the truth prevail. It’s a race to prove to the world that the history books are factual versus the changing tide of a public dissuasion campaign. The author, Paul Gillebaard, has substantial space knowledge and an engineering background. This first time author adds a writing flair to make the reader question history’s validity on an enjoyable, entertaining ride.

Find out more about the book at Gillebaard’s website.

Book Review: Cry From a Silent Planet

Book Review: Cry from a Silent Planet,a science fiction novel by John Rowland

Scientists around the globe are fascinated by and continuously hunt for life outside of Earth, as well as in extreme conditions on Earth. Projects such as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, scan the skies hunting for alien signals. The Kepler spacecraft increasingly adds to our tally of known extrasolar planets, buoying our prospects for habitable ones, and here on Earth, scientists like Dr. Robert Ballard have helped discover extremophile organisms living on hydrothermal vents deep within Earth’s oceans, once thought inhospitable to life. Life, it turns out, is possible under somewhat varying conditions. Does it exist elsewhere in our solar system or beyond? Astrobiologists believe the answer is “yes.”

Then, recently, the astronomy world was given a present in the form of a confirmed rogue exoplanet. Rogue planets are believed to exist, but only recently were researchers able to observe this particular drifting planet, homeless because it is not orbiting a star. With additional review, scientists might determine this world is moving through space with a group of young stars, the AB Doradus Moving Group. The planet is located approximately 100 light years from us.

Enter the world of science fiction. The plausible line between science and science fiction meet on a plane mixing reality and conjecture. In the new novel Cry from a Silent Planet, author John Rowland walks the tight rope of that line. An alien civilization lives underground because their dying star has scorched the surface of their home planet. Making matters worse, an incoming rogue black star appears to be on a gravitational collision course with them. This is the recipe for the riveting start of Cry from a Silent Planet.

Highly intelligent and advanced aliens are in a furtive quest to save their population from inevitable doom. On Earth, the year is 2024. Unlikely protagonist, Matt Slater, becomes more involved than he ever imagined or thought he was capable of. In the midst of struggling to save his life’s work and his marriage, he and his family find themselves stumbling upon a mysterious black door, in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. Slater’s handiwork alters the door key and binds him to it, making him the only human being who can unlock it. The secrets behind that door begin the reader’s journey to take along with Slater.

At its heart, this science fiction novel touches upon significant science theories and future tech with sometimes alternate causations and results. You can tell the author has a physics and astronomy background by his playful manipulation of reality. The novel raises both ethical and moral imperatives. Some characters are spot on with their behavior. Others miss a beat with the author’s attempt at American Midwestern vernacular or military and political swagger; the language feels contrived on some pages. In an attempt to give some characters depth, the added drama feels awkward at times. However, once involved in this book, the reader is led on a journey with one welcomed surprise after another. Not your typical “humans meet aliens” story, Cry from a Silent Planet poses a giant “what if” scenario that will blow the lid off your notion of Earth’s past all the way back to the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

This book provides an emotional look at how civilizations and their citizens behave in various situations. As human beings on Earth, we are known to have faults, many faults; how we treat each other and our planet is not always stellar. We believe the Earth is our domain and we are the most intelligent creatures inhabiting it. The culmination of this novel is that we are not alone in the Universe and how are we going to go on from here.

The book is available in paperback or Kindle.