Astrophotography Book Review: Treasures of the Universe

Treasures of the Universe by André van der Hoeven

What is a treasure? A pirate’s hoard of gold coins safely locked up in a chest would certainly fit. But would you say that something is a treasure when it’s freely available to anyone who wants to take the time? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it. Yet you may change your mind once you take in André van der Hoeven’s book “Treasures of the Universe – Amateur and Professional Visions of the Cosmos”. Within it are striking images that display the natural wealth and beauty that constantly surrounds us and that no chest could ever lock up.

Astrophotography at its core is quite simple; at night, take a camera outside, point the lens up and snap the shutter release. Anyone can do it. However, putting reason to what one captures in the lens is quite a different story. And to add further complexity, consider combining your captured image with someone else’s who’s taken a picture while on another continent or while in space. Last, after taking thousands of images, identify those with artistic as well as scientific merit.

Yes, this is a more complete way of considering astrophotography. And many people are partaking in it. So here’s a book that’s selling its version of night sky images. For anyone who enjoys the night skies, there’s a lot to like. The contents are divided into four groups; galaxies, clusters, nebulae and our solar system. Most images from beyond our solar system are well known, whether of entries in the Messier catalogue or the New General Catalogue (NGC). A few are of farther afield, such as from the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field.

The image presentation is often on a double page spread and has complementary text adjoining. The text provides the scientific merit usually by identifying how the subject of the image fits into the scheme of things, such as the supernova SN2011fe in the Galactic Wheel. The text also provides the photographic particulars, such as that of the Andromeda galaxy that resulted from the compilation of 11 000 separate snapshots. The selection of images makes for a fairly well known set and won’t lead to surprises. Given this, van der Hoeven’s book is a comfortable, complete treatise of his astrophotography.

Now views of space are everywhere on the Internet and other publications so you’re probably wondering “What’s this book bring to the table?” so to speak. After all, a lot of its images come from other government sources like the Hubble space telescope. That’s data free for anyone to peruse. And, the subject of the images, the universe, remains in place for anyone else to capture if they so desire. Both of these are true, but what isn’t obvious is the time and effort to create the images as well as the talent to engender a sense of artistry. Can you imagine the time to compile 11,000 pictures into one? Or spending over 27 night-time hours to collect data for one image? That’s the sort of time and effort involved.

Measuring artistry is another skill altogether and one of which I lay no great claim. Yet, looking at the composition of the spread of the Wizard Nebula warmly shrouded by a complex hydrogen cloud makes me pause. Yes, I know I’m looking at the result of the random arrangement of matter and energy. But there’s something just so darn compelling about the shapes and textures that makes me wonder. And I realize my wonder comes from the skill of the author in composing the shape. I’m impressed.  This doesn’t mean that the author has claimed any predominance. Rather, throughout the book he provides encouragement and incitements for bigger and better. Whether it calls for astrophotography from the next-generation telescopes or for beginner astrophotographers to develop their skill, it pushes for more and better imagery. Yes, this book is more than just pretty pictures. It’s also instructive and telling. Another unusual aspect is that the book was funded through a Kickstarter.

As with a few other marvelous books with vistas of the universe, this book’s pages are in in a wide format (almost landscape size). The pages have matte-black background with clear white font text. The text for each image is usually clear, except for some with underlying images of light colours. These are few. For the selection of images, I find ones of galaxies and nebulae most rewarding. Finding shapes and patterns from clusters is more challenging.

And, after seeing the depth and expanse of the universe, I find the images from our solar system almost ordinary, though I know I shouldn’t. I like the section at the book’s end that describes the image details including the telescope, the camera and the exposures for various filters. Perhaps I can use these to dabble at my own artistry. I also appreciate the credits that list all the data sources and perhaps the people who processed the data, though these aren’t always obvious. I don’t like that the book had to eventually come to an end. I could have kept looking at many more pages.

Treasures are a measure of worth. For those who like gold, a pirate’s chest may be the ultimate high. For those who are drawn to the night, to the limitlessness of space, then the jewels of the night sky are the only ones worth viewing. For you who like the night, let André van der Hoeven’s book “Treasures of the Universe – Amateur and Professional Visions of the Cosmos” spirit you away to a viewing pleasure. With it in your hands you will hold more than any pirate’s chest could ever contain.

Book Review: Hollyweird Science

Gravity movie poster

Do you remember science classes from way back when? All those laws and rules made it seem like everything was logical and well behaved. Then perhaps with television and movies being a big part of your life you began to wonder whether what you saw was real and unreal. Those things on the big and small screens didn’t seem nearly as well behaved. For instance, can people hear sounds in space? Or, can travelers quickly and easily go from one star to another? If you want to get yourself back on solid footing, get a hold of the book “Hollyweird Science – From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse” by Kevin Grazier and Stephen Cass. With it, you can sift through a lot of tropes and conceits and glean some wonderful insights of both modern science and modern cinema.

Yes, tropes and conceits are terms from the world of cinema and not of physics. Think of these terms as ‘untruths’ for entertainment that writers use to capture and hold the attention of the audience. As this book describes, writers conjure up these exigencies to meet their demands. Their main demand is to prepare a story that fits into a very limited timeframe and into a very limited budget.

HollyweirdAnd much of the first part of this book takes the reader on a journey of past and present cinema that involves detailed science. This part of the book substantiates the claim that science in the Hollywood world of cinema is weird, whether it is Superman’s kryptonite, Star Trek’s dilithium crystals or Godzilla’s shear bulk. So how does this book go about proving that the science is weird?

Ah, this is the part that you may either love or hate. The authors include science boxes at regular intervals throughout. These science boxes have the equations you may remember from your early science classes. And the equations include numbers or ratios that show how a trope or conceit is particularly untrue. That is, the authors return to all those laws and rules of science, such as the law of gravity, the formula for acceleration, and the standard chemical composition of ecosystems.

Nevertheless, most of these weird issues are ones that the audience has already accepted and even a science box won’t affect the shear enjoyment. For example, think of Torch, a human that can instantly become a flame even though there’s no fuel. While the authors do raise a general lament on the failure of cinema to faithfully follow science, they do provide some rationalization that the untruth or trope was necessary, whether to fit a timeframe or a budget. Perhaps most promising from this section of the book is that the authors indicate that the typical audience member has become much smarter. In consequence, writers put a lot more reality into their science and even the depiction of alien worlds.

Who knew that learning physics could be so much fun?

Overall, the first third of the book is a fairly light, simple read with not so many science boxes. At about a third of the way in, however, the book transitions from being a discussion of cinema entertainment, with particular attention to its science, and becomes a discussion of science with reference to cinema. Here the science boxes are more detailed and numerous. They assess the possibility of using material from the Earth to kick-start a failing Sun, as done in a movie. Or, the likelihood of the Earth’s Moon being kicked out of the solar system, also done. And there’s much detail on the holy grail of science cinema, the faster than light transportation, as happens in most science fiction cinema.

Reading through this part of the book may bring you right back to your science classes of yore and their laws and rules. That is, it will if your science classes included quantum mechanics, parallel universes and wormholes. Here in the book things get really weird as today’s science has yet to faithfully prescribe the laws. Thus, the authors introduce a whole field of science, add current investigations and then associate the science with somewhat related relevant films. Perhaps, when the science gets this challenging, then it’s a good thing that entertaining cinema can come along and at least introduce the ideas to the general public.

With all the attention that the authors give to the science in this book, the reader will quickly appreciate that the book is not just a simple list of cinema bloopers. Rather, the book’s details provide enough depth of knowledge to allow the reader to hold their own at lunch time conversations when the topic swings around to the science in the latest show or movie. Perhaps it may induce the reader to do a bit more exploring and learning, especially as many current films feature a website that defines the science, the tropes and the conceits. However, cinema is for entertainment and the authors must realize the same holds for their book. So as much as this book has lots of hard science, the authors still keep the book entertaining.

And entertainment is mostly what we want, whether from cinema or books. So even if explosions in space come with a loud bang on the sound track or people fly without space suits up and around the Moon, we the audience are content if we are entertained and we haven’t hit the ‘Oh please!’ moment. If you want to know more about this moment, take a look at the book “Hollyweird Science – From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse” by Kevin Grazier and Stephen Cass. From it, you can make up your own mind on just what you’re ready to accept as entertaining and what is just too much expectation by the storyteller.

The book is available through Springer at this link.

Book Review: Lunar and Interplanetary Trajectories

I’ve always been amazed when watching the game of billiards. Some person, with great concentration and aim, uses a long wooden stick to strike one ball which then, by design, causes reactions to other balls. The balls travel along precisely predetermined paths! Now imagine doing this in 3-D. Sound impossible? Well, that’s what mission designers must do when preparing to send a probe to another orbiting body in our solar system. And their methodology is wonderfully presented in Robin Biesbroek’s book “Lunar and Interplanetary Trajectories”.


This book could be described as ‘precise.’ The author describes it as being written for a systems approach. He then goes on to proclaim that he presents and uses only one equation. This may be a good thing as the book has more than enough numerical data without adding the analytics. And the information flows along smoothly, as if presenting a case study so the reader won’t get overwhelmed.

First Biesbroek presents the significant parameters; the C3 launch energy and the co-ordinate system. Remember that I mentioned things were in three dimensions? Well, this book has us also realize that the co-ordinate system can come in many guises. As well, there’s lots of angular momentum with which to deal. To aid the reader, the author includes many, many charts, graphs and plots. The plots of trajectories from Earth to beyond are particularly revealing and indeed necessary at times to grasp the nuances of positive and negative notations and maximum energy usage. To entice the reader further, Biesbroek includes many resolved missions, such as New Horizons, Phobos Grunt and Cassini/Huygens. Last, with almost a teasing presence, the author adds to the end of each chapter a few scholarly exercises. But don’t worry, the solutions immediately follow!

Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Well there’s more. Biesbroek utilizes his systems approach when looking at pros and cons for many situations. For example, he’s got the Low Earth Orbit mass delivery for the Falcon rocket as a condition. And he wants us to constrain the timing of our approach to Mars to minimize the chances of intersecting with a seasonal dust storm. Then there’s the challenge of visiting Jupiter without getting harmed by its magnetic field.

Further, and perhaps most insightful, is the expectation for any mission to be ten years or less. Apparently we may lose interest with anything that takes longer! But what if the designer gets it wrong? You’ll just have to read the book to see why just this happened with the Surveyor lander. Apparently the controllers got a bit of a surprise as the lander didn’t quite settle as expected. Nevertheless, with lots of errors of margin, the lander did survive and contribute to our knowledge base of space. As a reader will see, it’s quite an accomplishment to design and build something for launch from Earth many years beforehand.

Yes, this book presents what appears to be a carefully chosen mix of useful data and background information. Being that the author uses a systems design approach in the book, then there are limits to what the reader can use. Even with an appendix full of data tables, the reader may feel constrained by the finite options provided. That is, there are look-up tables throughout and it’s up to the reader to figure out the best way to use them. You may want to go into more depth, but I suspect it’d take a good deal more training before you could comfortably prepare your own Molniya orbits. Thus, know that there is a mix of information in this book and after reading it you won’t come out an expert in anything. But you will come out with a lot more knowledge on mission design and constraint parameters.

When sitting back in a chair and looking at fantastic colour images of the surface of Pluto it’s no surprise that it seems so easy and straightforward. Yet, as with almost anything that looks easy, there’s a huge amount of effort riding along in the background, supporting every moment. And it all starts with turning an idea into reality.

That’s where Robin Biesbroek’s book “Lunar and Interplanetary Trajectories” steps in. It will show you some of the tricks of the trade in optimizing missions, whether choosing the best launch system or balancing an orbit about a Lagrange point. Most people who appreciate the photos of distant worlds may appreciate the effort involved. Yet, for them, and for others who may think it`s quite simple, this book will have you appreciating all that’s involved with travelling in space.

Book Review: Dawn of Small Worlds

Were you a bit saddened when Pluto lost its rank as a planet in our solar system? Perhaps before this you had thought that we had a firm understanding of our solar system and we were ready to look further. Apparently, as Michael Moltenbrey writes in his book “Dawn of Small Worlds, Dwarf Planets, Asteroids, Comets”, we’re anything but familiar with all the items wandering about our Sun. Yet, he shows that the contents of our solar system do have some reason and rationale even if we’re still finding out just what exactly is out there.

Yes, there are eight planets in our solar system. But, there are also lots of other things. Some we can easily see just like the planets. If we’re lucky, we get to see a comet fly through our night skies. It comes from somewhere and goes somewhere and we just see a glimpse of its lifetime. Then, there’s the occasional warning as we learn that an asteroid is on a possible collision course with Earth and we will end up going the way of the dinosaurs.

Maybe it all seems trite and random but that’s not the case as you will quickly read in this book. Based upon likely accretion models of our solar system, it shows that the material in our solar system today has an understandable and predictable behaviour. Further, we can readily use the phrase ‘small worlds’ for this material as apparently they are just that; very small clumps of rock-like miniature and distinctive worlds.

Why is it just “the dawn” of our understanding? Well, our sensors are only barely able to detect them against the great backdrop of the universe. Just imagine finding and measuring a rock that’s tens of kilometres across and several astronomical units from the Earth! What this book will provide you with is an excellent summary of what we’ve learned so far. It will clarify the differences between comets and asteroids and then perhaps confuse things a bit by introducing centaurs, cometesimals and plutinos. You can also read about hot and cold Kuiper Belt objects, if indeed it is actually a belt in shape. That is, this book presents many of the distinctive parameters for small worlds, especially those that provide distinction from our well known planets.

The book’s definition and presentation of the parameters is its greatest value. Much of the contents refers to the easiest measurable details; the eccentricities and inclinations. But there’s also some on the albedo, spectroscopy and composition. Perhaps most interesting is the book’s inclusion of the aims and results for most of the recent probes including Rosetta, Dawn and New Horizons. Pictures and data are dated to as recently as 2015 April which certainly implies that the book’s material is quite recent.

However, the inclusion of recent material may have come at the price of poor editing. For a finished book, this book has far too many grammatical and spelling errors. While a few errors might have been tolerable, the quantity therein indicates that at best a spell checker was used. Given these errors, some passages were confusing. Further, with the errors, you may question the veracity of the material itself. This is unfortunate as the book has so much depth and detail that it would otherwise have made a ready reference on your bookshelf.

As well, the one thing lacking in this book is an effective summary. It does contain a wonderful history of many discoveries of small worlds. It does highlight the incredible progress that we’ve made in just the last few decades in putting landers onto small worlds and sending probes out to Pluto. But where to next? Should we mine asteroids? Should we build an asteroid defence system? Should we journey to the Oort cloud? And perhaps most interestingly, what may become of our solar system after a few more hundreds of millions of years of settling down? A summary would be an excellent location for musings on these and similar topics.

Nevertheless, while Pluto may have lost its status as a planet it is indeed still a world even though small. And, there are many other small worlds joining it in our solar system as wonderfully described in Michael Moltenbrey’s book “Dawn of Small Worlds, Dwarf Planets, Asteroids, Comets”. From reading it, you will readily see just how much knowledge we’ve gained of our own backyard in this wide universe.

This book is available through Springer Publishing.

You can find out more about the author here.

Book Review: Human Migration to Space

Have you wondered just how likely some of those futuristic science fiction movies might be? Can you imagine armies of drones or a cyborg/human? What do they have to do with today’s space endeavours? Well, actually lots, according to Elizabeth Song Lockard as she writes in her thesis / book “Human Migration to Space – Alternative Technological Approaches for Long-Term Adaptation to Extraterrestrial Environments”. In it, the presumption is that traveling and living in space is possible, indeed necessary. But if we become successful, we may no longer be the same humans that we are today.

For those who’ve been involved with academic theses, there’s usually little expectation in offering it to the general public. Usually the subject matter is too definite and the prose too particular to be of much use to the ordinary reader. However, in this instance, while the prose can be challenging at times, it is definitely a worthwhile read. This book goes through the standard steps of developing background and objective. Then, it’s as if you step off a cliff and you take flight into possibilities. The main subject is the posthuman. This is what humans must become in order to successfully transition into occupants beyond Earth. With this, the book has much discussion on which type of occupation is best: domination, integration or other.

And, of course, there’s lots of discussion of technology. Yet, perhaps atypical to most space books, the discussion relates more to types of technology rather than details of any particular technology. You’ll read about empathetic artilects, symbiogenesis and astrosociology. That is, the book deals very heavily with the human element during space exploration rather than the technical element. Now you may wonder why this would be an issue now? Society hasn’t been an issue for the months long stays in the International Space Station. But perhaps this is because the Earth is just outside the window and friends and family are instantly available over audio or Internet channels. For the months and possibly years of travel to Mars, with no sign of Earth and potentially intermittent and delayed communications, then the social aspect will be of a much greater concern. This same challenge of separation will occur with any colonists on Mars, the Moon or deep space. Given this perspective, this fresh view makes the read of this book very worthwhile.

While social implications for space travelers are interesting, the book also covers the deeper issue about human existence itself. Effectively, it argues that humans are at the end of their genetic development. We have no expectation of a natural mutation to something better. Equally, we have no fundamental need to change our society and social interaction. That is, we are as good as we will get. Thus, according to the book, humans must travel into space and settle upon other worlds so as to restart our evolutionary advance. Otherwise, we will face the ignominy that other flat-lined species have experienced. So, from this perspective as well, this book is definitely a good read.

Yet, don’t forget that this book is an academic thesis. It has many references, which is wonderful. The references can be somewhat terse, so it helps if you’ve read fairly broadly already. It doesn’t have an index, which is frustrating. And probably most of all, it isn’t very clear on how best to use the information within it. It will be up to each reader to decide if cyborgs are essential and if our expansion into space should only be by integrating with animate and inanimate entities that we find along the way. And what about its newness? Well, yes, we’ve seen many of these ideas and theories sprout up in the science fiction movies that continually grace our screens. But in this book / thesis, the reader can treat the contents of the wide screen entertainment as a posited precursor to humanity and thus use it for their personal divination of what may come.

While no one knows the future, there is one thing that’s certain. As we push our species into functional space-farers, we will certainly change. We can’t predefine how we will change. But, according to Elizabeth Song Lockard in her book “Human Migration to Space – Alternative Technological Approaches for Long-Term Adaptation to Extraterrestrial Environments”, there are some reasonable choices from which we can pick or even fall in to. Some maybe nice, like “E.T.”. Some maybe not so nice, like “Battlestar Galactica.” Which do you want to work towards?

This book is available through Springer. You can find out more about the author at her website.

Book Review:”Interplanetary Outpost: The Human and Technological Challenges of Exploring the Outer Planets”

While many visionaries now focus upon Mars as the next destination for humankind to visit, some have an even longer view. In the book, “Interplanetary Outpost: The Human and Technological Challenges of Exploring the Outer Planets,” you can take a ride with the author Erik Seedhouse to possibly the next most habitable body in our solar system. You can visit Callisto in the Jovian system. However, on reading this book you will quickly discover that it won’t be a simple journey there and back again.

Imagine yourself wanting to get involved with that first trip to Callisto. What would you do? Where would you begin? Well, this book could be a really good high level overview for the requirements for your endeavour. 

First, it reminds you on why Callisto is the best target. Here it draws upon earlier NASA efforts, including RASC-Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts and HOPE-Human Outer Planet Exploration. It also continually references recent movies like Avatar and Pandorum as supporting work.  With the references aside, the book settles down and focuses you upon its prime directive, a one-off exploration endeavor, even smaller than the multiple missions of Apollo to the Moon. Therefore, much of the book’s information serves to satisfy this one-off.

As you read, you will discover more and more requirements and pre-conditions. For example, according to this book, you will be departing from a spaceport parked in CIS-Lunar orbit. You will travel on the optimal path to arrive at Callisto without hitting Jupiter or being affected by its radiation fields. You will use electrical onboard power from a nuclear generation system. Your craft will be powered by a variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket. Your body will be suspended cryogenically on the flight. Your body will be filled with nano-biomechanical devices so that you are in functional shape when you arrive. An onboard computer (not named HAL) will sustain both your sleeping body and the spacecraft on its multiyear journey. And so the book’s list of pre-conditions continues on. Thus, as you can well imagine, the book takes you along a path that perhaps is more akin to science fiction than science fact even though it argues that the technologies are all nearly-here! Topping this list is the submersible that launches you into the ice-covered oceans of Callisto. In any case, humankind will have to do a huge amount of prior development before you ever get to this Jovian moon; at least according to this book.

The book’s reliance upon un-proven or even non-existent technology is what will likely either make or break it for you. In effect, the book reads as if the author accumulated a large number of scientific research papers and turned them into a comprehensive, very entertaining prose for the general audience. If you want to be entertained, then this book is for you. If you want to get into a bit more of the nitty gritty, well then you may be less entertained. For example, the book has an expectation that explorers on Callisto will utilize GPS receivers to help them navigate. But, there is no mention of a GPS satellite constellation orbiting Callisto. And what about cryogenics? While the book does mentions some ongoing research today, we certainly don’t consider it mainstream. You may learn of new words like ‘respirocytes’. This knowledge could serve you well at cocktail parties but may not get you much headway at the next meeting of the local astronomical society. So, this reliance upon un-proven or non-existent technology should be kept in mind before you read this book.

However, at one time, some people were imaginative enough, or brave enough, to envision humankind doing more than staying upon planet Earth. Sure the Moon is close and Mars is apparently only slightly further. But there’s a whole universe out there just waiting for us. Are you sure what might be the best path for our species? Take a read of Erik Seedhouse’s book “Interplanetary Outpost – The Human and Technological Challenges of Exploring the Outer Planets”. It might change your perspective as it takes you on a ride the likes of which will never have been seen on Earth before.

This book is available from Springer.

Learn more about the author Erik Seedhouse at

Book Review: The Seventh Landing — Going Back to the Moon, This Time to Stay

Can you remember back to your first love? The one that left you in tears, wondering what ever caused such a disaster. Well, that feeling might come back to you if you read Michael Carroll’s “The Seventh Landing.” For you see, this book anticipates the imminent Constellation program of 2009 that was going to return the United States to the Moon and then on to Mars. We know what happened instead and we know a few tears must have been shed, perhaps even yours.

Yes, this book is all about the Constellation program and its Ares I and ARES V launch vehicles. But more than that, and what makes it still applicable today, is that the book really gets into a lunar landing program as the next step in humankind’s expansion off of Earth — and how it’s the logical precursor to the next step: a settlement on Mars.

This logical progression jumps right out via the table of contents. First there’s an excellent chapter that recovers what’s already transpired; the good and bad of both the Apollo program and the early Soviet space program. The writing style and copious quantities of vintage photographs bring a sense of immediacy and presence.

The second chapter takes you to the promised land. This land is full of large expendable launch vehicles; human rated and ready to transport material and supplies. Here’s where the value of this book continues on to today. That is, the book provides a systems analysis point of view on, for instance, why various engines would be better or how to use ping pong balls to design a lunar capsule. With this, the reader can start to get a grasp on the complexity of this undertaking. Interesting yes, but what about that purpose again? Oh yes, it was to put humans on the Moon. Well that’s the book’s next chapter.

Bring on the Shackleton crater, the nights of -233C and the dust. Lots and lots of dust. As it states, sure there may be some engineering challenges but hey, we’ve been to the Moon already and we’ve been continuing to research it nearly non-stop so we should certainly be able to go back there to live; even if it won’t be easy.

The remainder of the book is somewhat like a lover after their first kiss; all hopes and aspirations. The chapters progress on to the reasons for returning to the Moon or what to do once there. Then, of course, there’s that final question that remains and which the book outlines but doesn’t answer. That is, “Is the Moon really the next step for humanity or should we go Mars direct?” Well, since 2009, there’s been lots of discussion on this topic though as we’ve seen, there’s been very little substance. So in a sense, this book is still a wonderful jumping off point for someone who wants to understand where things lie with regard to the expansion of humans into space even if it won’t be via the launch vehicles of the Constellation program.

Yes, this book has lots of technical detail on elements needed for a Moon program. What also becomes apparent on reading the book is that the author is also an award winning artist of space themes. Thus, the reader receives a reward simply by viewing the book’s images. For instance, it’s got a wonderful image of Werner Von Braun’s plan of space “boats” winging down through the Martian atmosphere. Or, there’s a rendered image of an Altair lander doing a final approach to an established base on the rim of Shackleton. Many other renderings take the reader out from the germane and into a visual playground of possibilities. Certainly, if the Constellation program had been funded, then there’s a good chance that some of these images might be close to reality. But, we will just have to be content with the images for now.

Sometimes being content is the best we can do. For example, perhaps you`ve keep secreted away an old photograph of that first love. It’s so far away that no one will ever know but you. And maybe on a dark lonely night you pull out that photograph and imagine what might have been. Or maybe on that dark night you pull out a copy of Michael Carroll’s “The Seventh Landing” and dream about what might have been. And, of course, you will remember that tomorrow is a new day when anything might come true, even dreams.

Find out more about the book at Springer’s website, and learn more about the author, Michael Carroll, at his website.

Review: “Bigelow Aerospace: Colonizing Space One Module at a Time”

You’ve had a busy day wandering around a faraway part of our solar system. It’s time to put your head down for a nap. Where do you place it? According to Erik Seedhouse in his book “Bigelow Aerospace: Colonizing Space One Module at a Time“, you easily slip into a space module, doff your all-purpose space suit and enjoy the pleasures of a safe secure environment. Know of a better way to get over that stressful day?

Now what can you write about a space module? You can try to present all sorts of details and specifications, but that makes for a rather dry read. You can try to present imaginative different uses and configurations, but they’d be only pipe dreams. Or, you can bring both together and add lots of recent history, and you’d come up with something like what Seedhouse provides.

In his book, he shows that while Bigelow Aerospace has something ready for the International Space Station this year, it derives from a NASA concept many years ago. In particular, he sets the direct precursor as NASA’s TransHab that resulted from copious design work and intensive testing. Actually, a good part of the first part of the book is all about the NASA studies; sometimes reading as if the information came direct from NASA technical sheets.  The nice thing about this is that the detail is quite involved. For example, are you interested in knowing the relative stress and strain qualities of phenylene benzobisoxazole? Or that early balloons were made of polyethylene terephthalate film? On the imaginative side, the book has many great diagrams and pictures of hypothetical inflatable modules, whether for journeying to Mars, visiting an asteroid or just hanging around in a centrifuge. These serve well to describe the intended usage by NASA as well as the ideas that Bigelow Aerospace is contemplating for the future of space modules.

While the details on space modules fill most of the book, there’s more. The book begins with a slight biography of Robert Bigelow. While these facts are interesting, their only relevance seems to be with Bigelow’s purchase of the eight TransHab rights and with his keen interest and support of many things related to aliens and UFOs. Towards the book’s end, Seedhouse spreads his topic to include a discussion on the launcher industry. Here, he rightfully cautions that the success of private industry space modules comes directly from the success of private industry launchers. And we know how well this is going so far! Seedhouse’s last chapter imagines how a space module can be used on the Moon but then he also warns that other countries, such as China, may claim that world beforehand.

Yes, this book seems to have so much in it and so much going for it. Somehow though, it misses the mark. With a title screaming out ‘Bigelow’, I would have expected lots of corporate insights. Yet, it seems that the author’s sole direct knowledge source is one interview with Robert Bigelow. The book’s data reads almost as if straight from a NASA data sheet or a Bigelow Aerospace advertisement. Yes, this smallish book does have lots in it, but nothing that pushes the boundary forward. Equally the near xenophobic rant toward the end detracts from an otherwise sound technical review. Still, once the Bigelow Expandable Space Module becomes part of the International Space station at least the book’s subject will have made a great step forward.

The technical review is the strength of this book by Erik Seedhouse. In “Bigelow Aerospace – Colonizing Space One Module at a Time” we get the feel for a technology that has showed a lot of promise and is on the verge of becoming a player in space. In many ways, the book is homage to a person that’s taken a waylaid government idea and turned it into a corporate product. As the book implies, go industry, go!

The book is available at Amazon. Find out more about Eric Seedhouse at the Astronauts4Hire website. Learn more about Bigelow Aerospace here.

Book Review: Space Architecture

Have you ever had one of those days when you just couldn’t complete another Fourier Transform no matter how many chocolate covered cacao nibs you consumed? You need to perk yourself up, maybe imagine something a little more exotic than a Volkswagen diesel scooting down a gravel road. Well then, pull up a chair and grab a copy of the last Architectural Design issue of 2014 entitled “Space Architecture – The New Frontier for Design Research”. Sure it’s got some pretty involved speculative prose, but the graphics are stupendous and will knock you right back into a can-do mindset.

This compilation by Architectural Design is its third strictly related to space architecture; the other two being in 1967 and 2000. In this one, Neil Leach is both editor and an occasional writer. The book’s contents give the impression that Leach had free reign in choosing authors and content with its broad range and scope. As with most general publications on current space activity, it includes some fairly well known content. For instance, it’s got articles from both Robert Zubrin on colonizing Mars and Buzz Aldrin on a mission to Mars. While the articles add little to what the authors regularly say in public, some of the attached images look relatively fresh.

As well, in keeping with the book’s title on architecture, some articles have a bit more of an industrial viewpoint. An instructive article details the design methodology used for the International Space Station while another plants some forward thinking utility of 3D printing for lunar load bearing walls. These may perk the interest of practicing architects but for real fun you need take a look at the more whimsical selections. In one, architecture combines research of the human vertebrae together with Italian city-scapes to establish spatial qualities and shapes for extraterrestrial platforms.

In another, a pulled-together assembly of orbiting space junk seeded with a soft interior fabric of artificial soils resembles a cassis fly shell which is then to metamorphose into a functional space environment. Is this a little too far out for you? Well come back closer to today with a plan for a MoonCapital, a habitation for people on the Moon. Or, there’s a spacecraft with a tethered outrigger that provides artificial gravity for long term voyages. These demonstrate the expanse of the collection of articles brought together in this book. Yet, it’s the detail, especially of the imagery, that gives spice to the reader’s imagination. True, most of the images are architect’s computer generated graphics but sometimes you feel, or at least hope, that you can simply reach out and touch them.

While this book is a great collection of things space related, it does suffer from this. That is, it is just a collection. Also, as with anything speculative, it doesn’t really have a purpose. Its goal is to “cast its eye on the [time] horizon for what may be happening next culturally, socially and technologically”. This broad scope makes relevant almost anything space related. Fortunately the editor, David Leach, doesn’t let this mandate get too vague as the topics are usually pertinent and somewhat current. In the end, a reader may be left with a feeling that too much was attempted which thus left too many gaps. Or, they may get the inspiration to fill in some of the spaces. Certainly no one would suffer if the later was the result.

Perhaps inspiration is the intent of the speculative architecture in this wonderfully illustrated book “Space Architecture – The New Frontier for Design Research”. With a fine collection of topical pieces, the editor David Leach lets architectural considerations come to bear upon humanity’s current and hoped for activities in space. The reader can appreciate the skills of these professionals and get a glimpse of what may just be over the horizon for our civilization.

This book is available on Amazon.

Book Review: Emigrating Beyond Earth

Do you believe that humans are the ultimate species and that we have a destiny to rule? Perhaps you’re being optimistic according to Cameron Smith and Evan Davies. Their book “Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization” provides an anthropologist’s view that splashes a certain amount of chagrin on the hubris of our culture. Yes, they say we can and indeed should become a spacefaring species. However, they do caution that this future for our species can be attained only if we proactively try.

Smith and Davies describe themselves as adventurers and academics. This varied background comes through in their book. It contains an impressive amount of research and facts, all well referenced. The considered time-frame is all Earth encompassing, from the origin of life in the Hadean age up to today’s social structure of empires that encompass multi-millions of human subjects. Of course it highlights changes over time. For instance, humans are shown to have evolved from small brained quadrupeds to large brained bipeds with cognitive fluidity. But perhaps more importantly, it shows that culture is as important as opposable thumbs and sexual reproduction.

Maybe you recall this as the nature versus nurture issue? Well, this book states unequivocally that nurture or culture is an essential element of humanity’s existence. That is, our culture allows us to build thriving, capable empires as the Mayans did. The hubris appears by the reminder that most empires and indeed most species have faded away or gone extinct. Hence, the book’s unwritten conclusion is that humans will follow the same path unless we proactively choose otherwise. Whether from an academic viewpoint or from being a world traveller, the authors in their book vouchsafe that emigration to space is a necessary act for the survival of humans.

Indeed, much of this book is taken up with arguing for the emigration beyond Earth. In this sense, if you are looking for information and reasoning to support the effort and expenditure for space colonization, then this book is a great resource. It even offers a perspective on the relative benefits between colonizing the Moon or Mars. However, while it provides sound arguments for ‘why,’ it doesn’t really answer ‘how.’ This could be the book’s main short coming in that most of its arguments for emigration have arisen before and, thus, while being comprehensive it may not offer anything new to a well-read reader. Its one main suggestion is for a ‘cognitive shift’ to make the idea of space emigration as common place as eating. Indeed, if everyone were to read this book, then such a shift would likely take place.

In total, this book empowers and indeed urges the reader to make a choice. The choice is between accepting the future whatever it may hold, or, proactively choosing to try to advance both our culture and our biological make-up via emigrating. In this, the authors Cameron Smith and Evan Davies in their book “Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization” clearly lay out the likely consequences for either. Does humanity have the will to make such a choice? Are you ready to make the choice? Read this book and then ponder some more about the future for humankind.

The book is available at Amazon. More information can be found at Smith’s website.