Book Review: Practical Astronomy

The first half of the book is a reference source for how to observe. With good sense, it gives credit to the unaided eye and it extols the benefits of quickly and easily orienting yourself amongst the limitless dots and streaks in the black canopy of night. Visual aids are described. Telescope types; refractor, reflector and catadioptric, are compared. Ancillary equipment from red lights, to telescope drives to planispheres are also discussed. There are star charts (white dot on blue background) for the complete sky, that is both northern and southern hemispheres. These charts show stars up to magnitude 5 as well as the constellations and their boundaries. This half of the book also includes a section on how to locate the constellations and many of the most significant stars using the altazimuthal system, celestial coordinates, and/or from starting from other, easy to find sights such as Orion.

The second half of the book categorizes the sources of light from near Earth outwards. It starts with meteors, satellites and auroras, then to the Moon, the Sun, and through each of the planets. The final section looks at star clusters, binary stars and nebulae. There is even a brief discussion of galaxies and some exciting amateur prints of them. Rather than solely stating where to find each object, this half discusses characteristics of interest (e.g. the cusps of Venus), noteworthy events (e.g. occultations) and effects in time (e.g. variable stars). Throughout this half the author emphasizes the benefits of recording observations, such as by sketching. This is both for self-satisfaction and as a means of proving observations of an original event.

I like this book as it explains all the necessary fundamentals for sky watching. Without costing more than the price of this text, a person can occupy themselves for a long time in getting acquainted with the sights and events that occur while most everyone else is safely tucked into bed. Sometimes I did find the text a little difficult to follow especially with some of the explanations. Yet there are many prints and drawings that provide a lot of clarity. Also, there are enough inline references throughout the text to aid in following any particular topic.

In all, Practical Astronomy is a great reference for getting a person started onto the road of understanding the night sky and enjoying a pastime that keeps many night owls happily occupied.

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Review by Mark Mortimer

Interview with Greg Klerkx, Author of “Lost in Space”

Image credit: NASA
You target NASA as being responsible for many of the problems within the space sector today. If you were given one day as NASA administrator what would you do to address the problems?

First, I would immediately initiate an independent review of all NASA centers in the context of their relevance to NASA’s new mission. Regardless of how one feels about the new Bush plan (and I have some reservations), it is the equivalent of an order to NASA from the highest office: the plan lays out what NASA is to do in coming decades, and by omission also decrees what isn’t required. Yet from the standpoint of structure and operation, the agency’s response to date has been to simply assume that one way or another, every center will be found to have some critical contribution to that new mission. That’s hard to believe; even if centers like Ames or Glenn contribute something of value to the Moon/Mars effort, it’s hard to believe a whole center is needed, along with its huge cost burden. If the center structure isn’t overhauled – which will almost certainly involve closing or consolidating one or more – it’s hard to see how the Bush plan stands a chance.

Second (and I’d probably only have time for two big things), I’d send every senior manager out into the real world – beyond the aerospace contractors, the groupies, the space media – and have them strike up conversations with ordinary people about the importance of space exploration. Much of NASA’s problem is that it’s a mutual admiration society with little connection to what those who aren’t ‘space interested’ actually think about space. I’m sure there’d be some surprises. To be fair, this problem also afflicts the sector, too.

Your book had a brief reference to Earth problems in the sense that they need to be resolved before space gets developed. In particular overpopulation and exhaustion of natural resources seem to resonate. How do you see space development advancing given these ‘Earthly’ challenges?

The first reference was to Carl Sagan’s position on human space exploration; the second, that of overpopulation and resource exhaustion, referred to Gerard O’Neill’s thinking. My own thoughts are somewhere in the middle: I think human space exploration serves a useful social purpose, yet I don’t think it’s the cure-all for humanity’s woes that some believe it to be.

There doesn’t seem to be any references to space advocacy groups outside of the United States. Is this because there are none, because they are not very vocal or because they are not germaine to the book?

Most non-U.S. space advocacy groups tend to be small; the larger ones tend to be international branches of U.S. groups like the Mars Society and Planetary Society. It’s not that they’re not important, but I felt I represented their interests in reference to the U.S. groups.

There are also very few references to other national space institutes? Is this because other countries and citizens are less interested in space?

One of my primary missions in writing this book was to deflate some of the mythology that sustained (and still sustains) the original ‘Space Age’, the theory being that only through an honest assessment of the past can one find a clear way to the future. This naturally meant focusing more on the U.S. and Soviet/Russian space programs than on the programs of other countries. I think there is another book to be written on ‘international space’, or perhaps it’s more of a long magazine article since certainly the U.S. and Russia remain the most space-interested societies on Earth (this is true even with Russia’s diminished capability). Again, there are certainly other national space programs of note and which I touch on briefly – Europe’s, Japan’s, China’s – but they’re not central to what I was trying to accomplish.

If manned space flight capability were to disappear in the next 20 years do you think it will ever reappear? If so, how?

At present, human spaceflight has little military, scientific or economic significance (except for the latter’s significance to certain aerospace contractors): from a societal standpoint, human spaceflight is an endeavor sustained almost purely on emotional terms, as a beacon of national pride, creativity and adventure. If it disappeared, it would be difficult to restart, both because of the technological challenge (look at how NASA is scrambling to figure out how to return to the Moon, something that was almost routine by 1972) and because the geopolitical rationale that produced the space race and the spaceflight technology we have today is unlikely to be replicated in the future. Thus, it’s hard to imagine a future society spending the resources and energy to develop human spaceflight unless there was some new, compelling reason.

However, I don’t think the disappearance of government-sponsored human spaceflight would necessarily mean the end of human spaceflight altogether. Within 20 years, vehicles should be robust enough to ensure that at least sub-orbital spaceflight would still be around. If government-sponsored flight went away, perhaps some of the terminated technology (and technologists) would beef up the sector sufficiently to move it from sub-orbital to orbital flight. That might not be a bad scenario, actually!

If you met a bright, energetic youth that has the aptitude for science and engineering (as in the prologue) would you encourage them to enter the space sector? If so, how? If not, where would you direct them?

If they had interest in space, I wouldn’t discourage them. But I’d encourage them first to get a job with NASA and then, quickly, to leave the agency for the burgeoning entrepreneurial sector: you have to understand the beast in order to tame it, or at least to avoid being killed by it.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the latest government call to return to the Moon and then on to Mars. Again. Any thoughts on its chances for success and on what this directive means for NASA in the short and long term?

I applaud the idea of destinations for human spaceflight, but I’m disheartened that this idea is being shoved into the same old box. The initiative seems primarily designed to reinvigorate NASA, not to reinvigorate general interest in human spaceflight. Unless someone of vision and influence can see the distinction and act on it, I’m not optimistic that the initiative will meet a fate any different than those of Bush senior or Reagan (both, you’ll recall, also announced bold Moon/Mars plans to great fanfare).

The initiative has certainly caused a lot of bustle within NASA: ‘codes’ are being formed, projects are being sketched out, etc. Meanwhile, Congress is squabbling over just the first of the budget boosts needed to make the initiative happen? and remember, this is a Bush-friendly Congress! Thus, we see again the problem with a politically driven space agenda. The best thing to come out of the initiative will probably be the retirement of the shuttle and the gradual pullout from the space station. Beyond that, at present I’d give the Moon/Mars plan a 50/50 chance of success.

I have this feeling that people are building systems that are so complex that they can’t manage them adequately whether space shuttles, 777’s or computer operating systems. Thoughts?

I don’t think complexity alone is the Achilles’ heel of any given system or device. 777s are fine machines with a great track record of functioning as advertised. I complain about my Windows OS as much as anyone, but if I step back from my irritation, it actually works quite well most of the time.

The shuttle is a disastrous machine not because of its innate complexity but because of its rube goldberg design: it’s not just complex, it’s overcomplicated? it’s a bit of this, a bit of that, all the while being sold as every cure for every problem (well, less so now, but that’s how it went originally). Worse, NASA and its shuttle contractors have known this from the beginning and yet have continued to sell the shuttle as a robust, operational vehicle. It isn’t, it never has been, and it never will be.

To me, an individual’s pursuit of life, liberty and happiness is contrary to a state project that requires effort from all taxpayers yet only benefits a few. How does space development amplify life, liberty and happiness for everyone? From reading your book I get the feeling that you disapprove of a strong central government with a lot of control. As the government gets stronger, more controlling and more centralized do you see better times or worse times for space development?

I am neither for nor against ‘big government’ as a rule. That said, I believe there are some enterprises that are absolutely the province of government, such as health care, environmental protection and education. All members of a given society deserve a minimum standard of quality where such things are concerned; it should be the responsibility of the state – or, if you like, that collective of citizens that governs and funds itself – to provide such things, and they should never be subject to the necessarily cold machinations of the market.

There are other things that can, and should, be largely removed from government control. Spaceflight is one of them, at least in part. I am obviously a fan of space exploration and space travel, but I do not consider them to be fundamental to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Therefore, I see tremendous potential for the market to grab hold of certain aspects of spaceflight that are now monopolized by the government and paid for by the taxpayers: or, as you put it, which require the effort of many and benefit few.

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Interview by Mark Mortimer

Book Review: Lost in Space

In Greg’s view NASA, the premiere space institute, is a government bureaucracy that is more concerned with preserving itself than in extending the space frontier. He alludes to conspiracies and to too close a relationship between NASA and their predominant suppliers Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Much of the source of this problem is the perceived current purpose of NASA which is to garner as many votes as possible for the party in power. One need only consider NASA’s inception. Here, when President Kennedy was looking for a means of countering the Soviets he considered space but he argued, “We shouldn’t be spending this kind of money because I’m not that interested in space”. Nonetheless soon after saying this he gave NASA the mandate to go to the moon. NASA then achieved this goal while at the same time ensuring contracts were provided to constituents in each of the 51 states. Ever since then NASA has not had the necessary political backing for a large scale enterprise or even the maintenance of the status quo. Sadly, without the political necessity nor an immediate economic benefit the dreamers are getting drenched with the reality of too high a cost to extend the frontier for too low an economic return.

The deciding factor for all this dreaming is the cost of accessing space. Usually quoted as a cost per pound (or kilogram), the current value is one or two orders of magnitude too high for establishing an industry. Further, according to Greg, established big business and government garner greater benefits from maintaining their control over all elements and they therefore don’t want to reduce the cost nor see anyone else reduce the cost. This doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There is the X-Prize and its front runner, Rutan’s White Knight aircraft that will launch the rocket ship SpaceShipOne into sub-orbital flight. Robert Zubrin has his Mars Society. The Mars Habitat analogue on Devon Island is conditioning people for an eventual presence on Mars. MirCorp was an endeavour to privatize the Mir space station thus annulling governments’ current monopoly on housing humans in space. Almost all the well known alternative access to space advocates have a reference. Yet, with all their brilliant engineering constructs and all their courtship of politicians somehow the feeling from reading the book is that there is just not enough of a reward to ever overcome the cost.

This book is about a dream not some academic juxtaposing of facts and issues for dissemination of automatons sitting around a boardroom table. It is an anguished cry as this dream is foundering, not because of inability, but in the belief of the short sightedness or incomprehension of bureaucracy. You can’t sit on the fence after reading this book, either you want things changed for the better or you want to give up altogether. If you are interested in advancing humans in space you will read of many other like minded people and their successes. You will also find many routes for pursuing your own preference for advocating space development most of which don’t involve a boardroom table.

As a view in the alternative access to space movement, this book is excellent. However as a view into the contributions of NASA and the space industry, this book is very one-sided. NASA the institute is given a very negative persona; a self interested, overpowering bore. Yet the individuals within NASA all seem to be exceptionally fine. Then in considering the people working on alternative accesses to space, this book seems to say that they can do no wrong. All their ideas are eminently favourable and worthy of public support and funding. A more balanced view would have been fairer, but likely less passionate.

In summary, if you want to know where NASA has gone wrong or of the many ideas that individuals have been and are expounding for space access, Lost in Space is the book. Perhaps unexpectedly it also contains an interesting view of the power of individuals within a large democracy. Just be ready for passion about a dream as this book has lots of it.

Review by Mark Mortimer

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Book Review: Sojourner, An Insider’s View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission

Sojourner was one of the first of NASA’s and JPL’s mandated faster, better, and cheaper projects. Before this mandate, a mission’s reliability was paramount and costs were correspondingly high. Sojourner’s predecessor, the Cassini mission, costed close to $1 billion. On the other hand, the Mars Pathfinder (Sojourner and the lander) mission had a total budget of $171 million. The Sojourner rover itself was capped at $25 million for design, parts, development, assembly, tests, and all operations during the mission. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, there is a lot of evidence of solid managerial support, coupled with the workers’ nearly desperate attempts to scrounge resources and time. The book is a compendium of the problem definitions, the trial solutions, and the convergence to a workable solution that Mr. Mishkin and his colleagues faced for more than 10 years. Nevertheless, the skill, belief, and perseverance of many people made Sojourner faster, better, cheaper, and most importantly successful.

Sojourner’s design roots extended to the Lunar Surveyor Vehicle prototype that was planned for the moon but never used. This robot, nearly trashed, was resurrected by a JPL tinkerer with an interest in locomotion, vehicle suspension, and autonomous direction finding. From this beginning, serendipity plays its part as fortuitous events led to this rover, or one of its offspring, being demonstrated at the right time and before the right people to ensure that funding continued. Earth itself is a daunting realm for autonomous rovers, but Mars was a totally new territory. The temperature range was large, 110F over the duration of a day. The terrain was rough and unpredictable, sand could capture a wheel, or a ledge may roll the rover. Most of all, the 20 minute communications made direct control impossible. The first part of the book largely deals with tackling and overcoming this. It describes getting a solution to accommodate an acceptable body size, an optimal number of wheels, a forgiving suspension, and a safe guidance system. The later part of the book largely deals with the challenges of integrating the many prototypes, their unit testing, and the ensuing system testing.

In addition to designing a robotic rover, the book provides a glimpse of the challenges that face anyone taking on the role of a systems engineer. This role is to balance the needs, requirements, and expectations of all the players of a project so that there is a working solution. The solution is not necessarily optimal for anyone as everyone’s needs often directly conflict with others. The result is that no one is totally satisfied or completely happy. Mr. Mishkin displays a lot of the personality of his colleagues and himself as trade-offs are made, deals are done, and the rover comes together. This lends a wonderful human touch to what otherwise might be a somewhat dry and technical book. In accomplishing his goal Mr. Mishkin received some of the best words of praise for a systems engineer which are, “When you work on a job, things happen. Things get done”.

Though this book is enjoyable to read, it is difficult to classify. There is a lot of discussion on the technical aspects of resolving issues that arose in designing Sojourner, but there is too little to recommend it as a design reference. The challenges of being a systems engineer in a large project comes out loud and clear, but there is little to offer a new systems engineer on lessons learned. There is a lot of detail on the bugs, errors, and complications that needed correcting, but it is not really a comprehensive story of Sojourner. Further, there is no presentation of the scientific results. In the end, this book is exactly what it was meant to be, the personal memoirs of a technical expert from an exciting and challenging project.

I enjoyed seeing the historical thread that the Sojourner project wove amongst people and events. I particularly liked how it connected the lunar rover project of the 1950’s up to the start of the Spirit and Opportunity projects. As well, I could easily grasp the intangible value of team spirit, mutual support, and a work ethic that goes beyond a pay cheque. This is a book for engineers, especially those with an interest in robotics or space exploration. A person contemplating being a systems engineer would also enjoy reading this book to see the amazingly good things to which serendipity can lead.

Review by Mark Mortimer

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Interview with Michael Benson

Michael Benson, author of Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (read Universe Today’s review) took some time from his busy schedule, and nasty cold, to answer some of our questions about his book and interest in astronomy and space exploration. Benson was interviewed by Mark Mortimer.

Universe Today: You say this book is the cumulation of sifting through tens of thousands of image files on computers. What was your selection criteria for the few that made it into the book?

Michael Benson: Well, to start off with, the jaw-drop factor, of course. Stuff that was incredible, I tried my best to get in. After that, though, of course you have the inevitable limitations of the book medium, with its fixed number of pages, plus then I had to divide the solar system up into chapters and try to give each one at least its due if not more, pretty soon I realized I had to winnow the available images down to not as many as I would have liked. And then there was the color versus B&W question — I wanted to get in as many good color shots as I could, though I have a real weakness for black and white photography. Essentially, though, whatever really made me gaze in amazement got in. I have to say, though, that I have a lot of really first-rate processed pictures on my hard drive that I’d love to use elsewhere sometime. Some of it has never been seen before, except for by a small cadre of planetary scientists, and then usually in black and white.

UT: As an artist did you feel like an outsider when discussing these images or did you feel like a member of the group of technicians?

MB: Neither. I always approached them as an aesthetic challenge — how to get them to “pop” — to reveal that they weren’t shot through a digitized grid but through optically pure glass, as it were. And much of the work behind getting them to the right place was technical — using photoshop or other programs — but this is also the tool of a photographer, or ‘artist’ if you will. And even when working with Dr. Paul Geissler, who is an eminent planetary scientist and remote imaging expert, I didn’t feel like an outsider — we had a good collaboration — nor like I belonged to some group of techies either. (I don’t think he feels like the latter either, come to think of it, though he recently took a job at the US Geological Survey — which makes highly accurate maps of all the planets based on space imaging! Which is about as technical as it gets.)

UT: How would you compare the artistic qualities and values of colour to black and white in this medium?

MB: I like both for different reasons. It also depends on the planetary body being represented, to an extent. Black and white pictures of Jupiter’s implacably volcanic, sulphurously yellow-orange moon Io, for example, practically don’t make any sense in a book of this type. They make perfect sense when it comes to conducting science, but would’ve been a bit hard to justify having them in my book, given that Io is by far the most lurid object in the Solar System. And by the same token Europa, Io’s closest neighboring moon, which is a spherical iceberg of fissured, chaotic ice, doesn’t really need to be in color — though it also looks awesome in color. But you get the essence of its story in black and white, if I can put it that way. (Though part of that essence is in fact its mystery — what’s going on under that global ice-cap?)

UT: Do you have a favourite/most photogenic planet? For example Venus seems to be heavily weighed in the book.

MB: Actually, Venus gets fewer pages than either Mars or Jupiter. Jupiter may be the most complex and compelling, though Saturn is a close second, because of its perfect rings. Saturn could scarcely be _more_ photogenic — we’re very lucky to have it in the solar system, because it shows what cosmic perfection really is. And as for Jupiter, as I said in my book, it’s a solar system in miniature — it’s endlessly fascinating and kinetic. The last quality is hard to show with stills, but not impossible.

UT: How were you able to convince a publisher to go for a book of images freely available on the web?

MB: Many of the images were available in raw form at specialized planetary science sites, not “freely available,” in the sense that they required substantial processing and mosacking, rendering into color or what have you. Plus even the images that are more readily available — for example, at NASA’s outreach site A Planetary Photojournal — still required substantial processing, most of them, to get them to work at the resolution quality we have available on the page, as opposed to the screen, where lower resolutions still work.

But the premise of the question is a bit flawed. Publishers are delighted if they can base a book on public domain images, because then they don’t have to pay for it!

UT: Considering the forward, do you think a living carbon based life form will explore our solar system? Other star systems? Do you think humans will do this?

MB: I do. We suffer a bit of temporal tunnel vision as a species. Even if we don’t do it for a hundred or two hundred years in the case of the solar system — and much later for the stars — I still think we’ll do it. Our current hesitation about it has to do with the sluggish pace of crewed exploration after Apollo and also the sense that the environments are so hostile that it might not be desirable to do it. But technology will march onwards and make these such things easier. And then, as soon as it is possible for tourists to actually go to, for example, Jupiter, there will be a huge rush to go there. Or Mars, of course. Or the Moon…

UT: Considering the afterward, where do you think people fit into the universal schema of things?

MB: Oh, I tend to agree with Ren — Lawrence Weschler — that for now at least we seem to be the only creatures that can experience that sense of awe that is ultimately one of the roots of our sentience. My discussion with him had to do with whether machines could ever experience this. I believe one day they will, he’s not so sure. Wasn’t it Asimov who, when asked if he really believed machines would one day think, said “well, I’m a machine, and I think”?

But in the end I think Ren’s daughter Sara is right in saying that the universe in a sense needs us, because we are capable of appreciating its beauty. Another way of putting it, I suppose, is that we are one of the ways in which the universe can appreciate its own splendor. And of course we are pieces of work ourselves, just to coin a phrase!

UT: No 3D images are in the book though we are presently getting some from Mars. What is your opinion of the artistic value of 3D images for this subject and media?

MB: Well, as someone who has barely pried my 3-D glasses of my nose for the last couple weeks, as I peer in fascination at the images from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, I don’t know how objective I can be on the question. I really like it — though more for that “you are there” sensation than for aesthetic reasons I suppose. But there is no reason why 3-D images can’t be savored for their aesthetic qualities as well. I’ll be able to answer with more conviction on the question after this whole rover experiment is over, because there will really be many thousands of 3-D pictures to go through by then, and no doubt some of them will work on the multiple levels required to be considered art. So the jury — not that I consider myself a jury — is out on the question, but not for too long. Personally, I’d love to see a purple-orange cactus appear on the lip of a crater one of these days — though the artistic qualities of the shot will be the last thing on anyone’s mind if that happens!

Book Review: Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes

People usually associate squads of bespectacled engineers and scientists as being the sole guardians of space. Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes by Michael Benson is the type of book that rationalizes and moreover encourages the inclusion of other specialists, especially those in the arts. Containing 295 photographs chosen both for their artistic, awe inspiring impact as well as their voluminous scientific content, the reader will want to quickly put aside numerical calculations about orbital mechanics and let their eyes float across the vistas of other planets. It is easy to imagine that only a thin visor of a helmet separates them from the visions in the book. Michael Benson’s collection of breathtakingly clear images gives credit to the machines that took the pictures and the will of all the bespectacled and clear sighted individuals who worked so hard to get the machines to their complete their mission.

This book is all about its photographs. These come as both true colour and black and white. They range from compact portraits to large expanses. In keeping true to the sources, collages of contiguous single frames give fantastic perspectives including a 110cm x 26cm full colour image of a dust cloud as it storms across a broad swathe of the Martian surface. Each image is silhouetted against a matte black background that enhances the reader’s feeling of ‘being there’. My personal favourites are views of satellites with their host planet behind them and the satellite’s shadow etched on the host’s surface. The details evident in black and white shots of crater rims softened by dunes are better than most tour guides of earthly locales. These photographs are like beauty contest entrants each vying to allure the judge to vote for them.

The photographs are grouped into chapters or collections for each planet, except Pluto, for which no clear images exist. Chapters are introduced with a brief passage discussing the imaging history, the relevant probes and some of the provocative visual features. Often a planet’s chapter includes its satellites though there is a separate chapter for Earth’s moon as well as a chapter for asteroids within the Asteroid Belt. Either adjoining or nearby each photograph is a caption identifying the probe that acquired the image, the date this occurred and a description. As a bonus, there are black and white block drawings of the probes themselves. Leading this beauty contest is a provocative essay where Arthur C. Clarke muses about future explorers. After showing off all the contestants, Benson delivers a short essay on the selection process and the image processing. The book concludes in an afterward by Lawrence Weschler where he contemplates the relative importance of humankind in the context of so much other-world beauty.

I liked the black background and paper type of the book though black, as is its nature, shows up printing artifacts (not many) and fingerprints (becoming more frequent). In addition, sometimes description on the captions do not identify the significance of a picture. Perhaps this may be because there are no features to remark on and only the emotive force caused a picture to be selected.

The clarity of the photographs is so great that I can easily forget myself and try to touch the textures and shapes to gain a tactile sense. It seems I need more than one sense to fully absorb the grandiose scale of the subjects themselves and the specialised effort that made them come into being. I have been perhaps a little bit too guilty of self importance, but after viewing this book my self estimation of where I stand in the scale of things has changed, for the better.

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Review by Mark Mortimer

Book Review: Rocket Man

In his newest book, Rocket Man, David Clary took on the challenge of describing the person that was Robert Goddard the father of the rocket program in the United States. Through an excellent chronological depiction of the events and people of Goddard’s life, Mr. Clary presents significant moments and actions in an effort to give a sense of his personality. Mr. Clary acknowledges that he was quite hampered by the efforts of Goddard’s retinue who had filtered and moulded material so as to fit only their desired image. Without giving his own conclusions, Mr. Clary presents a very readable passage on Goddard’s life.

The image that Mr Clary portrays is of a very bright and capable man who accomplished amazing feats yet whose personality might have been as much a hindrance to achieving space travel as it was in driving it forward. Paramount in this was Goddard’s belief that rocketry was his and only his domain. Parties showing any interest in helping technically were considered interlopers or trespassers and dealt with disparagingly. The advantage of this was that there was one focal point for rocketry in the United States. The detriment to this was that Goddard had to become a specialist in many related fields such as chemistry (e.g. obtaining liquid oxygen) and metallurgy (e.g. constructing nozzles and chambers) and also disparate fields such as publicity and marketing. It seems that by spreading himself across all this activities and protecting his fiefdom meant Goddard was unable to progress on those tasks which his natural abilities favoured.

There were two other consequences to being this type of generalist. One is that Goddard treated the activities as a hobbyist. For example, Mr Clary describes Goddard as wanting his office by his men in the machinist’s shop where Goddard would build mock ups by hand soldering tin cans and metal pieces. The other consequence is that Goddard seemed incapable of setting an achievable goal and then preparing a path to reach this goal. Much can be argued that this is typical whenever a person is at the forefront of a new field and is trying to advance it. However getting support for his project without clearly showing either plans or progress appears to have alienated potential supporters. Nevertheless, Mr. Clary does note that “Goddard had received more money for his research than any other civilian scientist for a single project before World War II ” And considering much of this was granted during the worldwide depression of the 1920’s, this is no small feat.

This book does give a glimpse of the person that was Robert Goddard. By listing many of the significant events of his life the reader can draw an impression of who this man was. However, as Clary clearly acknowledges, so much of the available information regarding Goddard has been purposely manipulated that Goddard the man is difficult to pinpoint. In consequence, Mr. Clary’s writing reads like a list of events woven together with text. Further, this joining text drifts and can seem a bit superfluous at times. Yet, the reader does get a flavour of who the rocket man was and especially of the challenges they faced.

Note that this book describes the man. There is little information on Goddard’s technical activities however it does have many references to publication with this information.

Rocket Man is an enjoyable read and will tell you something of Goddard and much of his trials and tribulations he faced as he pushed forward the new field of rocketry. Upon finishing the book, I couldn’t help but see a similarity between Goddard, his rocket Nell and his supporters the Guggenheims with today’s Burt Rutan, his vehicle SpaceShipOne and his supporter Paul Allen. I hope their visions come to fruition in a more auspicious manner than that of Goddard’s.

Review by Mark Mortimer

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