How Will We Get to Mars? New Book and TV Series Provide the Details

What is it going to take to really get humans to Mars? A new television series and a companion book take a detailed and hard look at the future of Mars exploration. The six-part documentary series on the National Geographic Channel and the book by veteran, award-winning space journalist Leonard David are both titled, “Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet.”

The TV series debuts on November 14, 2016 and was produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard (Apollo 13) and NASA scientist Brian Grazer. It combines interviews with some of the prominent ‘movers and shakers’ in the space community along with a scripted drama that portrays a human mission to Mars in the year 2033. Together, the show “tells the story of how we will one day call the Red Planet home through groundbreaking research and innovation.”

Watch the trailer:

Leonard David’s thoroughly researched book contains a wealth of information on the technological and sociological hurdles that need to be surmounted to make humans on Mars a reality, as well as revealing what work is currently being done on the road to the Red Planet. The books is large format, filled with stunning, full-color images throughout that provide a feast for the eye, including actual images from our spacecraft as well as illustrations of what future missions might entail.

While the book includes some portrayals of the television series’ drama of the crew of the Daedalus mission as they land on Mars and set up the first human base, the real drama comes from David’s interviews with real-life experts, the men and women who are fervently working towards the day an actual human mission goes to Mars.

I had the chance to talk with David about his new book, and asked what it was like to write a book in conjunction with a television series.

Author Leonard David speaking at the Mars Society meeting in Washington, DC. Image courtesy Leonard David.
Author Leonard David speaking at the Mars Society meeting in Washington, DC. Image courtesy Leonard David.

“It was a really interesting experience,” he said, “and we had a close-knit team that had telecons every week to try and synchronize the themes we were using. There were a few topics I wanted to make sure I was able to include, and there were several themes that the whole team wanted to make sure was included in both the book and the show.”

For example, the imagery in the book and the premise of the show reflect that a mission to Mars is likely going to be a global endeavor. “I wanted to make sure to emphasize this will not be just a US or NASA enterprise, and also that a lot of other countries are exploring Mars with spacecraft right now,” David said.

And so, the images in the book come from multi-national sources, and several are pictures I had never seen before, including the latest images from spacecraft, unique illustrations, and distinctive maps of potential human landing sites on Mars that are almost impossible to stop looking at.

Destination Mars: a detailed map of Mars from National Geographic. Credit: National Geographic.
Destination Mars: a detailed map of Mars from National Geographic. Credit: National Geographic.

David said that with the book, he didn’t want to take a stand on all the issues but combine as much information as possible to make it all available for people to think about.

He also said he wanted to portray the true realities of a human expedition to Mars.

“I wanted to make sure people understand that it’s not just throwing a bunch of tin cans on the surface of Mars and then jamming people in them,” he said. “There are so many other issues: sociological issues, there are cultural issues, and there are ethics issues particularly on the topic of possibly terraforming Mars. I just wanted to write a book that I haven’t already read, and I hit on themes that I don’t recall other books getting to.”

For example, David interviews Frank White, author of the seminal book “The Overview Effect,” and that title is now used as an evocative term to explain how seeing Earth from space has changed the human perspective and experience. But David asks White to consider what The Overview Effect will mean for human Martians.

“The Martians will soon develop their own culture and seem like true ‘aliens’ to Earthlings,” envisions White, leading ultimately to a “declaration of independence” from Earth by Mars.

Similarly, David’s discussions with Nick Kanas, professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, covers what Kanas calls “Earth out of view,” which means that since Earth is so far away, any future human Martians will have to solve their own problems. Therefore, any physical or mental issues that arise will have to be dealt with locally.

It could highlight a sense of isolation, being distant and away from everything, [Kanas adds]. “It’s a different sort of state. Whether that will produce depression, or psychosis, or extreme homesickness… I don’t know. We have a lot of questions that Mars is going to raise, and we don’t have the answers.”

And there are other realities that need to be considered.

“There will be death,” David said. “Mars is out to kill you to begin with, and there will be accidents and people will likely lose their life in some way. It’s going to call upon the pioneering spirit, and it will challenge us not only technologically, but psychologically and physiologically.”

David looks at the technology that will be required: the potential propulsion systems, how to ramp up current entry, descent and landing (EDL) systems for larger human-sized payloads, and the imperative of using what’s called In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU).

Future missions to Mars and other locations in the Solar System may depend heavily on the skills of planetary geologists. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center
Future missions to Mars and other locations in the Solar System may depend heavily on the skills of planetary geologists. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

“If we are going to try to avoid having these missions be just flags and footprints like the Apollo missions, it’s going to require living off the land on Mars,” David said.

Again, the experts David interviewed – called “The Heroes” in the book — provide an incredible depth of insight on all the issues facing a human mission to Mars. The Heroes include people such as historian John Logsdon, policy experts like Marcia Smith, entrepreneurs and innovators like Elon Musk, Mars engineers like JPL’s Rob Manning, planetary scientists such as NASA’s Chris McKay and Planetary Protection Officer Catherine Conley, then astronauts like Stanley Love who have already been on the front lines of long duration spaceflight and veteran Buzz Aldrin whose lifetime of experiences provide a unique perspective on human exploration. Reading the words of these experts was perhaps my favorite part of the book (besides those intriguing maps!)

With NASA and other space agencies now embracing Mars as the ultimate human destination, David said the time is now ripe for looking at all the issues that lie ahead on the path to Mars.

“This is a unique time,” he said. “I believe we are in a period that I call ‘now history.’ Never before in our history have we had the potential for the technology, communications and all the other things we need to go off the planet; we’ve never been here before. I think we have an opportunity to create this ‘now history,’ and what we do here and now is going to be a flagship for the future as far as our ability to not only go to Mars, but to go beyond to other planets as well.”

David said he hadn’t yet seen all the footage from the television series, but he was impressed with what he has watched so far. “Ron Howard is pretty good at this stuff, and so the quality is definitely there.” David also indicated there is a bit of a surprise ending to the show, so make sure to stay tuned.

Leonard David is a long-time contributor to and he writes a column for that site called Space Insider. He is also the coauthor of Buzz Aldrin’s book, “Mission to Mars.” You can find more articles by David at his website, Inside Outer Space.

More information on the book and how to purchase it can be found at the Nat Geo website, or at Amazon, and additional information on the television series can be found here.


Book Review: A History of the Solar System

The value of a good analyst is priceless. They can synthesize data from disparate sources and weave a reasonable story to bring sense out of historical events and to provide guidance to planning for the future. Adding a sense of scale to space analysis so as to make things relevant to people living on the Earth today adds even more to their value. This is what Claudio Vita-Finzi provides in his book “A History of the Solar System.” It’s a collection of analyses of our grand backyard from a variety of perspectives and it offers great value to the reader.


We know so much about our solar system. And at the same time we realize that we know so little. That’s the main story of this book. It notes the common lore: there are planets, asteroids, comets and dust. That’s today. Long, long ago, a great expanse of dust got localised and made the Milky Way, so at least is postulated in the book. The future should see our Sun expand, larger than the orbit of the nearest planets.

But this book also connects lots of current scientific research to these stories. This is where the spirit of the analyst comes into play. For instance, the inner planets have certain ratios of crust to mantle to core while the outer bodies could be awash in oceans that are slightly sealed with solid caps. Why? The book provides some ideas but we’re still just learning to ask the questions.

The book postulates, “Why does water have different Hydrogen/Deuterium ratios throughout the solar system”. Or “What do calcium-aluminium-rich inclusions tell us about the construction of our universe”.  And the book goes on to hypothesize on possible accretion processes for our solar system as based upon observations of other planetary systems. With explanations helped by current events, such as the “record of cosmogenic isotopes … that can be recovered from ice cores and tree rings” we see how the analysis extends to particulars of the heliosphere.

Be warned though, the book expects a deep level of knowledge from the reader, such as with its comparison of our Sun to the star ?01 Uma or the magnetic lineations offsets across Valles Marineris indicating crustal plate interactions. And where might all this knowledge lead the reader? Perhaps the author’s frequent allusions to abiotic and living processes, together with methods to determine the presence of life gives a clue. That is, the reader might realize just how possible yet how difficult would be to detect life elsewhere in our solar system and indeed elsewhere in the universe.

As far as writing styles, this book could be considered tight. In less than a hundred pages it covers a huge amount of the key indicators used to define our solar system. The text is heavily referenced with 20-30 for each of the 8 chapters. A sprinkling of pictures and illustrations amplify its explanations. But, as the author says, this is not a textbook of “one era after another”. Rather the author tries to link how today derives from a long ago cloud of dust which will likely lead to some very interesting times for tomorrow. And this may be indicative of what’s happening throughout the universe. As the reader will learn, humans are gaining the knowledge that can bring some order into the understanding of processes of the universe and we have only to appreciate the connections in order to heighten our understanding.

With a few billion years of formation behind it, our solar system certainly seems special. The obvious is that we know it harbours life. Us! Yet a complex web of processes and interactions bind all substances together and are the baseline to our future. Perhaps by looking at the past then we can better hypothesize what the future will hold. If you want to try this then Claudio Vita-Finzi’s book “A History of the Solar System” is a great place to get ideas and capture some of excitement of the vivacity of our life. Take if for a read and from it free up your imagination to wonder and assess where we stand in time and space.

The book is available through Springer. Learn more about the author, Claudio Vita-Finzi here.

Book Review: The Caloris Network

Thinking of taking a vacation this summer? Maybe you want to distract yourself with a bit of light science fiction fun. How about a deadly alien life form harbored within our solar system? That’s what Nick Kanas presents in his scientific novel “The Caloris Network.” Being placed not too far into the future, this novel lets the reader enjoy a believable taste of first contact that’s hopefully just as good as the contact from their first summer kiss.

caloris network
A pleasant novel has an intriguing plot that’s embellished with the interaction of fun characters. Sometimes it will also carry a somber undertone ringing in the background. So unravels the novel “Caloris Network.” The main character, Sam, is an astrobiologist fresh from looking at multicellular life on Europa. At home, her family suffers serious health concerns but she’s continuing with her efforts. Her research takes her to Mercury where something is raising the concern of the spacefaring military. Her fellow crew members involve a possible Martian secessionist, a cranky commander and a love triangle. All this is pretty typical fare.

Next up you may think there’d be the traditional English speaking alien biped threatening the very existence of the human race. But not this time. Instead Kanas identifies the protagonist as a silicate based lifeform on Mercury. No legs for walking and no lips for speaking. Further, this is the proverbial first contact between the human race and a living, thinking organism from another world. Will it be confrontational? As usual. Will it involve death rays? Kind of. Will it force the reader to ponder how to interact for the first time with an alien? Certainly! This is the best part of the book in that it places the reader not so far into the future so as to make the story readily believable. Being barely over a hundred years away, the reader can connect with the technological advances for an expedition on Mercury, for living on Mars and for the poor environmental state of Earth. With the simple lives of the expedition’s crew, the constrained space travel and the understated alien, Kanas has written a novel that would be fun for that long car ride or a day on the beach.

As a bonus, the author includes a chapter at the end of the book that discusses some of the science presented. It has details on what we’ve discovered of Mercury, particularly with regard to what a human visitor might encounter if standing on its surface; the temperature from searing heat to mind numbing cold, a Sun that changes direction in the sky and effects of a molten interior.

For even more fun when you’re at the beach, there’s an inclusion of how to define life. For instance, “Does it need to move?” “What do we mean by reproduction?” “How do we test for the ability to think?” and most entertaining of all, “How do we communicate with it when we can’t even communicate with dolphins yet?” These and other ideas in the novel may keep you up late discussing our very existence while watching the embers of the cottage campfire settle to a deep dark red.

Certainly something on Europa, Titan and Venus awaits people. Maybe it’s alien life. Maybe the life prefers to exist without humans coming to explore. Maybe they will be exactly as what Nick Kanas writes in his scientific novel “The Caloris Network”. With your imagination, take this novel’s plot as believable and see where it takes you. And maybe by reading this on your vacation, you may think that you’ve waited long enough and it’s time to go find out.

This book is available through Springer.
About the author, Dr. Nick Kanas.

Finding “The Lost Science” of 2001: A Space Odyssey

The film 2001: A Space Odyssey brought space science to the general masses. Today we may consider it as common place, but in 1968 when the film was released, humankind had yet to walk on the Moon. We certainly didn’t have any experience with Jupiter. Yet somehow the producer, Stanley Kubrick, successfully peered into the future and created a believable story. One of his methods was to employ Frederick I. Ordway III as his science consultant. While Ordway has since passed, he left behind a veritable treasure trove of documents detailing his work for Kubrick. Science author and engineer Adam K. Johnson got access to this trove which resulted in the book “2001: The Lost Science – The Scientist, Influences & Designs from the Frederick I. Ordway III Estate Volume 2“. It’s a wonderful summary of Ordway’s contributions and the film’s successes.

What makes a movie? A plethora of ingredients must come together. But most of all, the audience must accept it for what it proclaims to be. For instance, a science fiction show must wander about in space and/or time. And the audience has to believe the wandering. In the 1960s, the general audience had little knowledge of space and could conceivably believe in anything.

Many films used expediency over truth, such as using a gun to shoot a capsule to the Moon. However, to validate his film, Kubrick enlisted Ordway from the Future Projects Office of the Marshall Space Flight Centre. Presumably this alone would have added large amounts of veracity, but Ordway took on the challenge as we see in Johnson’s book and pushed further.


Ordway interviewed many scientists and engineers. Many of these came to the set to provide advice. Ordway acquired drawings as well as made his own schematics. He went to industry, academia and governments. Johnson skillfully brings this all to light. How did the results mesh with this effort? That is the value of Johnson’s book. It gives credit to the breadth and depth of Ordway’s research.

The book’s first section identifies the knowledge sources; people like Willy Ley, books such as Beyond Tomorrow The Next 50 Years in Space, and organizations such as Boeing and its PARSEC project. It identifies the individuals who came to the filming sets to give advice and has many images of the sets as well.

The second section gives credit to preceding films, though it’s not certain from Johnson’s book as to how or if Ordway drew inspiration from them.

Its third and final section is probably the most fun as it provides many figures of the mock-ups, drawings and schematics. It includes a great full page image of Space Station V and a four page pullout section of Discovery X-Ray Delta One. There’s also an interesting note therein that indicates that the sets and props had to be thoroughly believable from every perspective, as they didn’t know where Kubrick may place the camera. Thus, the book gives the reader a taste of the fine detail for some graphics such as for the Moon Bus. With Johnson presenting all this from Ordway’s collection then it’s easy for the reader to understand why there’s a high sense of believability to the film.

Yes, Johnson’s book shows the amount of knowledge that was available in the early 1960s and that Ordway gained access to much of this information. The very large size of this book, about 11in by 14.5in helps show off many great images throughout. However, its size also suggests the style of the book; that is, it is a scrapbook. The book is a wonderful compendium of information relevant to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it doesn’t add to the knowledge base. It’s an excellent repackaging of existing material with only a little suggestive comments on cinematic technique that might be original. And, as with most scrapbooks, the value of this book is the images. While the text is informative, it’s also somewhat dry, so the reader will probably feel much greater reward from feasting on the many print reproductions, drawings and photographs within Johnson’s book.

Perhaps the greatest value of this book is what goes unstated. That is, with enough effort and research people can construct a likely overview of humankind’s progress into the near future.  A future than can be thrilling. The book “2001: The Lost Science – The Scientists, Influences & Designs from the Frederick I. Ordway III Estate Volume 2” by Adam K. Johnson captures some of the excitement and thrill as humankind lay poised upon the edges of travelling into space. Reading it will give you pause at just how far we’ve progressed in the last 50 years. And perhaps get you thinking about what the films of today might be telling us about the next 50 years.

Book Review: The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon

I like hiking. Particularly, I like wandering in places I’ve never been before. Sometimes only a map, a compass and a good sense of direction gets me returning to where I began.

Many people on Earth enjoy this simple pleasure. But what to do if you’re on the Moon?

Well, assuming you’ve got the right equipment, like a spacesuit, then all you’d need is a good map because, of course, compasses aren’t of much use. So which map do you use? Well, take a look at “The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon” by Chunlai Li, Jianjun Liu, Lingli Mu, Xin Ren and Wei Zuo. This lovely, featured book will have you easily finding your way about the lunar surface.

“An atlas?” I hear you asking. “Who’s going to sit down and read an atlas?”  Good question, as I didn’t think I would either, but I definitely will use this book.

For me, a good atlas allows me to understand the shape of the land; almost to feel the topology without actually being there. When I hike, I use maps to find interesting outlooks, amazing drop-offs or dry land between swamps. On the Moon we certainly don’t have to worry about water features. But there are many other features that are at least interesting enough to warrant a particular nomenclature according to the International Astronomical Union. This book includes eleven of such nomenclatures.

For instance, there are the very dry Oceani, the Maria that hint at water courses, circular craters with astoundingly sharp edges and the knife edge rimae that slice along. How do I know of these descriptions? Simple. I look at the maps in the book. There are 188 maps each on their own page; all of them presenting an equal and fine finishing. And they include the complete Moon surface, with a space resolution of 500m, a horizontal accuracy of 192m and vertical of 120m. Actually, that’s most of the book. There’s an appendix. It includes a list of 3,698 features placed on the maps with each feature having; its name, its latitude, its longitude, its size in kilometres and its page. With this appendix, one can quickly and easily find the common lunar geographic features. There are a few pages of introduction. And that’s all. It’s just like an atlas should be; straightforward, simple and to the point.

I bet you’re wondering about where the data came from? The title says it all. It’s from China’s Chang’E-1 probe. This book is a re-issue in English of their initial production of 2012. Nicely located in the preamble is a description of the data processing. This includes specifications of the CCD camera, the characteristics of the probe’s orbit and the actual data processing. It’s apparently no mean feat, as the data came from a three-line array CCD stereo imager and resulted in the Mercator or Azimuthal projections. Some additional information is at this link (in English).

However, what’s most impressive for me is that this book shows that China is actively and capably adding to the scientific knowledge of space. Yet, in acknowledgement to lunar mapping already done, the authors included a very informative history of lunar mapping in the book’s preface. So you get to know both where this mapping data came from and where other data may be found.

In any case I suspect that you nor I will be going hiking on the Moon anytime soon. But perhaps you want to study lunar topography, lunar morphology or lunar geologic structures? Maybe you want to know where is the water that’s hiding on the Moon. I recommend “The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon” by Chunlai Li, Jianjun Liu, Lingli Mu, Xin Ren and Wei Zuo. It may guide you to all sorts of interesting features and finds.

The book is available through Springer.

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: 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: Success Strategies from Women in STEM

Have you ever wished that there was an instruction manual for life? A second edition of “Success Strategies from Women in STEM” aims to be that book for women in research – a ‘portable mentor’ to help individual researchers find their way. It’s part of a much larger attempt to tackle the huge problem of gender equity in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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