Book Review: Made in Space

Got a little extra cash and looking for the next high-flying investment opportunity? Maybe you need to look up? way up. In his book: Made in Space: Space Investor’s Guide to the Next Revolution, Kenneth Schweitzer covers a whole range of investment opportunities, from space-based manufacturing facilities to power generation and mining. Here’s Fraser’s review…

Got a little extra cash and looking for the next high-flying investment opportunity? Maybe you need to look up? way up. In his book: Made in Space: Space Investor’s Guide to the Next Revolution, Kenneth Schweitzer covers a whole range of investment opportunities, from space-based manufacturing facilities to power generation and mining.

Through the course of 250 pages, Schweitzer makes a case that the private space industry is about to really take off, thanks to maturing technologies, military and government investment, public demand, and several other factors.

Each chapter of Made in Space is devoted to a different aspect of space commercialization, from space-based mining to space tourism, and Schweitzer does a pretty good job of providing a comprehensive look at the current companies in each segment and then the future opportunities. For example, the chapter on Public Space Travel examines the basis for the space tourism industry, the two tourists who’ve already flown (Tito and Shuttleworth), and then provides an overview of several companies offering space tourism flights (now, or in the near future).

One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed is how Schweitzer takes a fairly balanced view of of space commercialization achieved so far. Like most space enthusiasts, he’s disappointed about the pace of space flight, but he’s also appreciative of the work that’s already been done. In fact, he considers many of the experiments already performed by NASA and Russia to be critical to the future of space-based manufacturing.

Although Made in Space was written to serve as an investor’s guide to space, I’m not sure it will serve that role too well. The problem is that space commercialization is based on two insanely risky ventures: space exploration and business entrepreneurship. The book covers all of the insanely risky ventures going on, but it doesn’t exactly provide any kind of analysis of the different companies involved. So, if you’re actually considering investment in a space company, you’ll want to use this book as a starting point, not a detailed financial analysis of the different companies. I don’t think you’d be able to spot the next “hot space stock” from within Made in Space‘s pages.

I also felt that the book was overly optimistic. From reading Made in Space, you get the impression that the space revolution is ready to begin; nothing’s stopping it now! This is just my opinion, but I think space commercialization isn’t going to get going without overwhelming effort from thousands of people against enormous resistance. We’re by no means “in the clear”, and a large part of this momentum will need to come from revised government policies. This is the kind of thing that only happens when thousands of people lobby the government to change the way it supports space exploration – right now the US government (and world governments in general) are showing few signs of supporting these kinds of revolutionary ventures.

Here’s a link to Made in Space from Amazon.com. And a link directly from the publisher.

Book Review: The Universe 365 Days

If you’ve spent some time on the Internet, you’ve come across the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APoD) website, run by astrophysicists Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell. Once a day they post up a space-related picture, provide a handy description. I’ve said to myself on several occasions, that these guys should write a book. Well, now they have.

The Universe: 365 Days ($20.97 from Amazon.com) is a print version of APoD, and it’s one of the most gorgeous astronomy books I’ve ever seen. Open it up to any page: on your right is a full-page photograph, and on your left is a paragraph description about the picture. That’s it, 365 pages of description/picture, rinse, repeat. Not much else to say. If you like pictures of space and astronomy, then you’re going love it, page after page.

Because there are so many photographs, the authors were able to draw from a large pool of images. So, it isn’t just the same old NASA/Hubble pictures that everyone uses, there are some from more obscure observatories and even amateur astronomers. There’s a handy index at the back so you seek out images by topic.

I understand why they decided to go with the whole 365 days concept; it’s a connection to their website. But then, it’s not like you’re going to read the book one day at a time, like some kind of yearlong astronomical advent calendar.

Let me just stick my drooling tongue back in my mouth for a second and let you know my complaints with the book. First, the text is really small. Unreasonably small considering that it’s swimming in white space. The layout person should have been thinking about all the people who might be reading this book, and steered well away from 9 point font. My other complaint is that it feels fragile. Imagine you’re holding a stack of nearly 400 photographs bound together on the left-hand side. I’m worried that it might come apart with all the use it’ll get sitting on a coffee table. I’m afraid to let Chloe look through it, as she’ll render it into pulp in minutes.

Still, complaints aside The Universe: 365 Days is a fantastic book. Gorgeous photographs put into context by scientists who’ve had years of experience boiling complex concepts into handy, bite-sized write-ups. Hey, that’s what I do?

Read more from Amazon.com

Book Review – The Complete Book of Spaceflight

The Complete Book of Spaceflight ($24.50 US from Amazon.com) by David Darling is exactly that, an encyclopedia of space exploration, from Apollo to zero gravity. I have to be honest though; I didn’t read this book cover to cover. It’s got 3,000 detailed listings in alphabetical order, so it’s not exactly light reading material – imagine reading an encyclopedia. I have; however, been using it as a reference book for several months, and it’s in that capacity that it really shines.

Darling clearly had the non-technical reader in mind when he wrote up his descriptions, as he steers well clear of jargon (in a jargon-laden industry), and I appreciate that he kept some descriptions very short. For spaceflight terms the book functions as a dictionary, and the explanations are kept to a few sentences. For other topics, the book functions more like an encyclopedia; in some cases several pages are dedicated to a single topic (Gemini Program, spacesuits, etc).

If Darling were standing in front of me, and asked me? “well, what do you think? Is it complete?” I’d have to say yes. It’s complete. Everything that has anything to do with spaceflight is in there. I’ve found it useful to consult entries before writing up some of my own stories in Universe Today; especially if it’s been several years since I last wrote about a subject (although some space agencies have great press material, many of the aerospace firms provide descriptions of their own programs drenched in marketing-speak).

Taking its cue from its encyclopedic parent, The Complete Book of Spaceflight is liberally sprinkled with photographs, sidebars and tables of information. Unfortunately, the pages are all black-and-white, so you don’t get to see any of the images in colour. I wish the publisher could have splurged on full-colour printing – this would let the book spend equal time on your desk and coffee table (maybe they’ll consider it for a future edition?).

The other problem, and this is no fault of the author, is that the business of space exploration is still unfolding. Events in the last few months would have already rewritten chunks of the book (Columbia, Rosetta), so it would be cool to see some kind of Internet site with updates.

I think you’d be happy to have The Complete Book of Spaceflight sitting on your desk or in your bookshelf, standing by to help you navigate some of the more obscure space news journals, like, uh? Universe Today.

Fraser Cain
Publisher
Universe Today

Book Review: Distant Wanderers


Probably the most exciting aspect of modern astronomy is the recent discovery of planets orbiting other star systems. The techniques for finding the are only a few years old, but already astronomers have uncovered 74 (although, it’ll be more when you read this).

Probably the most exciting aspect of modern astronomy is the recent discovery of planets orbiting other star systems. The techniques for finding the are only a few years old, but already astronomers have uncovered 74 (although, it’ll be more when you read this).

Distant Wanderers by Bruce Dorminey follows the short history of successful planet hunting, starting with the first bizarre discovery of planets around a distant pulsar and moving on to the more dependable Doppler spectroscopy method. As there isn’t a long history, the book quickly catches up to the present, profiling the methods used by today’s seekers. The bulk of the book, though, looks to the future of planet hunting; from new techniques to space-based observatories currently in development.

Although the technical terminology flies fast and furious, Dorminey takes the time to explain each term when it appears (like Doppler spectroscopy), simply and clearly in a sidebar, to make sure you grasp the concept before going any further.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is how Dorminey presents his own journey to uncover the information and meet the researchers. It’s mostly a science book, but it also feels a little like a travelogue, and it’s that aspect that prevents it from being dry; these are real people, making some of the most exciting discoveries in modern science – it’s hard not to get caught up in the adventure.

A couple of complaints: the text is pretty small, even with good vision it isn’t easy on the eyes; the photography is all black and white, which is a shame considered the beauty of the pictures selected (I know what many of them look like in colour). Finally, the science in this book is totally cutting edge, so I suspect it might feel a little dated in a few years – but that’s progress!

I definitely recommend Distant Wanderers, though.

Click here to see more information about this book at Amazon.com.

Book Review: Spacefaring: The Human Dimension


Like many of you, I’m a total advocate for human space exploration. Sure, robots are great, with their indestructibility and unquestioning loyalty, but there are times when you really need to get some human hands and eyes on location to provide some solid data and deal with the unexpected. But humans are soft, fragile, and can sometimes get a little grumpy.

Like many of you, I’m a total advocate for human space exploration. Sure, robots are great, with their indestructibility and unquestioning loyalty, but there are times when you really need to get some human hands and eyes on location to provide some solid data and deal with the unexpected. But humans are soft, fragile, and can sometimes get a little grumpy.

Spacefaring: the Human Dimension by Albert Harrison helps fill a niche that I’ve found largely unfilled in most of the space exploration books I’ve read – how to keep humans alive, and stop them from killing each other during long space trips. And by focusing only on this aspect of space travel, Harrison gives the subject matter the time and respect it deserves. Each element is covered in tremendous detail, including the basics of food, air, water, heat, etc. but also the more psychological elements of coping with stress, group dynamics, training, and dealing with mistakes and disasters. Harrison throws in a plenty of anecdotes to give real world examples to the topics covered.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who finds this aspect of space exploration fascinating. I’d especially recommend it to folks like the Mars Society, as many of the issues have been largely ignored by NASA so far. And I’d force scriptwriters and directors to read this book before they make another Mission to Mars. Great book!

Click here to read more about this book at Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Life and Death of Planet Earth


I never thought a book about astrobiology could be depressing, but when I put down The Life and Death of Planet Earth by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, I couldn’t help but feel kind of glum.

Over the course of nearly 300 pages, Ward and Brownlee take a look at our planet and its inhabitants. They chart the Earth’s formation, the catastrophic events that shaped its history, and the rise of life, and finally the evolution of higher life forms. This is familiar territory that they covered in more depth in their previous book, Rare Earth. If you stopped reading here, it would be a happy book.

But there’s lots more to read. They then go on to predict what the future holds for our planet. Whether it will end in fire or ice? Apparently both… and worse. In case you didn’t know, we’re probably enjoying a warm siesta between severe ice ages. And while there are cold times ahead they will eventually end. Our Sun is steadily increasing in temperature – and as the temperatures rise, the biologic diversity on Earth will shrink (it’s possible that we’ve already gone past the height of life’s diversity and we’re already on the slide down). Eventually higher life forms won’t be able to survive, then the plants will go, and finally, hardy heat-loving bacteria living in the highest mountains at the Poles will be driven to extinction and the Earth will be a lifeless, dead world. Then the Sun will enter the final stages of its life, balloon out past the orbit of the Earth, and consume our planet in a fiery afterthought.

Like I said, depressing. But don’t worry, we’ve got a few hundred million years left to enjoy our planet before we’re driven off it as a species.

Ward and Brownlee tell an engaging story, and I was pretty hooked from beginning to end. There’s lots of scientific terminology, but it’s always well explained – easy reading for almost anyone. At each point they stop to describe our future world, they step away from the science and just tell you what you’d see if you looked around. It was very easy to imagine what it must be like to stand on a sun-parched landscape and see our descendants struggling to survive.

The Life and Death of Planet Earth isn’t without hope, though. There are plans afoot to change the Earth’s orbit by engineering near misses by asteroids – hopefully this could set our planet on an outward spiral that always keeps us in the right distance to enjoy a temperate environment. They encourage ongoing research into space exploration as a way to avoid our ultimate fate.

I’m hoping Ward and Brownlee will continue on this path for another book, and maybe paint a portrait of how the Universe will end. After all the galaxies have drifted apart; after all the stars have decayed and turned into white dwarfs or black holes; after black holes have consumed all the matter there is; and after the black holes themselves have evaporated, leaving us with a Universe of elementary particles accelerating away from each other into the darkness.

Have a nice day. 🙂

Book Review: Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait

Astronomer Phil Plait has found a great niche for himself – debunking bad science, specifically Bad Astronomy. He’s been at it on the web for years, and it came as no surprise to me when I found out there was a book deal in the works.

Astronomer Phil Plait has found a great niche for himself – debunking bad science, specifically Bad Astronomy. He’s been at it on the web for years, and it came as no surprise to me when I found out there was a book deal in the works.

Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax” is exactly what it sounds like. For 260ish pages Phil takes a look at many of the common misconceptions that have plagued astronomy for years.

The first half of the book is interesting reading, but it’s more of a science book. Phil looks at many of the commonly misunderstood concepts in astronomy and sets the record straight. I’d like to think I know a little about astronomy, so I was pretty surprised to learn I was misinformed about many aspects of the basics: tides, meteors, gravity.

It’s in the second half of the book where Plait really hits his stride as he examines some of the “bad astronomy” hatched more recently: Apollo moon landing hoaxes, UFOs etc. Because the culprits are still spinning out the bad science, Phil firmly debunks their “theories”. I especially enjoyed the Top Ten Examples of Bad Astronomy in Hollywood.

If I had a complaint, it’s that Phil spends a little too much time explaining how to balance an egg in any season (a whole chapter!, but I guess he was trying to make a point). Seriously, though, it’s a great book, not Bad Astronomy at all.

Click here to find out more from Amazon.com.

Fraser Cain
Publisher, Universe Today