Review: Space Exploration for Dummies
A new book, "Space Exploration for Dummies," boils down rocket science for the masses.
Credit: Wiley Publishing.

You?ve always been a space cadet at heart? So have I. My Dad took me out to see Sputnik glint in the night sky, and the rest is history. I still have my 5th grade report that stated I planned to work for NASA when I grew up. Well, that childhood dream has been largely fulfilled through the work on NASA programs like Kepler, Astrobiology and SOFIA. For me, it all started with the space race.

Early on, every space launch made the front page of the newspaper and the evening news. We watched Russia and the US launch dogs, monkeys, insects, chimps and, ultimately, men up into space. The Russians were not only the first to space, but the first to send a woman into space. This was tremendously exciting. Today, I regret that people have become accustomed to humans going into space, and that the launches are relegated to the inside pages of the newspaper.  The repair of ?the people?s telescope,? which restored and improved Hubble, did make the news, and excited many folks around the world. But, like many people, I don?t remember each and every piece of space history and lore. And, I?m delighted to have a new book in my personal library that brings together a brief history of space exploration under one cover.

?Space Exploration for Dummies? is the latest addition to the yellow-covered ?Dummies? series. Researched and penned by Dr. Cynthia Phillips, planetary geologist at the SETI Institute, and her partner, Shana Priwer, professional writer, this book captures the essential facts and accomplishments of the real space cadets.

The book invites browsing. While organized into logical chapters, readers are urged to jump straight to the topic of greatest interest. In case you?re a novice astronomer, there?s a quick light-hearted primer on basic astronomy. Then, it?s on to rocket science. Phillips and Priwer have a light touch, and write for the non-rocket scientist. This is rocketry that your grandparents could understand. Rockets carry up payloads, and often astronauts. So you want to be an astronaut? Turn to chapter 4 to learn about your ride. But, all you would-be astronauts, go on to read chapter 5 about space tragedies before consulting your life insurance agent. Like 15th century exploration of the Earth, space exploration is dangerous. People do die trying, and the history of the tragedies is both thoughtful and sobering. It honors the people who made the ultimate sacrifice in our journey to the stars.

Back to 1957: Sputnik was the first human-made satellite to orbit Earth. It was amazing to me, and still is. Over several chapters, ?Space Exploration? breezes through the early days of the space race and on to Apollo, Soyuz, Mir and the Space Station. It?s useful to have all of this brought together succinctly: many missions and many astronauts at my fingertips. I especially appreciated the inclusion of the 13 women who worked to become astronauts in 1960, but were excluded by NASA for lack of Air Force pilot training (something they, as women, could not obtain at the time, p. 99.) Sally Ride was the first U.S. female astronaut in space 23 years later. Times do change.

Robots and remotely operated space telescopes are essential human tools for space exploration. The authors devote chapters to robotic exploration of the Moon, the first grand tours of the solar system in the 70?s and 80?s, and the newer explorers of our universe including space telescopes like Hubble. We?re in the midst of this exciting journey, and Phillips and Priwer scan forward to the missions in planning and missions in dream stages. Finally for all the SETI fans, there a chapter on looking for life beyond Earth in our solar system and around distant stars. ?Dummies? are known for humor, and this book closes with ?tens,? a nice homage to David Letterman: 10 places to look for life, 10 ways that space travel isn?t like the movies, and 10 everyday things brought to you by NASA (not Tang!). So, space cadets, teachers, kids and interested people, you?ll find ?Space Exploration for Dummies? a fun read and handy reference.

For an autographed copy of ?Space Exploration for Dummies,? consider joining TeamSETI or upgrading your membership.