Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review: Milestones in Space

...or to complicate things, as engineers always do, I'll call this a Space Publication Critical Evaluation or SP[A]CE.

Before visiting historical places or museums I like to spend time reading. This allows me to get the most out of the visit and truly soak in the magnitude of the artifacts when I see them. Many times it's just a quick Wikipedia search, which often segments into tangents, but it almost always leads to a better experience during the visit. Unfortunately, before our big Washington D.C. trip last year, I neglected my read-ahead practice, and instead found myself gobbling up books post-visit (my favorite was a book about Arlington National Cemetery).

Well friends, if you think you might ever visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, I would recommend picking up a copy of the book Milestones of Space: Eleven Iconic Objects from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Even if you only spend an hour flipping through the photos, or zero in on only one of the iconic objects, I can guarantee it will make your visit so much more enjoyable. And, the objects discussed in the book are not necessarily the most famous space objects in the museum's collection. For instance, while the authors spend time writing about Space Shuttle Discovery, there is not a segment dedicated to the Apollo 11 command module, or Alan Shepherd's Mercury capsule. Instead, the book takes readers on a somewhat less traveled path, often including discussions from objects I (super space nerd, April) knew little about.

Chris and I at the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with Disco in the background. 
My favorite segment was the one dedicated to the Corona KH-4B Camera. This was originally a secret program to provide surveillance, before digital pictures and transmissions were a thing. Some of the engineering into recovering the photo film absolutely blew my mind. The book also mentions the first telecommunications satellite, the Voyager missions, and the Viking Landers.

I'm so happy each essay author included how the specific artifact at the National Air and Space Museum relates to the history. For instance, Discovery is of course an honest to goodness space shuttle which flew in space many times, whereas the Hubble Space Telescope on display is a Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle (duh, the real one is in space!). The history behind the museum's lunar module is also extremely interesting. These little nuggets are something I pay attention to when visiting museums...I want to know how the artifact I am seeing was actually used. I also love how, several times, NASA actually asked for artifacts back in order to complete more testing on them, or design a similar version. Gotta love the engineering mind!

While most space books focus on the heroism if the astronauts, the toughness of the mission controllers, or the brilliance of the mission designers, this book brings the reader face to face with the hardware. Sure, some people designed these items, but they all developed personalities of their own and its nice to read a book that strips away a lot of the overplayed stories.

Space lovers (this one included) and the general public alike will find at least one story that interests them in this book. I give Milestones of Space a hearty 4/5 stars overall, 5/5 Hubble Space Telescopes for relevant photo inclusion, and 3/5 orbital mechanics equations for quirky interesting facts.


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Full Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of the Milestones in Space: Eleven Iconic Objects from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum  from Zenith Press. Also, I'm excited to add this book to my personal Space Library (which is organized by color, my mom thinks I'm crazy).