Over the years, Haynes has developed its range of car owners’ workshop manuals into a broad set of “practical lifestyle manuals” covering anything from music and pets to military and maritime topics. Its space range has evolved from specific spacecraft, such as space stations and Mars rovers, to the planets themselves. This latest manual extends the concept further to the operational aspects of a space agency – in this case, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). Amusingly, the subtitle references the style of those early car manuals by including the words “1958 onwards”.
David Baker’s ‘Nasa Operations Manual’ (Haynes Publishing, £22.99, ISBN 9781785211157) is presented in two main sections: the first asks (and answers) the question “What is Nasa?” and the second details the various Nasa field centres, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Nasa is, as Baker explains, “a product of the early Space Age” and a development of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later Naca) formed in 1915. The Nasa brand has become so intimately linked with Moon landings and Mars missions that most people are unaware of the ‘first A’, but aeronautics remains a significant part of the agency’s remit.
Readers unfamiliar with Nasa as an organisation will be surprised at the diversity of rocket, missile, spacecraft and aircraft programmes with which the agency has been associated in its 60-year history. But even those who think they know the agency will learn something new and the images are far from the usual space-book fare. In keeping with the workshop manual series, the book has a gritty and, dare I say, workmanlike feel with its pictures of launch gantries, test stations and training facilities. In one example, two space-suited Apollo astronauts look particularly incongruous practicing the planting of the American flag in a sandy section of an otherwise featureless concrete floor!
A final two-page section addresses the elephant in the room for many Nasa watchers: its budget. “When asked how much the space programme costs”, the author opines, “most people get it wrong”. Apparently, the average uninformed opinion puts the answer at “around 20 per cent of total government spending”, while in fact Nasa takes “less than 0.5 per cent”, returning ten times that to the economy in “technology feedback [that boosts] jobs, profits and export potential”. A bar chart spanning the 60 years of the agency’s existence shows clearly that the peak Apollo years of the mid-1960s were very much a political blip in terms of funding, entirely as a result of the Moon Race.
As a parting shot, the author references a “major national opinion poll” of early 2018, which showed that about 70 per cent of respondents think Nasa should “strive to remain a world leader in space exploration”, while 85 per cent felt that monitoring climate was “a priority”. Whether or not the current US President should take note is left to the reader.
Although the nationally funded and politically driven American space agency often struggles to accommodate the disruptive aspects of the NewSpace industry – embodied by the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – it looks set for at least another few decades of space operations.