A generously illustrated, wonderfully detailed survey of space exploration by a Smithsonian curator who was also a chief historian of NASA for more than two decades.
The boundless open sky has always lured people to look upward in wonder, and Launius (Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce, 2014, etc.) tells the story of the scientists who made dreams of traveling through space a reality. “The story of space exploration was motivated by fantastic dreams, the spirit of discovery, and the thrill of voyaging into the unknown,” he writes. “Properly conducted, space exploration can provide a hopeful future.” From early rocketry to the possibility of interstellar flight, the author explains how it works and what the stakes are, and he does it effectively, without relying on jargon. His clear and concise writing takes readers through scientific and mechanical achievements, as he revels in such details as how pressure suits were designed and what a lunar research station would look like. Astronomers from ancient times through the present have worked to understand the cosmos and achieve space travel, and they have made great strides, including sending a man to the moon and launching satellites to the far reaches of the galaxy. Launius argues that even these accomplishments are just a taste of what is possible, not only in terms of manned space exploration, but also in regard to our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of life—and, perhaps, extraterrestrial intelligence. On every page, stunning photographs provide a visual history of the incredible people and mechanics behind each groundbreaking advance, setting this volume apart from others. Readers of all ages will discover something new every time they revisit these pages. Part history, part nostalgia, part cutting-edge science, this entertaining book reminds us of the magnitude of space flight—and hints at what’s to come.