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Book Reviews
William Leitch – Presbyterian Scientist, Robert Godwin, Apogee Prime, 2016, 152pp, softback, $14.95, ISBN 978-1926837-36-9
7th April 2017

The first question this book brings to mind is “who’s he?”; surely, most people interested in rockets and spaceflight will be unfamiliar with the Reverend William Leitch. Author Robert Godwin is certainly aware of this and begins his book with a question of his own: “why write a book about an almost unknown Victorian Presbyterian minister?”. No doubt Godwin’s own fascination with space was enough for him personally, but others are sure to climb aboard his investigative bandwagon on reading the introduction to this detective story of space. In a nutshell, Leitch’s theories on the use of rockets to explore space not only predate the factual writing of Goddard, Oberth and Tsiolkovsky, but also the fictional works of Jules Verne. As Godwin reveals this on his second page, it is not too much of a spoiler to state that since Leitch’s essay - entitled “A Journey Through Space” - first appeared in 1861, it was arguably “the first solid...

Waiting for Contact: the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, Lawrence Squeri, Univ Press Florida, 2016, 233pp, hardback, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-8130-6214-3
7th April 2017

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is one of those niche topics that has evolved throughout the Space Age – in this case, from academic thought-experiment to volunteer data-analysis programme (in the SETI@Home project). This book tells the story of the SETI movement from 1959, when astronomers started using radio telescopes to listen for signals from space. In what the blurb calls a “one-of-a-kind history”, the author looks at “the people, reasons, goals and mindsets” behind the search. This is a relatively short history of a long-running and multifaceted project, but that is a key attraction of the book. It is extremely readable and sufficiently comprehensive to satisfy most readers; perhaps the author’s admission that “SETI excited me” has something to do with this. And for those interested in delving deeper, there are 30-odd pages of chapter notes and bibliography and, thankfully, an index. Unusually, i...

Voices of the Soviet Space Program, Slava Gerovitch, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 305pp, hardback, $95, ISBN 918-1-137-48178-8
7th April 2017

In the early decades of the Space Age, there was very little real information available on Soviet space systems beyond the news reports and the propaganda. While America relied on its U2 spyplanes and equally secretive spy satellites, enthusiastic amateurs tracked Soviet satellites and trawled through obscure documentation to tease out what little data they could. Now we have oral histories, in-depth interviews and books like this – how times have changed. This particular volume is a history of the Soviet space programme accumulated in the course of several oral history projects undertaken since 2002. Instead of attempting to construct a single ‘true’ narrative of events, says the author, the book illustrates “the different perspectives of Soviet military officers, space engineers and members of the cosmonaut corps”. It does so in 13 chapters divided between sections on “The Soldiers”, “The Engineers” and “The Cosmonauts”...

Sacramento’s Moon Rockets, Alan Lawrie, Arcadia Publishing, 2015, 94pp, softback £22.99, ISBN 978-1-4671-3389-0
7th April 2017

The Space Age has been considered to be sufficiently mature to warrant historical investigation for some time now, as witnessed by the many books on space history. Moreover, the days of early rocket development for space exploration are now sufficiently distant for the label of industrial archaeology to apply...and it is this genre that this little book fits into. It tells the story of Douglas Aircraft Company’s Sacramento test facility or ‘SACTO’. Following a one-page Foreword by an architectural historian and a three-page introduction by a former chief test conductor at SACTO, the book is essentially a photo essay with extended captions. Most of the photos are in colour and the book is well produced, but there is no index. Perhaps the author and publisher felt that, given the relative brevity of the book, it was unnecessary; but it would have been easy to achieve and would have added significantly to the volume’s usefulness. ...

Fallen Astronauts: heroes who died reaching for the Moon, Colin Burgess & Kate Doolan, Univ Nebraska Press, 2016, 386pp, hardback, $36.95, ISBN 978-0-80323-8509-5
7th April 2017

The somewhat sombre title of this book could be misunderstood as a tabloid-like headline that seeks to exploit the deaths of brave space explorers, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a memorial to their accomplishments and sacrifice, and a celebration of their lives. In fact, the title comes from the name of a small tin figurine – The Fallen Astronaut – placed on the surface of the Moon by astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin towards the end of their Apollo 15 mission. Along with a small plaque bearing list of astronauts’ names, the laying and photographing of the figurine was part of a “secret ceremony unsanctioned by NASA”, according to the authors. The photo itself adorns the cover of the book. The volume is effectively a mini-biography of deceased American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts involved in their respective nations’ efforts to land men on the Moon; as such, readers should not expect to find det...

Moonwalk: the Story of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, Adrian Buckley & David Jenkins, Circa Press, 2016, 46pp, hardback, £12.95, ISBN 978-0-9930721-7-8
7th April 2017

Just when you thought every book on Apollo that could be published had already been published…along comes another one. The difference here is that this one is written by an architect, illustrated by a graphic artist and harks back to an earlier, gentler time. Its simplistic style – a double-page spread with a single paragraph of large-print text and an illustration – suggests the target market is children, as does the low page-count (I know there are 46 pages because I counted them myself, there being no page numbers). In one sense this is an art book. The pictures are photographs - often well-known shots – that have been given an ‘artistic treatment’…which typically means screening them to look like old newspaper photos with a half-tone dot pattern. In some cases, this gives the book a 1970s feel, but I’m not convinced the readership will appreciate the ‘artistic degradation’. The text tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission – as pr...