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Book Reviews
Liberty Bell 7: the Suborbital Mercury Flight of Virgil I Grissom, Colin Burgess, Springer-Praxis, 2014, 275pp, £19.99, ISBN 978-3-319-04390-6 [softback]
24th April 2015

Liberty Bell 7 Following his book on the first manned Mercury flight, Colin Burgess and his publisher, Springer, have moved onto the second flight – you can see a series in the making, can’t you? Virgil Grissom’s suborbital flight, being the second of the series, might have disappeared in the mists of time had it not been for the unfortunate fact that it was his capsule that disappeared below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. The issue of whether or not Grissom ‘blew the hatch’ - in error or in panic - has gone down as a space story that leaves a bad taste in the mouth (how could they criticise a guy who had risked life and limb to make America great?). This book would not be complete without recounting the story and the support Grissom received from the friends and colleagues who knew him, but it doesn’t really resolve anythi...

Freedom 7: the Historic Flight of Alan B Shepard Jr, Colin Burgess, Springer-Praxis, 2014, 266pp, £31.99, ISBN 978-3-319-01155-4 [softback]
24th April 2015

Freedom 7 I often wonder how many Americans can actually name the first American in space. Was it Neil Armstrong, John Glenn or perhaps Buzz Lightyear? The fact that someone called Alan Bartlett Shepard made the first US suborbital spaceflight on 5 May 1961 will come as a surprise to many; the fact that the flight lasted a total of only 15 minutes and 22 seconds (including just under five minutes of microgravity) should place the difficulty of early spaceflight in stark perspective. As the title of this book tells us, it was a historic flight! In fact, the book begins with the history and development of the Mercury-Redstone programme and the flight of chimpanzee Ham before introducing Shepard and his mission.  This is fair, because it would be quite a stretch to base a whole book on just 15 minutes of history! Subsequent chapters detail ...

Moon Bound: Choosing and Preparing NASA’s Lunar Astronauts, Colin Burgess, Springer-Praxis, 2013, 371pp, £40.99, ISBN 978-1-4614-3854-0 [softback]
24th April 2015

Moon Bound It’s a sign of the maturity of the space-history books market when authors move from documenting specific missions to digging into the minutiae of crew selection, especially those chosen as long ago as 1962 and 1963. Specifically, this follow-up to the author’s “Selecting the Mercury Seven” covers the second and third US astronaut groups which participated in the Gemini and Apollo missions. The book begins with the recruitment process and its requirements, then moves on to screening and a list of the 32 finalists. The list features some very well-known names (Armstrong, Lovell and Young among them), but there are more than a few relative unknowns, which serves as a good reminder that not every astronaut candidate rose to the giddy heights of worldwide fame. Interview material from some of the latter camp shows how devastatin...

Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, Nina Weiner (Ed), Taschen, 2015, 256pp, £44.99, ISBN 978-3-8365-4922-6 [hardback]
19th April 2015

SONY DSC Just when you thought you’d seen the last coffee-table book on the Hubble Space Telescope, along comes another one…and it happens to be the best yet. As a publisher, Taschen is famous for its provocative and off-the-wall books, but it’s equally well known for its high standards of production. For those who think that the hard-copy book is dead, think again! It’s clear from the moment you open this book that it is something different: the quality of the dust jacket and the thickness of the cover board testify to that. The majority of the book is printed on smooth, glossy paper that really shows off the Hubble’s images, but the introductory and closing sections feature a parchment-like material that, while less good for imagery, gives a feeling (quite literally) of quality. It goes without saying that the Hubble has produced some a...

Making Starships and Stargates: The Science of Interstellar Transport and Absurdly Benign Wormholes, James F Woodward, Springer, 2013, 279pp, £18.99, ISBN 978-1-4614-5622-3 [softback]
21st July 2014

Making Starships and Stargates The making of starships and stargates is not a topic that keeps most people awake at night, but you get the feeling that this author has lost an inordinate amount of shut-eye pondering the problems.  I mean, you’d think he must have missed at least a couple of hours coming up with a subtitle that includes the phrase “absurdly benign wormholes”; in fact he borrowed it from some other physicists.  Whatever, I guarantee you won’t hear that phrase again this year! The foreword of this unusual book starts with the now-familiar premise that Earth could one day be wiped out by a marauding space rock…which means we’d better find a way to leave and settle elsewhere.  It introduces the author as someone with a “thorough theoretical grounding in general relativity and a consid...

Cold War Sleuths: The Untold Secrets of the Soviet Space Program, Dominic Phelan (Ed), Springer-Praxis, 2013, 300pp, £17.99, ISBN 978-1-4614-3051-3 [softback]
21st July 2014

Cold War Space Sleuths Those with an interest in space exploration who can remember the days of the Soviet Union will probably also remember the Kettering Group, led by the late Geoff Perry, and the occasional articles in space magazines from those who, like Perry, enjoyed digging out even the tiniest morsel of information on the closely guarded Soviet space programme.  Of course, even after the dissolution of the Union, when travel to Russia became easier, the information remained to be unearthed.  The band of excavators who signed up for the task are the “Cold War Sleuths” in the title of this book. According to the author, “the first time the unofficial Soviet space watchers were termed ‘space sleuths’ was in a 1963 Popular Mechanics article”.  One form of categorisation divides these sleuths into th...