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  • Space Exploration by Carolyn Collins Petersen

    The Earth as seen from the Moon during the Apollo 8 mission, the first human mission to circle the Moon. Taken Christmas Eve, 1968. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    What does it take to build a space-faring society? That's the question I wanted to answer in my book "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future". When the editors at Amberley first approached me about doing a history of space exploration, I looked at just what sort of story I could tell in 110,000 or so words. I did a lot of thinking about just how one goes about telling the story of such a major evolutionary step in human history.

    Space exploration is not just a means to space-age technology. It changes the societies involved in ways they didn't quite expect. Of course, it's a historical topic and a fascinating one at that.

    However, the process of creating spacecraft, devising the technologies to support them, to keep humans alive in space, and do it over and over again, involves education, technological advancement, new legal codes, expanded social movements, artistic endeavours, political rivalries, and a good bit of "crystal ball-gazing" into what the future of exploration can be. Eventually, I decided all those were part of the answer to that important question about building our space-faring society.


    In "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future", readers can explore the many facets of space exploration that answer that question.

    ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is photographed during a spacewalk in January 2017. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    Certainly, any of us who were alive (even as tiny children) in the heyday of the space race (in the 1960s), can recall the headlong rush to the Moon undertaken by the United States and the then-Soviet Union. That competition shaped the world in ways we are still learning.

    Today, more than 75 countries have space agencies and institutes. A handful have actual access to space and that is expected to change rapidly.

    But the space race didn't start with those two countries. If you want to get picky about it, the rockets that lofted men to the Moon trace their lineage back many centuries, to the early Chinese who invented "fire arrows" and shot them at enemies across great distances. In one sense, space flight and exploration have been with us almost since pre-history.

    Another way to look at the history of space exploration is to trace it from the beginnings of flight, which also began with the Chinese, was dreamed about and sketched obsessively by Da Vinci, and eventually achieved by the Montgolfiers, the Wrights and many others. The great rise of flying machines led as surely to spaceflight as the creation of V-2 rockets by Germany and the adoption of flaming arrows by the Mongols.

    NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks through a window in the Cupola of the ISS. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    For most of us, particularly readers born well after the start of the Space Age, all this is very ancient history. Humanity is now into its second 50 years of spaceflight. New generations now grow up always knowing that there are astronauts in a space station, or cosmonauts launching from Russia, or scientists creating experiments that will soon fly in space or rovers on Mars or spacecraft hurrying out of the solar system. Even more intriguing, most kids today are told that they are of the generation that will land on Mars and perhaps settle the Red Planet. For them, space exploration is a given. It's something "we" have always done and some of them expect to do as part of their careers. To be honest, it was something I expected to do myself, as a child of the 60s seeing the first men land on the Moon.

    In large part, I wrote this book for all the generations that have lived with spaceflight all their lives. Unless one is a space flight enthusiast, most people know what encompasses space exploration, but don't always see the many strands of its history. I often think of the people who have grown up with iPads and smartphones, with access to computers and the Internet and have never known anything different.

    They have a vastly different outlook than their great-grandparents, who -- after World War II -- thought the invention of TV was the cat's pajamas. People alive today have access to the many "new" technologies engendered by space exploration: satellite communications, high-speed airliners, medical instruments and procedures, and so on.

    Mars missions will someday take humans to the Red Planet. The artist's concept shows what a future science team might be doing there, and some of its vehicles and work modules. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    I daresay, the future will see the kids of those born with iPhones or smart tablets in their hands happily accepting communications implants or other "bionic" enhancements to their bodies. What do they know of the activities that led to those phones and computers and instantaneous communication capabilities? What science did people do to create space exploration? What laws were written? How did the space industries grow and thrive? What will they do in the future? In large part, that's what this book is about -- the giant leap to space that also spurred new generations of technologies that we take for granted today. For people of my parents' generation, the idea of an orbiting space station was merely a trick of science fiction storytelling. For me and the generations after me, science fiction has come to life. And, for the early 20th century dreams of space flight, science fiction was one way they could further their dreams.

    All those topics are part of the story of space exploration. It's a cultural shift that may have begun with two countries but has spread throughout the world, with more than 75 countries working toward their place in space.

    Now, to be honest, a proper history would be much longer than any one book can contain. So, this book moves along smartly -- giving readers a broad look at all aspects of space exploration. It's my hope that any reader, no matter what level of interest they have in the topic, will come away with a deeper appreciation of space exploration and what it has achieved for humanity. It has shaped societies, cultures, and individuals around the globe. And, in the future, it will very likely herald new strains of humans born and bred in space for deep-space living and exploration. It may have been a small step for a man in 1969, but today, it remains a HUGE step for humankind.

    Carolyn Collins Petersen's book Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future is available for purchase now.

  • Space Oddities by S. D. Tucker


    In an extract from his new book Space Oddities: Our Strange Attempts to Explain the Universe, author SD Tucker remembers the life of Hans Hörbiger - the forgotten Austrian astronomer who claimed that stars didn’t exist, and spied giant ice-cubes floating in space.

    The next time you cast your eyes up towards the Milky Way some clear and cloudless night, take a moment to stop and ask yourself what precisely it is you are seeing. The standard answer is that you are observing a twirling, milky band of light, which stretches out across the heavens in a series of spiral arms, caused by the illumination given out by the innumerable distant suns of our galaxy. In short, you are looking at the stars. The renegade Austrian astronomer Hanns Hörbiger (1860–1931), however, didn’t believe in stars, and in an influential 1913 book, made the rather startling assertion that, far from being the result of starlight, the Milky Way was in fact made entirely out of ice. According to Hörbiger, a series of massive, planet-sized ice-blocks was floating around up there in space, encircling our entire solar-system in an impenetrable white ring. Light from a few actual suns lurking beyond the ice-ring then shone through this frozen barrier, reflecting off its massed ice-crystals, and giving observers on Earth the mere illusion of billions of stars twinkling down at us from the inky blackness. Various other astronomers might well object to this proposal, admitted the Austrian, and even attempt to show off photographs of the Milky Way’s alleged ‘stars’ to prove their case, but he had an easy answer ready to these arguments – all such images were simply fakes. As to any tedious mathematical objections which sceptical astronomers might have made to his proposal, Hörbiger had an even more emphatic response in store: ‘Mathematics,’ he once pronounced, ‘is nothing but lies!’

    Hörbiger could justify this bombastic assertion by pointing back to his successful career as an engineer, during which, one of his most appropriate achievements was to have helped develop new cold-compressors for use in manufacturing artificial ice. In 1894, he had also invented a special kind of low-friction, automatically opening and closing steel disk-valve for use in blast-furnaces - a genuinely helpful invention, without which, various industrial processes, and methods of gas-exchange would simply not have been possible. However, Hörbiger’s invention of this valve was not something he had worked out laboriously at a desk in his workshop, through calculations and technical drawings; instead, it had simply ‘come to him’ whilst on the job. As such, for a qualified engineer, he had little time for mathematics. ‘Instead of trusting me you trust equations!’ he would harangue those who tried to point out to him the various reasons why his ice-ring theory could not be true. ‘How long will you need to learn that mathematics is valueless and deceptive?’

    Hörbiger’s full, entirely maths-less, theory was termed the Welteislehre, or ‘World Ice Theory’ (‘WEL’ for short). Basically, it held that at some distant point in our galaxy’s past there had been a gigantic super-sun, millions of times the size of our own, next to which had orbited a massive planet, many times larger than Jupiter, covered by layers of ice hundreds of miles thick. Eventually, this ice-planet fell into the super-sun, melted, and transformed into jets of super-charged steam, which blew the sun apart, spewing out lumps of rock and fire, which ultimately settled down to become our own current solar-system. Vast clouds of oxygen were also released from the explosion, and reacted with thin layers of hydrogen gases already swirling through space, creating masses of space-water which -space being cold - soon froze into the gigantic ring of interstellar ice-bergs, which now encircled us all. Sometimes, said Hörbiger, one of these ice-blocks breaks away, and floats into the pull of our sun’s gravitational field, falling into it, and creating sun-spots, which are really colossal melting ice-cubes. Occasionally, the Earth happens to be orbiting in the path of one of these falling space-bergs, causing severe hailstorms, before it finally drops into the sun. Our moon is less lucky; being higher up and thus exposed to more ice, it is continually accumulating more and more frozen layers of water on its surface. Eventually, it will get so heavy that it simply falls down to Earth and kills us, claimed Hörbiger. Apparently, such a catastrophe had already happened several times in the past; the Earth used to have other smaller moons, which became so heavy with cosmic ice that they crashed down onto our planet thousands of years ago, destroying Atlantis and making Noah feel glad he had built that Ark. If you thought that the giant ice-berg crashing into the Titanic had been a disaster, implied Hörbiger, then just wait until the giant moon-berg finally collided with SS Planet Earth.

    That’s quite a bold theory, and in order to support it, Hörbiger had to have amassed a huge amount of evidence, didn’t he? No. Much of Hörbiger’s ‘proof’ for his premise amounted to the fact that he had had a few strange dreams or visions which had revealed the ‘truth’ about our frozen universe to him. Just as he had created his Hörbiger-Valve entirely through intuition, so he had created his infamous WEL. As a small child, Hörbiger had owned a telescope. Through this, he liked to look at the moon. He thought its surface looked cold; and, all of a sudden, realised that this simply must be because it was covered with ice. That was Hörbiger’s first revelation. His second came when he had a strange dream in which the Earth became transformed into a giant pendulum, swaying on a luminous string. This apparently revealed to him the secrets of gravitation, showing how ice-bergs in space could be attracted towards the sun. Thirdly, whilst working as an engineer one day in 1894, he witnessed some molten iron falling onto a pile of snow, causing bits of soil beneath to explode under the pressure of the jets of steam, which had been released by the snow suddenly melting. This caused Hörbiger to immediately understand that an ice-planet had once dropped into a super-sun, thus giving birth to our solar-system. Coincidentally (or not), the basic principles of World Ice Theory coincided perfectly with the physical laws relating to water, gas, freezing, and pressure, which Hörbiger had studied and made use of throughout his entire professional life. At last, the WEL was all falling into place; all that now remained was for Hörbiger to write his 1913 book – all 790 pages of it – telling the world about his discovery. Surprisingly, the book had many fans; including, as readers of my own new book can find out, a certain Mr Adolf Hitler …


    S. D. Tucker's new book Space Oddities: Our Strange Attempts to Explain the Universe is available to purchase now.

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