The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration – From the Ancient World to the Extraterrestrial Future by Roger Launius, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., October 2018; $40.00, 400 pages.

Space historian Roger D. Launius has written a marvelous volume, an inclusive illustrated guide to the history of U.S. and international space exploration, both crewed missions and robotic encounters.

The book is divided into 10 sections: Laying the Foundations for Space Exploration; World War II Paves the Way for Space Exploration; Making Space Exploration Real; The Space Age Dawns; The Race to the Moon; New Nations, New Missions; Space Planes and Orbital Stations; The Lure of the Red Planet; Beyond Mars; and Transterrestrial Expectations.

You can tell by the titles of those sections how rich and valuable this book is, both in subject matter and quality of research and writing. As Launius notes in the introduction: “The story is far from complete; indeed, it has only just begun.”

The book spotlights how much progress has made given the foundation of work by the ancients of Greece, Rome, and China, along with the great astronomical revelations of Renaissance thinkers such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. Mix in the onslaught of technological and mechanical breakthroughs and you move from gazing upwards and wondering…to men, women and machines traveling from Earth to encounter the unknown, first hand or by robotic sensor.

Stunning photographs and artwork are used throughout the book from the past, present-day, and artistic glimpses into the future that are yet to unfold. In fact, I enjoyed very much the build-up to the book’s closing section on the future. The reader will find solid accounts of space activities now in play, from next generation space access, the future of orbital space planes, to lunar research stations and pursuing interstellar space exploration.

While setting the stage for 21st century and beyond space exploration excitement, Launius raises in the last pages five challenges that need addressing before you’ll be sending postcards from the edge of space. I won’t tell you what they are, but they add vibrancy to this must-read book.

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