Archive for the ‘Space Book Reviews’ Category

Credit: Martha Sewall/Purestock/Thinkstock/Johns Hopkins University Press

Credit: Martha Sewall/Purestock/Thinkstock/Johns Hopkins University Press

Why Mars – NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration by W. Henry Lambright; Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland; $49.95 (hardcover); 2014.

Wondering when humans will set boot on Mars?

Author W. Henry Lambright has written an absorbing and detailed look at the long trail of robotic Mars exploration program from its origins to today. This is an excellent review of the politics and policies behind NASA’s multi-decade quest at exploring the Red Planet, the roles of key individuals and institutions, including a look at triumphs and defeats in reaching Mars.

Lambright tells of the quest for Mars, one that stretches out over decades and involves billions of dollars. The book is up-to-date in that it also includes the big ticket rover now scouting about on Mars – Curiosity – and how it took more than seven minutes of terror to get its wheels down and dirty.

Don’t look to this book to give you the technical needs for sustaining humans on that faraway world. However, this book details what’s needed to mount and give coherence to a multi-mission, big science program. In that light, Lambright’s look at robotic Mars probing suggests a number of lessons learned that might apply to large-scale national endeavors in science and technology.

Why Mars details what’s required to formulate missions, establish priorities, followed by the hard part: “Get the funds to accomplish technical miracles,” Lambright notes in the book’s preface.

Lambright is a professor of public administration, international affairs, and political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is also author of Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA and Space Policy in the Twenty-First Century, both published by Johns Hopkins.

The last page of his new book is the kicker: “Robots are there today and will continue to forge a trail,” Lambright writes. “Robots go first as pioneers. Ultimately, men and women will bring life to the Red Planet. Mars calls because we want to know about ourselves,” he concludes.

For more information on this book, go to:


Tune into David Livingston’s The Space Show and listen to Lambright discuss this book. Go to Broadcast 2274 (Special Edition) at:


Credit: Springer International Publishing

Credit: Springer International Publishing

Given that the surrounding Universe may be awash in worlds, the expectations of finding ET out there is growing.

If the rate of discovery keeps up its current pace, one estimate has it that astronomers will have identified more than a million exoplanets by the year 2045.

Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy David Weintraub has written a thought provoking new book: Religions and Extraterrestrial Life. It will be issued next month by Springer International Publishing.

Weintraub decided to find out what the world’s major religions have to say about the matter of ET, detailed in a recent Vanderbilt press release.

Weintraub’s book describes what religious leaders and theologians have to say about extraterrestrial life in more than two dozen major religions, including Judaism, Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, several mainline Protestant sects, the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical and fundamentalist Christian denominations, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Seventh Day Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Islam and several major Asian religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and the Bahá’í Faith.

Public opinion

Public opinion polling indicates that about one fifth to one third of the American public believes that extraterrestrials exist, Weintraub reports. However, this varies considerably with religious affiliation.

Belief in extraterrestrials varies by religion:

— 55 percent of Atheists

— 44 percent of Muslims

— 37 percent of Jews

— 36 percent of Hindus

— 32 percent of Christians

Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy David Weintraub. Credit: Daniel Dubois/ Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy David Weintraub.
Credit: Daniel Dubois/ Vanderbilt

Reincarnated as aliens

According to Weintraub, Asian religions would have the least difficulty in accepting the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Some Hindu thinkers have speculated that humans may be reincarnated as aliens, and vice versa, while Buddhist cosmology includes thousands of inhabited worlds.

Weintraub found very little in Judaic scriptures or rabbinical writings that bear on the question.

The few Talmudic and Kabbalistic commentaries on the subject do assert that space is infinite and contains a potentially infinite number of worlds and that nothing can deny the existence of extraterrestrial life.

At the same time, Jews don’t believe the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence would have much effect on them.

Are we ready?

Among Christian religions, the Roman Catholics have done the most thinking about the possibility of life on other worlds, the astronomer discovered.

Weintraub also identified two religions – Mormonism and Seventh-day Adventism – whose theology embraces extraterrestrials.

All this and other information in the book leads to the big question: Are we ready?

In answer to that question Weintraub concludes, “While some of us claim to be ready, a great many of us probably are not… very few among us have spent much time thinking hard about what actual knowledge about extraterrestrial life, whether viruses or single-celled creatures or bipeds piloting intergalactic spaceships, might mean for our personal beliefs [and] our relationships with the divine.”

Are the world’s religions ready for E.T.?

Check out this video:


Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission by Marc Kaufman; National Geographic Books, Wash., D.C.; $40.00 (hardcover); August 2014.

This is an absolutely stunning book. After this read, and soaking in the lavishly dazzling presentation, you’ll get to know the fourth planet as never before … and why this world is a place that is ready for human exploration.

Kudos go to the author, Marc Kaufman, a gifted science journalist that transformed himself to become an “embedded Martian,” spending two years with engineers and scientists dedicated to exploring the enigmatic world. He observed up-close and personal the drama and tension of getting NASA’s Curiosity rover up into space, then down and dirty on the Red Planet.

The book’s publication date is timed to salute the August 6, 2012 landing of Curiosity – but sends the reader on a journey that is now on-going. In a very real sense, this book is a toolkit to better appreciate the mystery that is Mars – not just from a geological perspective, but the pursuit to uncover whether the planet was, or is now, an extraterrestrial address for life.

Mission Makers: Adam Steltzner: “Exploring is fundamentally human; we’ve done it for thousands of years. It’s an expression of something that’s the best in us.” – From Mars Up Close – Inside the Curiosity Mission. Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Entry, Descent and Landing Engineer Adam Steltzner reacts after the Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars and as first images start coming in to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Mission Makers: Adam Steltzner:
“Exploring is fundamentally human; we’ve done it for thousands of years. It’s an expression of something that’s the best in us.” – From Mars Up Close – Inside the Curiosity Mission.
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Entry, Descent and Landing Engineer Adam Steltzner reacts after the Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars and as first images start coming in to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

I found the “Mission Makers” segments in the book particularly appealing. So often the gee-whiz hardware overwhelms the fact that humans make the hardware happen. These vignettes of the men and women on the forefront of discovery while uncovering more puzzling questions add to the vitality of this book.

There’s even an extra added attraction to this volume. Throughout the book, a special icon on certain images denotes the inclusion of those images in NASA’s free Spacecraft 3D app, a tool that allows users to view a three-dimensional experience of Mars on their smartphone or tablet.

As Kaufman reflects: “For me, Curiosity has forever increased that gravitational pull of interest about our cousin planet. We’ve been connected since the start, both born from the same disk of debris orbiting our protosun. It’s not inevitable that our futures will bring us closer again, but it’s quite possible, and quite desirable, too. A challenge, a prize, a time capsule like no other, Mars beckons.”

The book includes a “Humans to Mars” chapter that spotlights how the Curiosity rover is a stepping stone to planting footprints on that faraway world.

Underscoring that prospect is a foreword to the book written by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Mars Up Close was created with generous support from SpaceX. “Sending large numbers of people to explore and settle Mars in the decades ahead isn’t inevitable, but it is entirely possible,” Musk observes.

For more information on this book, go to:

NOTE: To celebrate the new National Geographic book Mars Up Close a special event is being staged at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. and also carried via Live Stream.

The event starts Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. EST.

For an event update, go to:

By Leonard David

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

A new free NASA monograph is available that uses case studies to show government support for commercial activities.

This intriguing monograph is titled: Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce.

With the rise of a range of private-sector entrepreneurial firms interested in pursuing space commerce, the process whereby their efforts might be incubated, fostered, and expanded comes to the fore as an important public policy concern in a way never before present in the Space Age.

Roger Launius, associate director for collections and curatorial affairs at the National Air and Space Museum, explores how to apply more effectively already-tested models of government support for commercial activities, as well as the interactions of both the public and private spheres in a new opportunity zone in space.

In each case, a summation yields a range of key points.

In the United States there is a convergence of several powerful economic forces, including the need to restore American capability to reach low-Earth orbit for the servicing of the International Space Station and the rise of a hospitality/tourism/entertainment industry interested in space.

This publication is available for free in PDF format, for Kindle readers and other eBook readers.

Go to:

9783319034843_p0_v2_s600Suborbital: Industry at the Edge of Space by Erik Seedhouse; Springer/Praxis, New York /Heidelberg; $34.99; 2014.

As the dawn of commercial suborbital flight draws closer, author Erik Seedhouse has written an informative book on the topic.

The reader will find splendid accounts of such groups as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, and XCOR Aerospace – all vying to create a profitable commercial suborbital spaceflight industry.

Seedhouse is a former astronaut training consultant for Bigelow Aerospace, and has also developed astronaut-training protocols for future spaceflight participants. In addition, he is a certified commercial suborbital astronaut who will fly a payload mission in the near future, as well as training director for Astronauts for Hire.

This volume delves into numerous topics, such as how the commercial suborbital industry is poised to develop and mature into a fully fledged and viable market. It also details how the new suborbital vehicles will operate in the suborbital environment and how basic and applied research will be conducted in during suborbital flight.

Seedhouse notes that “vehicle builders still face rigorous shake-out schedules, flight-safety hurdles, as well as extensive trial runs of their respective craft before suborbital space jaunts become commonplace.”

You’ll find this read enjoyable and fact-filled, whether Seedhouse is outlining how to make the most of four minutes of microgravity, the risks of suborbital flight, dealing with motion sickness, or tips on flying payloads on suborbital vehicles.

I particularly enjoyed a brief history tutorial on suborbital flight. Similarly, very edifying are details regarding the various spaceports popping up around the globe.

For more information on this book, go to:

A plug for the special edition of Sky and Telescope magazine dedicated to Mars exploration.
Buzz Aldrin and I co-wrote a humans to Mars article that we hope you’ll find of interest.
•How can we find current or extinct life on Mars?
•What happened to Mars’s atmosphere?
•How will humans explore the Red Planet?  
These are just a few of the provocative questions explored in this new special issue from the editors of Sky & Telescope.
mars buzz denver 1 (4)
The issue contains articles written by leading experts in Mars science and exploration, including Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, science-fiction author Gregory Benford, NASA scientists Chris McKay and Matt Golombek, and rover imaging scientist Jim Bell.
Loaded with spectacular photos and art, Mars: Mysteries & Marvels of the Red Planet is a must-read for anyone interested in our neighboring planet, the search for extraterrestrial life, and the future of human colonization of space.

Look for the issue on newsstands, but you can order it here:


sally-ride-9781476725765_lgSally Ride – America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr; Simon & Schuster, New York, New York; $28.00; June 2014.

This is a truly inspiring book, written by a top-notch journalist about an extraordinary woman – Dr. Sally Ride.

It’s corny to talk of Ride as a woman who simply served up the proverbial “right stuff” in tennis player fashion – but more a person who shattered NASA’s “celestial glass ceiling.” This book is a wonderful portrait of Ride – a self-described introvert – but a woman that inspired so many others to strive for and cultivate a “can do” spirit.

Sherr is a masterful writer and researcher. The reader will encounter many, many “didn’t know that” facts throughout this work. The author had access to Ride’s diaries, letters and personal files to pull together this tell-all book, as well as recounting the late astronaut’s guarded personal life, specially her sexual orientation.

As expressed by Sherr: “Writing Sally’s life without her participation has made me, like any biographer, part detective, part historian, part arbiter of divergent tales, often piecing together fragments very reluctantly divulged.”

Following her 1983 and 1984 space shuttle flights, Ride was among the experts on select panels drawn together to investigate both the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the loss of Columbia and its crew on re-entry in 2003. As revealed in the book, Ride believed the seven-person Columbia crew might have been returned alive – admittedly a “high drama” rescue mission could have been staged, one that involved spacewalks that “would have been sporty, but…not impossible.”

In 2001, Ride founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to pursue her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology. “She wanted to awaken young female minds to the wonder of science that had captivated her,” Sherr explains. “She wanted to inspire and insure the next generation of America’s mathematicians and engineers and physicists and astronauts.”

This outstanding book propels forward that inspiration. It underscores the many contributions Sally Ride gave America and the world. “As first females know well,” Sherr writes, “every small step by one is a giant leap for us all.”

Note: Go to a special “History in Five” video – Sally Ride, America’s First Woman in Space. Veteran ABC News and 20/20 reporter Lynn Sherr tells you five incredible things you should know about Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space.

To watch the video, go to:

For more information on this book, go to:


Sally Ride, America’s First Woman in Space, is a new book written by veteran ABC News and 20/20 reporter Lynn Sherr.
Published by Simon & Schuster, this 400-page book is available starting this month.
Sherr has written this definitive and fascinating biography of Sally Ride, with exclusive insights from Ride’s family and partner.
Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space. A member of the first astronaut class to include women, she broke through a quarter-century of white male fighter jocks when NASA chose her for the seventh shuttle mission, cracking the celestial ceiling and inspiring several generations of women.
After a second flight, Ride served on the panels investigating the Challenger explosion and the Columbia disintegration that killed all aboard. In both instances she faulted NASA’s rush to meet mission deadlines and its organizational failures. She cofounded a company promoting science and education for children, especially girls.
NOTE: For a special “History in Five” video on Sally Ride, offered by Simon & Schuster, go to:


Cover: Copyright, Sky and Telescope (used with permission)

Cover: Copyright, Sky and Telescope (used with permission)

Keep an eye out for Sky and Telescope magazine’s Mars 2014 issue!

Mars – Mysteries & Marvels of the Red Planet is a fascinating look at the Red Planet, making use of maps, photos, and in-depth articles on a number of topics, such as the history of water on Mars, sniffing for methane on that enigmatic world, as well as the on-going hunt for dead or alive Martian biology.

In our co-written article, Buzz Aldrin and I discuss settling the Red Planet in a sustainable way – spotlighting a possible site on Mars for the first human landing.

There’s a treasure-trove of information in this Mars 2014 issue – and once read, I think you’ll see the Red Planet in a new light.


Buzz Aldrin and I at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Glendale, Colorado. Credit: Nelson Garcia

Buzz Aldrin and I at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Glendale, Colorado.
Credit: Nelson Garcia

Buzz Aldrin and I had a wonderful day in Denver on Saturday, May 24th.

In promoting our book — Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration – we visited both the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Glendale, Colorado as well as the magnificent Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum gala event in Denver that night.

At both events we were welcomed by large and receptive audiences.

As for walking on the Moon, 45 years ago this July, “it’s slow and it’s dusty…but it makes for beautiful boot prints,” Buzz told the Barnes and Noble crowd. But Buzz also had strong words regarding the overall health of the U.S. space program.

Great audience at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Glendale, Colorado. Credit: Barbara David

Great audience at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Glendale, Colorado.
Credit: Barbara David

At the Wings Over the Rockies gala, Buzz and I were joined on stage by his son, Andy Aldrin, President of Moon Express, Inc. Andy wrote a great foreword to our book and was an invaluable contributor to the entire book project.

Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum gala event. Left to right: Andy Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin, Leonard David. Part of our presentation included the Making of the Rocket Experience video.  Credit: Barbara David

Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum gala event. Left to right: Andy Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin, Leonard David. Part of our presentation included the Making of the Rocket Experience video.
Credit: Barbara David










For a look at part of our day in Denver, go to:

Credit: Barbara David

Credit: Barbara David


Griffith Observatory Event