Archive for the ‘Space Book Reviews’ Category

How can we measure the space economy?

Almost 80 countries have a satellite in orbit. Yet even though the services derived from space activities are increasingly important to society, international comparability of space economy statistics remains limited. The newly revised Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Handbook on Measuring the Space Economy aims to encourage and facilitate data collection among both incumbents and new actors.

This second edition of the Handbook on Measuring the Space Economy responds to the needs of policymakers from multiple economic sectors that are reflecting on such changes in their measurement strategies.

Evolving landscape

It takes account of the evolving landscape of space activities, technologies and user needs surrounding two core observations:

SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff.
Credit: SpaceX

  • Increasingly, a wide diversity of actors is involved in space activities: Government actors more than ever pursue strategic objectives in the space economy in tandem with commercial actors. A better tracking of the effects of public and private expenditure in the space economy is required if the overall impact of such trends is to be assessed.
  • Studying the economics of space activities has become professionalized but measuring the space economy remains a challenge: The range of space activities has evolved significantly over the past ten years. Critical infrastructures such as telecommunications and an increasing number of commercial digital applications now depend heavily on space capabilities. In advanced economies, the space economy is becoming more complex and the line between space and non-space activities is increasingly difficult to assess.

Chapter call outs

The Handbook is structured according to the following chapters:

Chapter 1: Introducing the OECD Handbook on Measuring the Space Economy

Chapter 2: Progress in concepts, definitions and measurement of the space economy

Chapter 3: Monitoring the evolving cast of space actors

Chapter 4: Using industry surveys to better understand the space economy

Chapter 5: Strengthening assessment of the impacts of the space economy.

To access the Handbook, go to:

Life in Space – NASA Life Sciences Research During the Late Twentieth Century by Maura Phillips Mackowski, University of Florida Press (May 2022); 375 pages; Hardcover: $35.00.

This well-researched, well-written, and meticulously documented account of a somewhat concealed side of NASA offers a revealing look into the agency’s research in the space life sciences – and opportunities unfulfilled. 

The book consists of 10 chapters, such as “Working in the Space Environment,” “Radiation and the Science of Risk Reduction,” “Design and Redesign: The Many Space Stations of NASA,” and “The Vision for Space Exploration.” There is also an extensive and in-valuable notes/reference section that is priceless.

In the introduction, the author says upfront: “Space life sciences had to struggle for an acknowledged and appreciated place at the Agency’s table, principally because NASA was formed purposely as an evolution of a predecessor engineering research agency, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA).”

Mackowski has written a bold story about NASA’s ambitious space life science program, but more importantly, why it is essential if dreams of lunar outposts and planting footprints on Mars are to become historical “done that” checkmarks in the future.

NASA’s space shuttle program brought with it a more diverse astronaut corps – gender, age, and nationalities. “This created a broader pool of human test subjects, making space research more applicable to Earth medicine. It also presented new challenges as the Agency worked to equip and maintain flight crews and manage programs carrying out increasingly ambitious research,” Mackowski writes.

The reader will find new insight into one opportunity lost and still lost-in-space – a high-tech centrifuge and work on artificial gravity. Keeping astronauts healthy, the author explains, meant re-looks into old ideas of artificial gravity, based on decades of learning about the medical impacts of microgravity.

A fascinating read is available on details dealing with troublesome radiation and risk reduction steps. “Fortunately for NASA’s life sciences budget, radiation was a danger no one knew much about but everyone wanted to understand,” the author points out.

This book is a significant volume of history, but also underscores what the future holds in carrying out productive life science research and what investigations are missing-in-action.

The volume builds upon the excellent quality of Mackowski’s research and writing in the past. She is a research historian based in Arizona and author of Testing the Limits: Aviation Medicine and the Origins of Manned Space Flight.

In publicizing this work, take note of a comment from John B. Charles, retired chief scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program: “Mackowski’s research is exhaustive, her analysis is spot-on, and her conclusions give us pause as we consider when and if to send our fellow humans deeper into space on longer missions with greater risk and less support from Mission Control than ever before.”

For more information on this book, go to:

The End of Astronauts – Why Robots Are the Future of Exploration by Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees; The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (April 2022); 192 pages; Hardcover: $25.95

My guess is that the reader will either hate or love this book! However, the authors provide a provoking argument for space exploration sans astronauts.

Just a few pages into the book, in an introduction, there’s this forewarning: “Readers who disagree with the conclusions in this book will, we hope, enjoy considering which arguments carry more weight than others.”

That said, this volume is a tour de force of well-written, compelling rationales. The authors believe that beyond low-Earth orbit, space exploration should proceed without humans.

The book is divided into 9 chapters: Why Explore?, Organizing Space,  Near-Earth Orbit, The Moon,  Mars, Asteroids, Space Colonization, The Global Costs of Space Exploration, and Space Law. So pick your favorite destination/topic and brace yourself.

An epilogue covers perspectives on space exploration in 2040—and far beyond, followed by an appendix of key events in space exploration, as well as notes and a further reading section.

The United Kingdom’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, was previously Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge.

Well-regarded science writer, Donald Goldsmith, has written more than a dozen books, including Exoplanets, The Runaway Universe, The Hunt for Life on Mars, Supernova, and, with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Origins.

At its core, the book notes that human journeys into space fill us with wonder. But the thrill of space travel for astronauts comes at enormous expense and is fraught with peril. More to the point, as surrogate automatons become increasingly competent, this question becomes more potent: does our desire to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars justify the cost and danger?

Goldsmith and Rees weigh the benefits and risks of human exploration across the solar system. In space, humans require air, food, and water, along with protection from potentially deadly radiation and high-energy particles.

And all that comes at a cost more than ten times that of robotic exploration.

Automated explorers have shown the ability to investigate planetary surfaces efficiently and effectively, operating autonomously or under direction from Earth. They note that the performance of robots and AI is progressively improving – while our bodies do not.

The reader will find much to ponder in this book, chock-full of up-to-date observations and eye-opener viewpoints. Sure, some of you will have a “bone to pick” about the need for human space travel…others will see the “nuts and bolts” of how space exploration will be done in the future.

For more information on this book, go to:

Additionally, give a listen to an Irish radio program – Futureproof – to hear Goldsmith and Rees explain why twenty-first-century human spaceflight may not be in the cards. Go to:

NASA Missions to Mars: A Visual History of Our Quest to Explore the Red Planet by Piers Bizony; The Quarto Group/Motorbooks (April 2022); 198 Pages; Hardcover: $50.00

This large-format book is strikingly illustrated and offers the reader a wonderful resource in detailing NASA’s exploration of the Red Planet.

Space historian Piers Bizony has put together an extraordinary volume of humankind’s outreach to and fascination with Mars. “This book is a family-friendly, nonacademic, almost purely visual celebration of what we have achieved in terms of Martian exploration and what we might yet achieve in years to come,” the author explains.

The book is divided into four sweeping and eye-catching sections: Red Planet Visions – Aliens, empires and invasions; First Contact – Discovering Mars as it really is; Robot Explorers – Searching for life, past or present; and Human Martians – Strategies to settle a new world.

In a foreword to the book, Andrew Chaikin contributes a special essay underscoring his passion for the Red Planet; he served as an “interplanetary intern” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1976 and took part in the first successful mission to land on Mars – NASA’s Project Viking.

The reader will find mission histories, and achievements of the early rovers Sojourner, Opportunity, and Spirit, as well as excellent updates on the Curiosity and Perseverance machines, both now busily wheeling about on Mars.

This book is a treasure trove of imagery from NASA archives, including photos that document the testing phases in readying hardware for launch to the faraway world. There’s also coverage of spacecraft dispatched to Mars by other nations, such as China’s successful landing of its Zhurong rover.

The striking images of Mars from orbit and surface photos serve as prelude to the book’s final section that offers a look at future plans for human exploration and habitation of the planet.

For more information about the book, go to:

Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age by Lori Garver; Diversion Books (2022); 304 pages; Hardcover: $28.99


This must-read book is divided into 3 parts: “Gravity,” “Force,” and “Motion.” More to the point, this behind-the-scenes account mixes that trio into a powerful, explosive concoction that blows the lid off the labyrinth of aerospace companies, lobbyists, astronauts, trade associations, self-interested Congressional delegations, and, of course, NASA itself.

Lori Garver was the principal advisor on aerospace issues to three presidential candidates and led the NASA transition team for President Obama. She served as the Deputy Administrator of NASA from 2009 to 2013. She is a highly-regarded champion of the new era of commercial partnerships, documenting what she terms as “the epic battle” that pitted traditional space loyalists against a new generation of space advocates, indeed, “space pirates” as she calls them, who argued that NASA had been hijacked, needed rescuing, and challenged the status quo.

“I’m proud of the accomplishments I’ve made in my career, and this book is dedicated to one of the most meaningful – driving reforms at NASA that are leading to more valuable and sustainable space activities,” the author explains. “Disrupting a paradigm as ingrained as the space industrial complex means risking one’s career and financial future to drive change.”

There’s a no-holds-barred, kick-ass and taking names feel to the book.

Garver spells out those that characterized her as a “Bond-like villain” and that she was the biggest disaster in NASA history for science. She was labeled by some as a harebrained political appointee with a scarcity of actual space experience. Even worse!

Government service, she responds, requires integrity and “many of the behaviors I saw should not have been tolerated.” Unveiled and underscored are instances of illicit and unethical behavior of a few senior leaders at NASA.

Garver drove policies and funding that enabled commercial competition just as the capabilities and resources of the private sector began to mature. Spotlighted in the book, the reader will find insights about Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and countless other commercial space efforts – some of which have long-been forgotten, but shouldn’t be.

As author Walter Isaacson notes in his foreword to the volume: “Transformative change in government is often sought, but rarely achieved. In this revealing and personal book, Garver tells the fascinating story of how she helped a band of dreamers, rogue bureaucrats, and billionaires usher in a new space age.”

I definitely think the reader will benefit – and appreciate to a greater degree — the U.S. space industry at a transformational period of time…and the need to keep an eye on those space pirates.

For more information about this book, go to:

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Solar System Exploration  illustration.
Credit: NASA/Jenny Mottar


50 Years of Solar System Exploration: Historical Perspectives has been issued by NASA Office of Communications/NASA History Division.

Divided into 12 chapters, this free volume is expertly edited by Linda Billings, a consultant to NASA’s Astrobiology Program and Planetary Defense Coordination Office in the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

“What  readers will find in this volume is a collection of interesting stories about money, politics, human resources, commitment, competition and cooperation, and the ‘faster, better, cheaper’ era of solar system exploration,” explains Billings.

The volume features a diverse array of scholars that address the science, technology, policy, and politics of planetary exploration. This volume offers a collection of in-depth studies of important projects, decisions, and milestones of this era.

This volume is based on a symposium — “Solar System Exploration @ 50” — held in Washington, D.C. on October 25-26, 2012. The purpose of this symposium was to consider, over the more-than-50-year history of the Space Age, what we have learned about the other bodies of the solar system and the processes by which we have gained new knowledge.

The symposium commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first successful planetary mission, Mariner 2 sent to Venus in 1962, organized by the NASA History Program Office, the Division of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For information on accessing this free publication, go to:

NASA webcast the entire symposium, archived here:

Pioneering Inspiration4 mission crew member Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and pediatric cancer survivor, circuited Earth for nearly three days in September 2021. (Image credit: Inspiration4/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)



A new study sponsored by NASA investigates the feasibility of sending people with disabilities safely into space and returning them back to Earth. 

The appraisal — Parastronaut Feasibility Foundational Research Study — has made a number of recommendations, including revising medical standards for astronaut selection. Also, the study recommends utilizing parabolic flights to demonstrate parastronaut proof-of-principle.

In 2007, wheelchair-bound theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking floated freely during a zero-gravity airplane flight. Hawking said of the experience: “For me, this was true freedom. People who know me well say that my smile was the biggest they’d ever seen. I was Superman for those few minutes.” (Image credit: Steve Boxall/ZERO-G Corporation via AstroAccess)

“Parastronauts” is defined in the new study as individuals with certain physical disabilities, such as lower leg deficiencies, short stature, leg length differences, among other physical impairments. The report’s intent is to make progress toward increased inclusion for human spaceflight.

For more information, go to my newly posted story — Equal access to space: New study investigates how to get more ‘parastronauts’ aloft – The report may lay the groundwork for more inclusive human spaceflight in the future – at:


Discovering Mars – A History of Observation and Exploration of the Red Planet by William Sheehan and Jim Bell; Published by University of Arizona Press (2021); 744 pages; Hardcover: $30.00

This splendid book is the product of historian William Sheehan and astronomer and planetary scientist Jim Bell. As the authors explain in the book’s preface: “We hope you enjoy the stories told here chronicling the characters, technologies, human (and robotic) failures and successes, and the incredible scientific discoveries that have revealed and continue to reveal the true nature of our most Earthlike of celestial neighbors.”

Presented in 22 chapters of well-written and superb research, Discovering Mars covers it all – from the Red Planet being little more than a fuzzy place of mystery through telescopic eyepieces here on Earth to robotic explorers circling Mars and the powerful Perseverance rover and its Ingenuity helicopter drone, now busily at work within Jezero Crater.

There’s a number of appendix pieces chock full of details, including NASA’s historical investment in Mars exploration.

The collective talents of Bell and Sheehan shine throughout the book. The rich history of why Mars continues to tug on humankind’s curious nature and what constitutes multiple pathways to create a future Mars – be it robots or humans, dotting the world with small, expeditionary encampments, or transforming the planet into an Earth II via terraforming – or is it terrorforming?

“Even much of the basic reconnaissance work that robots do so well could be done much more quickly and efficiently by trained professionals in the field, although that is not adequate justification on its own to support the risk of human lives and the expenditure of scare resources,” the authors note.

The march of Mars machinery, starting with the Mariner and Viking missions of the 1960s and 1970s, have yielded tell-tale data that, in a true sense, allows us to “re-discover” Mars over and over again. Who knows when and what evidence is lurking there to show that the Red Planet was indeed once an extraterrestrial address for life – and perhaps that life is alive and well today.

This epic and one-of-a-kind volume is best read with a mind in full-inquisitive mode and why our technologies have provided decade-after-decade of astounding and captivating reveals…and what awaits us.

For more information on this book, go to:

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden; Published by Elliott & Thompson/London (2021) and Pegasus Books/U.S. (2022); 256 pages; Hard Cover: £14.99.

This delightful volume is a must-have for those perplexed by the wonderment of the Red Planet, what research has already revealed and those mysteries still to be exposed.

Morden is trained as a planetary geologist and geophysicist, as well as celebrated science fiction author. He showcases his excellent ability to make clear just how intriguing Mars has been for centuries. The author takes the reader from the planet’s formation 4.5 billion years ago, through its geological history, and serves up a unique perspective on the planet’s present-day state of affairs.

The book is divided into seven parts, clearly detailing the Noachian, Hesperian, and Amazonian periods ending up asking the question, what should we make of Mars…and calling out that we are the Martians! Morden adds that there’s a whole raft of difficult ethical questions to wrestle with in how best to treat Mars.

“We cannot stand aside from the conversation to come — and it will come soon – as to what we do with Mars,” the author writes. His perspective of the future of Mars spreads out over the next 100-200 years.

Given the attention to Mars by multiple nations over the decades, this book provides a “get to know the planet” feel, page by page. Morden supplies a vibrant view of that enigmatic world.

As for the life on Mars question, the author suggests digging down deep. “If we ever do find Martians, that’s most likely where they will be.”

I particularly liked the nicely detailed descriptions of Mars’ ice caps, the planet’s equatorial ice zones, and the Martian weather system – specifically, the planet’s dusty veneer and swirling dust devils.

Taken as a whole, The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars is a primer for those hungry to travel to, explore, and perhaps colonize that distant destination.

For more information on this book, go to:

The Elliott & Thompson website at:

The Pegasus Books website at:

Don’t Blow Yourself Up: The Further True Adventures and Travails of the Rocket Boy of October Sky by Homer Hickam; Published by Post Hill Press/Distributed by Simon & Schuster; 416 pages; October 2021; Hard Cover; $27.00.

This celebrated writer’s memoir Rocket Boys was adapted into the film October Sky. Hickam’s new book is a delightful read and, as he introduces the volume, he writes: “I decided to sit down and write about some of the things that happened in those years after I was a Rocket Boy in West Virginia. This memoir is the result.”

“Don’t blow yourself up” is a direct quote from Elsie Hickam, the author’s mother. The book is divided into 5 parts, all equally enjoyable. Among a range of experiences, the author recounts his life in college, his Vietnam experiences, trained the first Japanese astronauts, taught David Letterman to scuba dive…even helped to fix the Hubble Space Telescope.

For his space adventures, one part is called “NASA Man,” admitting that his learning curve at NASA was steep. The author offers some captivating looks at Marshall Space Flight Center and his automation work on the Space Shuttle/Spacelab program. Hickam poignantly writes about his reaction to the loss of Challenger, a consequence of “launch fever” that created an American disaster.

In the closing pages of the book, Hickam recounts the writing of Rocket Boys and the making of the October Sky movie. A retired NASA engineer, the author serves on the boards of the United States Space & Rocket Center (Space Camp) and the Museum of the Rockies, and was appointed in 2019 as an advisor to the National Space Council.

Again, thanks to his wit and writing talents, you’ll encounter humor, but also personal pain and hardships. As former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino explains in the first pages of the book, “Homer takes us from rocket boy to rocket man to bestselling author. He writes about his experiences with an engineer’s precision and a poet’s emotions, not only sharing the details of the times in which he has lived, but also the deep inner feelings of his life’s successes and disappointments in a most personal and incredibly honest way.”

Massimino adds: “Read this book and be inspired to reach for the stars.”

For more information on this book, go to:

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Homer Hickam hardback books can be purchased and personalized, autographed and mailed to the reader.