Archive for the ‘Space Book Reviews’ Category

Clutter in the cosmos.
Credit: Used with permission: Melrae Pictures/Space Junk 3D


A new report flags the fact that collision risk in low Earth orbit is on the rise. Moreover, addressing this risk is of paramount importance and is becoming increasingly urgent.

The report — Collision Risk from Space Debris – Current Status, Challenges and Response Strategies has been issued by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s (EPFL) International Risk Governance Center.


Orbital debris hit.
Credit: NASA

Tipping point passed?

“Collisions between large derelict objects cannot currently be avoided. Such collisions can result in a large number of smaller fragments, significantly increasing the subsequent collision risk for operational spacecraft,” the report states. “The long-term danger is a cascade of collisions, threatening the safety of future space operations.”

In addition, modeling of the space debris environment has shown that “the tipping point for this cascading effect might already have been reached in some orbital regions.”

A solution to pollution – netting a derelict satellite?
Credit: ESA

Collision risk landscape

The report chapters discuss the space ecosystem and its evolution; the collision risk landscape; the current strategy for managing collision risk; and offer a number of options for reinforcing the current management strategy and introduce novel approaches.

This excellent report draws attention to some of the major challenges ahead.

“Much of the discussion regarding space safety is concerned with coordinating and managing increasing levels of space traffic,” the report explains. “Although increased efforts are required in this area, the risk profile of an operating spacecraft is dominated by lethal non-trackable objects which cannot be dodged.”

For the full report, go to:

For another view of the space clutter issue, go to this editorial in Nature

“The world must cooperate to avoid a catastrophic space collision” — at:

The United States government and commercial spaceflight providers have no plans in place to conduct a timely rescue of a crew from a distressed spacecraft in low Earth orbit, or anywhere else in space.

Without rescue plans in place, today’s space travelers will journey at their own risk.

The present posture, of not planning for in-space rescue and not having responsive in-space rescue capabilities, needs to be addressed before the need for a rescue materializes. The U. S. has the wherewithal to establish space rescue capabilities and to do so with a sense of urgency.

A new report — The In-space Rescue Capability Gap — seeks to raise awareness of the need to revisit space rescue policies and put in place measures to address this issue.

Author of the report, Grant Cates, is a senior project leader for The Aerospace Corporation’s Space Architecture Department.

USS Squalus and Diving Bell by John Groth/
Naval History and Heritage Command

Historical analogs

Issued by the corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy and the organization’s Space Safety Institute, Cates uses historical analogs, such as the ancient maritime explorers that embarked upon epic journeys with multiple ships, effective submarine rescue operations, and the rich history of human spaceflight.

Potential solutions to improve safety during space travel are identified and policy options are discussed in the paper.

The paper offers a series of conclusions:

  • The United States has no present capability or policy for conducting in-space rescues. This despite:
  • Having studied space escape and rescue systems since 1959.
  • Having demonstrated a self-rescue capability during the aborted Apollo 13 mission.
  • Having put in place rescue capabilities for the Skylab mission.
  • Experiencing the hard-learned revelation of the importance of in-space rescue options after the loss of space shuttle Columbia and her 7-person crew.

Columbia catastrophe

On February 1, 2003, Columbia broke up as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all onboard, with NASA suspending shuttle mission for more than two years as it looked into causes of the catastrophe.

Credit: NASA

Indeed, the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that if NASA had recognized the damage at the beginning of the mission, then a rescue by using the next space shuttle due for launch, Atlantis, would have been feasible.

That rescue would have entailed maneuvering Atlantis next to Columbia and then transferring the crewmembers via individual spacewalks. “This rescue was considered challenging but feasible,” as noted in the Columbia Accident Investigation board report volume 1.

First step

“A space rescue capability is likely to be highly synergistic with the long-sought-after capability of having responsive launch capability,” Cates writes. “Perhaps a good first step to achieve both would be for the U.S. Congress to establish a policy such as: “It should be the policy of the United States to develop and put in place rapid launch-on-need capability to support: timely rescue of astronauts in cis-lunar space; rapid reconstitution of nationally important space assets; and the ability to put in place new space capabilities in response to emerging threats in near real time.”

Credit: dearMoon

Imagine the public outcry, Cates adds, that could arise if an Inspiration4, Axiom, dearMoon or a similar mission were stranded in low Earth orbit or cislunar space by a disabled spacecraft.

Inspiration4 is the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit. The mission will be commanded by Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer.

Axiom’s four-person Ax-1 crew is to fly to the International Space Station.

The dearMoon project is a lunar tourism mission and art project conceived and financed by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.

To read the full report — The In-space Rescue Capability Gap – go to:

Apollo Over the Moon in Perspective by Ronald A. Wells (Author), Harrison H. Schmitt (Author), Robert Godwin (Series Editor); CG Publishing/Apogee Books; 230 pages; Soft cover: $29.95

This multi-faceted volume provides exquisite detail and unique looks of the Moon as seen through the Apollo “J” missions – the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 Moon landing sojourns designed for longer stays on Earth’s celestial neighbor, including the first time humans drove a rover across the lunar surface.

As a sequel to his book “Apollo on the Moon in Perspective,” author Ron Wells uses cutting-edge photogrammetry techniques, providing the reader astounding views of some of the most distinctive features of the Moon seen from angles never before possible.

One of the model views from the book looking east across the Hadley Rille area, the landing site of Apollo 15. (Copyright by Apogee Books, 2021; Courtesy of Apogee Books (used with permission).

This book includes a multitude of 3D anaglyphs created painstakingly by the author including features from the lunar far side. 3D anaglyph glasses are provided.

This glossy book also includes a revealing DVD that includes flybys over many of the lunar features derived from 3D models. There are digital terrain model flybys of 40 lunar locations and a brand new unique movie. It is narrated by Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, describing his flight over the Taurus Littrow valley, the site where he would spend three days as the only scientist to walk on the Moon.

This extraordinary volume is dedicated “to the unsung heroes of the Apollo lunar landing missions,” the Command Module Pilots:

Mike Collins, Dick Gordon, Stu Roosa, Al Worden, Ken Mattingly and Ron Evans.

“While their colleagues were exploring the lunar surface, they maintained their lone vigils in orbit, making scientific observations and imaging the Moon in unprecedented detail while waiting for the moonwalkers to return.”

As Schmitt writes in the book’s foreword, underscoring the tenacity of Wells to produce this matchless work, the volume “represents the latest culmination of his never ending search for new knowledge and the means to draw you into that quest with him. Working with him on the last chapter of this book, ‘Colors Across the Moon,’ was both a pleasure and a stimulation of new thoughts about volcanism on the Moon as well as about the evolution of that small planet.”

For more information on this book, go to:

Wonders All Around: The Incredible True Story of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II and the First Untethered Flight in Space by Bruce McCandless III; Greenleaf Book Group Press; 284 pages; Hardcover: $24.95.

We have all seen that iconic image – an astronaut in a snow-white spacesuit, untethered and floating free above Earth. Bruce McCandless II made that milestone-making, Buck Rogers-like space cruise in 1984 during his shuttle mission: STS-41B. As a mission specialist, McCandless controlled his movement above the Earth – and just few meters away from the space shuttle Challenger – during the first-ever spacewalk which didn’t use restrictive tethers and umbilicals.

Credit: NASA

This book is a wonderful read, written by his son, Bruce McCandless III. It is a very human tale, one that underscores the astronaut’s perseverance, setback, defeat and redemption.

The book features 22 chapters, including an excellent set of notes.

Astronaut McCandless joined NASA in 1966. He was the youngest of the new astronauts selected that year. He was chosen to be Houston’s capsule communicator for Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they first set foot on the Moon. An astronaut for 24 years, he went on to help design, deploy, and later repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

His son writes: “He was an engineer, a true son of science, a distant nephew of Sir Isaac Newton. He knew the formulas required for achieving orbital velocity, could tell you the fuel mixtures you needed, the stages and timing of rocket-booster separations.”

Former NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II, mission specialist on the STS-41B and STS-31 missions, passed away on Dec. 21, 2017, at the age of 80.

Credit: NASA

The author adds his thoughts when viewing that classic image of his father suspended in the cosmos, “the ant and the ocean.”

“But I see something else in the picture as well. I see the man who named me. He’s shut off from me now, mute and unattainable, sealed up in his pressure suit, as much a mystery to me in this vision as he ever was. As much a mystery as any man is to his son, who spends his life reading the clues a father left behind and remembering his words as he tries, a hundred times, to invent his own life. I don’t remember all those words, but I do hear one. It resonates to this day. Onward.

For more information on this book, go to:


The Impact of Lunar Dust on Human Exploration, Edited by Joel S. Levine; Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 303 Pages; January 2021; Hardcover: £64.99.

As humans prepare to replant their boots on the Moon, a major lesson from NASA’s Project Apollo is that dealing with lunar dust turned out to be a dilemma. For one, Lunar Module lander descent rockets caused large amounts of surface dust to move into the thin lunar atmosphere, causing obscuration of the lunar surface. That made touchdowns difficult and dangerous.

Moreover, once out and about, moonwalkers coped with very fine, tiny particles composed of sharp, glassy material. Indeed, lunar dust stuck to everything it came in contact with; dust eroded their spacesuits, caused overheating on equipment and instrumentation, compromised seals on their spacesuits and on lunar sample collecting boxes, as well as irritated the eyes and lungs of moonwalkers.

This excellent volume summarizes what we know about lunar dust, its structure and chemical composition, its impact on human health, and how to reduce/mitigate its effects on future human exploration. The four dozen contributors to the 14 chapters in the book are planetary scientists, engineers, mission planners, medical researchers and physicians from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as universities and industry from the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.

Rich in detail, the reader will find a treasure trove of lessons from Apollo and a look ahead to what future expeditions will face. There’s a bounty of data here, be it the history and future perspectives for the evaluation of the toxicity of celestial dust to lunar dust mitigation strategy and testing through simulation and analogs.

Editor Joel S. Levine is a research professor in applied science at the College of William and Mary, USA, and a consultant to NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This compilation of excellent and fact-filled papers is a must-have for researchers and general readers too.

For more information about this book, go to:

War and Peace in Outer Space Law, Policy, and Ethics, Edited by Cassandra Steer and Matthew Hersch; Oxford University Press; 334 Pages; January 2021; Hardcover: $99.00.

This impressive and highly readable book pulls together essays from a cavalcade of creative thinkers to take on not only space security and military prowess, but also the ethical, legal and illegal issues regarding the weaponization of outer space.

The co-editors are Cassandra Steer, a lecturer at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Law, specializing in space law and space security and Matthew Hersch, an associate professor of the History of Science at Harvard University specializing in the history of aerospace technology.

Hersch and Steer divide this volume into four parts: The Law of War and Peace in Space; The Ethics of Space Security; Current and Future Threats to Space Security; and (last but not least) Toward Stability. This book is part of the Oxford Series in Ethics, National Security, and the Rule of Law.

The essays are written by informed specialists, including independent legal and policy experts, a senior scientist, researchers and writers, professors – and a philosopher for good measure! All in all, this is a well-crafted book on military uses of outer that taps space interdisciplinary expertise, not only from the United States, but Canada and Europe.

“The reader should find plenty of content to stimulate inquiry, gain understanding, challenge personal preconceptions, test the ideas of others, and sharpen their own thinking on the subject matter,” explains now U.S. Space Force General, David Thompson in the book’s foreword. Indeed, the reader will find this statement solidly delivered via the various essays.

As Steer and Hersch note/warn in the introduction, yet another “critical moment” has arrived, due to a “discernible shift” in international rhetoric toward a more offensive approach to defense in space.

“A central theme in all of the chapters is that the best way to avoid capricious use of the space environment in wartime is to create an explicit set of norms in peacetime, recognizing that shared use, rather than dominance, is the preferred outcome for all spacefaring nations,” Hersch and Steer explain.

That said…this book also serves as a moving yardstick of where humankind now finds itself in the evolving use of outer space for military purposes. How we gauge actions of today with the reality of where spacefaring nations will find themselves a decade from now is a troublesome TBD.

For more information on this book, go to:

Also, go to this virtual book launch event staged by the Secure World Foundation, a “War and Peace in Outer Space” roundtable on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, 6pm eastern time. Register for this free virtual meeting at:


“Spaceships are dangerous things. There are no intentions implied to suggest otherwise,” writes Brian Binnie in his engrossing book, The Magic and Menace of SpaceShipOne.

On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne was released from its White Knight mothership, and with Binnie at the controls, he made the second suborbital flight in one week’s time to snag the $10 million Ansari X Prize flight purse. That pioneering passage of space and time marked a new era of commercial space flight.

SpaceShipOne, with Brian Binnie at the controls, flew the second suborbital flight in one week’s time in 2004 to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize flight purse.
Courtesy Brian Binnie/Mike Mills

I recently talked with Binnie about his forty years of what he tags as “wrestling with recalcitrant machinery” – flying vehicles that are doing their best to be lethal, but proving to be useful training.









Go to my new story at:

“Test pilot Brian Binnie recounts his historic flight on SpaceShipOne and the future of private space travel in new book” via


Making Contact – Preparing for the New Realities of Extraterrestrial Existence by Alan Steinfeld; St. Martin’s Essentials/St. Martin’s Publishing Group; 352 Pages; May 2021; Hardcover: $19.99.

This is a bit of a mind-bending compendium of essays regarding ET visitation and the consequential upshot from contact with other worldly beings. For those readers who are bracing for “Full Disclosure” – this book’s for you.

Alan Steinfeld is the curator of this collection, a compilation that strives to be a framework for understanding what “making contact” with extraterrestrials could mean for the future of humanity. But like today’s status of UFO and Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP), the scaffolding surrounding the subject can be pretty wobbly.

That said, the book offers glimpses into those seeing government cover-ups, the theory of wow, telepathic contact, including multi-dimensional, multiverse considerations.

Some of the essays, for me, are an alluring part of the book as they are written by several notable UFO specialists, including Nick Pope, a former employee at the British government’s Ministry of Defense. He sees the “are we alone in the Universe?” query being perhaps answered within a generation.

There’s also an essay written (culled from a 1995 talk) by the late John Mack, a noted American psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winner. He spent research time studying the alien abduction phenomenon, explaining that there were those describing experiences that simply did not fit into any kind of psychiatric category of which Mack could conceive.

Part of this compilation is a piece written by Whitley Strieber. Author of Communion: A True Story – that book had its cover displaying an artist’s image of a “grey” alien – now an iconic representation of an ET. He’s hungry for a new conversation with visitors.

Again, if the reader wants to take a pulse of just how complicated the UFO/UAP narrative can be, you’ll find this book mind-numbing. In taking on this volume led by Steinfeld — an explorer of consciousness — be prepared for a melding of easy-to-swallow encounters with objects simply scooting through our sky to discourse on belief systems, hybrid Homo sapiens, and corralling your perception of awareness.

For more information, go to:

First Light – Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time by Emma Chapman; Bloomsbury Sigma; 304 pages; February 2021; Hardcover: $28.00.

Ponder this in your next face-to-face with the nighttime sky: Think back in space and time when darkness gave way to light, a point in time when the very first stars burst into life.

Author Chapman has written a fascinating saga that sheds light on the first stars, far greater than our Sun and a million times brighter. They lived fast and died young in powerful explosions that seeded the Universe with the heavy elements that we are made of. Moreover, “the absence of observations from the era of the first stars is alarming your local astrophysicist for two reasons,” the author explains: imperfect data that equals erroneous conclusions and, secondly, the era of the first stars is distinctive.

Divided into 11 well-written, at times sobering with many shots of wit, Chapman delves into the “Epoch of Reionisation,” admittedly a terrible name, she adds, but represents the start of the cosmos as we experience it today.

What I found very edifying in the book is the author’s description of today’s tools-of-the-trade, from the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) to the James Webb Space Telescope and beyond. “We’re going to need a bigger dish,” Chapman explains, underscoring that the Universe is a cosmological surprise bag.

Emma Chapman draws from a professional career as a Royal Society research fellow and fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, based at Imperial College London. She is among the world’s leading researchers in search of the first stars to exist in our Universe.

The last line of the book sums up what the reader is advised to do given the author’s distinctive writing style and compelling words to engage and grapple with the unknown unknowns and sharply focus on the field of stellar archaeology: “Time to enjoy the show.”

For more information on this book, go to:

Also, go to this audio clip at:

Envisioning Exoplanets: Searching for Life in the Galaxy by Michael Carroll, Foreword by Elisa Quintana; Smithsonian Institution Press; 224 pages; November 13, 2020; Hardcover; $24.60.

This multi-talented author has produced a stunning look at distant worlds beyond our solar system. This book is well-written and is a visual feast that uses more than 200 illustrations from Carroll and other members of the International Association of Astronomical Artists.

There are more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets and this volume spotlights the string of “way out there” discoveries and the prospect that some of those faraway worlds are abodes for extraterrestrial life.

Structured using five robust sections, the reader is taken through early thoughts about exoplanets and the first findings to exotic exoplanets around stranger stars and looking for islands of life.

“Do the exoplanets teach us lessons to help us understand and care for our home world…is there life among the exoplanets, primitive or intelligent? It’s time to embark on a search for life in the galaxy,” Carroll writes in the book’s introduction.

The book’s foreword is written by Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and deputy project scientist for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). “As we learn more about stars and planets, new scientific fields evolve and grow that help us understand what these worlds might look like,” she writes.

This captivating, coffee-table-style book is absorbing and is chock-full of sidebar features that propel the book to an exceptional echelon contrasted to other books on this topic. If you don’t have a coffee-table, get one to showcase this volume to friends and family!

The text is written in a wonderful style, drawing upon Carroll’s own wit and open-ended speculative mind, such as how hard is it to make life?; the search for biosignatures; and life in the extreme.

“Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn in our search for Earth 2.0 is that our planet is a very special place in a critical location with a balance of many factors,” Carroll concludes.

Readers will find this book adventuresome, exploratory, and fact-filled – all wrapped in full-color images that include striking renderings of scientifically accurate exoplanets.

For more information about Envisioning Exoplanets: Searching for Life in the Galaxy, go to: