Tagged: Stephen Baxter
Odds and Ends #2
I mentioned last week how much I loved going to the library as a child. These days rather than going to the library I tend to buy used books from thrift stores and used book stores.
I used to look at thrift store book sections with disdain because they were mostly filled with romance novels, out-of-date political books, self-help guides from the 70s, and other forms of useless drivel.
But, what I came to realize is that there’s always a diamond in the rough and considering how much rough thrift stores tend to have, the rate of finding diamonds is pretty high. The beauty of it is that because these books tend to be so cheap you can really indulge your curiosity without feeling like you’re throwing away money.
Sometimes I’ll buy a book because I know nothing about the subject matter.
Ekiben: The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch
I was at the Goodwill on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls recently when I found this 1989 coffee table book about Ekiben, the Japanese tradition of creating special Bento box lunches for sale at train stations so that people can eat them on the trains.
I can’t imagine a similar book about American airline food, can you?
Other times I will buy a book because I am very familiar with the subject matter or I’m collecting books on a specific subject. Ever since my parents bought me the Encyclopedia of Soviet Spacecraft as a child I’ve been interested in collecting books about spaceflight, including books by or about astronauts.
We Have Capture: Tom Stafford and the Space Race
I think I found this copy of We Have Capture, the autobiography of astronaut Tom Stafford (co-written with space writer Michael Cassutt) at the Waterloo Road Goodwill in Akron.
Among the Apollo astronauts Tom Stafford is somewhat forgotten because he didn’t walk on the Moon and until I read We Have Capture I didn’t realize how much of an impact Stafford had made. After flying on Gemini 6 and Gemini 9 , Stafford commanded the Apollo 10 mission, which was a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11. He and Gene Cernan descended in the Lunar Module to about 47,000 feet above the Moon’s surface before testing the Lunar Module’s ability to abort during landing.
However, the most interesting part of Stafford’s career came after the Moon landings. In 1971 was sent as a US representative to the funeral for the cosmonauts who died on the Soyuz 11 flight. Later he would command the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the flight that is depicted in the jacket image. ASTP is somewhat forgotten today but in a historic moment of the Cold War in 1975 the final US Apollo flight docked with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft in order to demonstrate international cooperation. What’s fascinating is that in the 25 years after ASTP Stafford continued to act as an adviser for NASA and helped to shepherd the Shuttle-Mir flights and the transformation of the failed Space Station Freedom project into the joint US-Russian-European-Japanese International Space Station project. In many ways the most interesting parts of the book have to do with Stafford’s techno-bureaucrat functions on that ground more than what he did in space.
Incidentally, I hope someday a space writer like Michael Cassutt, Andrew Chaikin or Dwayne Day writes a book-length history of the origins of the International Space Station (ISS). From what I understand there were some unique political, diplomatic, and engineering challenges that were overcome to create the ISS.
The best writer to tell that story may be William Burrows, author of books including Deep Black and Exploring Space.
Exploring Space: Voyages in the Solar System and Beyond
I found this copy of Exploring Space at the Waterloo Road Goodwill in Akron. This is a funny book because to look at the cover this looks like your standard “spaceflight is so great” kind of hagiography that’s common among books about spaceflight. In Exploring Space from 1990, Burrows actually takes a more critical approach.
I don’t think Burrows dislikes us spending money on exploring space. Rather, he’s unhappy, perhaps even disgusted with the way we’ve gone about doing it. The history of spaceflight is rife with good ideas that were poorly executed repeatedly before the engineers got them right (JPL’s early flights in the Pioneer, Mariner, Ranger, and Surveyor series) , good ideas that we spent way too much money on before they were finally executed right (Viking and Voyager) and questionable ideas that were forced to be realized because of political pressure (like the Space Shuttle). The bizarre way that we fund spaceflight through political kabuki lends itself to these kinds of costly messes. I suspect that if Burrows were writing Exploring Space today he would be more sympathetic to NASA’s cost controlled Discovery program, very unhappy with the James Webb Space Telescope, and seething with rage about the forthcoming SLS launch vehicle.
An interesting example of when spaceflight vision and reality collide is well illustrated by…
Challenge of the Stars: A Forecast of the Future Exploration of the Universe
This thin coffee-table sized volume is another book I found at the Waterloo Road Goodwill. I remember that I spotted it right after one of the book’s authors, the English astronomer and television presenter Patrick Moore, had died late last year.
Much like The Compact Disc Book, I mentioned last week, the fun of Challenge of the Stars is seeing if what they predicted would occur that has occurred and what has not occurred. One thing they got right was the “Grand Tour” of the solar system that became the Voyager 1 and 2 probes.
This stunning illustration of a proposed docking between a Soviet Soyuz and the US’s Skylab space station (note the Apollo CSM waiting in the distance). This idea was turned down in favor of the Apollo-Soyuz Test project flight that Tom Stafford flew.
What really caught my eye though, was the section on space stations and a manned Mars landing.
On the bottom left is one of the earlier proposals for the Space Shuttle. Rather than the External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters we bacame so fami,iar with, this earlier proposal used a liquid-fueled booster that would fly back to the launch site and land rather than being discarded like the External Tank.
The real prize though, is the photo on the opposite page. Here’s a closer view.
Other than the fact that this is a beautiful piece of art, there’s quite a bit of political history attached to this image. This was produced for a study that Von Braun’s group at Marshall Spaceflight Center conducted in 1969 about what to do after Apollo.
That blunt-nosed craft in the middle of the image with the three cylinders with the USA insignia on them are Von Braun’s idea for a manned-Mars exploration ship. The three USA-labeled cylinders are actually nuclear powered rockets. Here a space shuttle is delivering a fuel shipment to the craft while it’s being assembled in orbit nearby a space station. What you’re seeing envisioned here would have taken dozens of Saturn V launches to get into orbit.
On a later page is an illustration of what the Mars Excursion Module, Von Braun’s Mars lander, would have looked like sitting on Mars. Note that it’s basically a giant-sized Apollo command module.
The excellent False Steps blog goes into more detail but essentially this outrageously expensive proposal was laughed out of the room in Washington. One of the reasons we got the Space Shuttle after Apollo was that the Space Shuttle was seen as more cost effective than Apollo, and into this atmosphere NASA’s spacecraft designers at Marshall were tilting at windmills rather than proposing a more cost-effective alternative to the Shuttle.
It’s fascinating to imagine what might have been though, had Von Braun’s Mars mission proposal been accepted by Nixon. In fact…
Voyage, by Stephen Baxter is a science fiction novel that explores an alternate history where a version of Von Braun’s proposal was actually carried out and the United States landed on Mars in 1986.
I believe I found this paperback at Last Exit Books in Kent.
Voyage is a real treat for spaceflight fans because it goes into immense detail about the trials and tribulations of the political squabbling, engineering feats, test flight mishaps, and other nerd candy that lead up to the Mars landing. Clearly Baxter studied the various Mars mission proposals from the late-1960s and early 1970s carefully because many of the details from Von Braun’s plan, like upgrade versions of the Saturn V and the NERVA nuclear rocket project make their way into Voyage. He also takes cues from real life as well. For example, rather than the Challenger disaster, a gruesome mishap occurs with on a NERVA rocket test flight. Rather than the ASTP mission flying, the Soviets are invited to a US Skylab-style station orbiting the Moon. If you’re a space nerd at all, Voyage is going to be right up your alley.
Sometimes I stumble onto neat space memorabilia in unexpected places.
Atlas V AV-003 Interactive DVD
I was at the Kent/Ravenna Goodwill a few weeks ago browsing at the DVDs and suddenly I see a DVD that says Atlas V AV-003 on the side.
I expect to see Atlas V rocket serial numbers the on the NASASpaceflight.com forums, not on something at Goodwill.
The Atlas V is a launch vehicle originally developed by Lockheed Martin and currently built and operated by the United Launch Alliance. You might remember the original Atlas rocket that began as an ICBM in the 1950s, flew astronauts during the Mercury program in the early 1960s, and became a workhorse for launching satellites and space probes well into the 1990s. Since then, the Atlas name has become a sort of brand name for the Atlas rocket family. The current Atlas V has design heritage that goes back to the Titan and Atlas-Centaur rockets and uses a first stage booster engine built by the Russians.
This is the Atlas V AV-003 Interactive DVD. AV-003 refers to the serial number of the rocket, so this DVD documents the launch of the third Atlas V in 2003.
At first I was a bit disappointed in this DVD because it seemed to be full of standard marketing video drivel and over-produced launch video crud. That is until I found the menu where they let you watch every camera that was covering the launch. There are the cameras you expect to see: cameras on the pad and tracking cameras that track the rocket from afar.
But then there are cameras mounted on the first and second stages. I’ve seen these used on launch videos before, but I had never had the chance to just watch the raw footage with no commentary or editing.
Here is a view on the first stage looking downward as one of the solid rocket boosters separates.
And there it goes tumbling away.
This camera is looking upward as the payload fairing (aka the nose cone) separates after the rocket has gotten far enough out of the atmosphere that it can shed the weight of the fairing.
This is from the same camera looking upwards after the first stage has shut down and the second stage, a Centaur upper-stage, has started and speeds away from the dead booster.
I have no idea how a DVD like this made it’s way to the Kent Goodwill, but it made my day when I found it.