Monday, October 4, 2010

This Is Rocket Science

This Is Rocket Science: True Stories of the Risk-Taking Scientists Who Figure Out Ways to Explore Beyond Earth by Gloria Skurzynski
80 pages
published by National Geographic

Publisher's comments:
From the award-winning author of Are We Alone? comes a title to propel young imaginations far into space. This Is Rocket Science explores the past, present, and future of space travel. The compelling text—vetted by NASA scientists—is a combination of history, science, human drama, and future challenges. Readers learn how fireworks in ancient China developed into the fire arrows used by Genghis Khan; we meet Sir Isaac Newton, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and learn how their imaginations shaped rocketry. We revisit the era of Sputnik, the satellite that launched a superpower space race, ending with moonwalks and a rendezvous in space. Finally we look forward to the future challenges of Mars and beyond. We also get a sneak peek at new technologies like space elevators, solar sails, ramjets, and more.

My comments:
The cover of this book is what really attracted me to it. The cover image and title both scream, "Pick me up, there's cool stuff inside!" Inside is a nice balance of the history of rocket science (beginning with alchemists in ancient China) with its future possibilities (new technologies like nano tubes and solar sails could make missions to Mars and beyond a reality and not just fiction).
There are also lots of color photographs and illustrations, pulled quotes and informative captions.

I found one editorial error, at the bottom of page 21. A thought is cut off mid-sentence, and the next page begins with a new paragraph. The meaning of the sentence fragment can be worked out by rearranging the words and the next paragraph is on the same topic, so I think this was more of a forgot-to-rewrite-the-sentence error than accidentally-deleted-two-pages-of-text error.

Skurzynski successfully blends science and history, explaining Newton's three laws of motion and how they apply to rockets, the stories of three men who would become known as the fathers of modern rocketry, the space race between the US and Soviet Union, and the competition between chemical and nuclear propulsion for funding in the United States.

Where rocket science takes us next (and how) is still uncertain. SpaceX, a private company launched by PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk, gets attention for its potential role as taxi service to the International Space Station: after a few more missions, our shuttles will be retired. The dynamics of at least one question raised in the book (whether we would be heading once again to the moon or lighting out instead for Mars) have been altered recently by the approval of Bill S. 3729, which provides a total of a total of $58 billion to NASA through 2013.

The information in this book will eventually become dated, but for now, it sheds light on ideas that are at the cutting edge. There's been a lot of talk about a "new direction" for NASA, and Skurzynski highlights some of the possibilities.

The final pages include a glossary and lists of other interesting books and websites, all in tiny print. Quote sources and illustration credits are squeezed, also in tiny print, on to a single page. Looking at it hurts my eyes. The single-page index is in slightly larger print that is much easier to look at. Would it have been so hard to add a couple more pages, so at the glossary and bibliography were easier to use?

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