Science and Exploration

Book Review: Incredible Stories From Space

By Keith Cowing
December 19, 2016
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Book Review: Incredible Stories From Space
Incredible Stories From Space
Incredible Stories From Space

When you cover space and astronomy news as Nancy Atkinson and I do, you usually find yourself focusing on launch dates, destinations, and science.
To be certain, for people with an interest in the exploration of the universe, that is why people are reading your stories in the first place.

What often gets lost in the conveyance of space news are stories about the people who make the discoveries what we translate into news. Usually, what is often glossed over are the amazing things that they do to make it all work – and often how they keep things from breaking. This stuff is often not as glamorous as editors – or readers are looking for.

Its all about context.

In her book “Incredible Stories From Space”, Nancy Atkinson gets into a lot of the nooks and crannies of the how-to of space exploration. She sets it all against the context of doing things in space, explaining all of the missions and their science along the way.

Doing a space mission is a dual exercise in both patience and persistence. It usually works like this: you spend years writing proposals for a mission, then you spend years building the spacecraft. Then you have one big party on the day it is launched. And then you wait again – sometimes for years – until your spacecraft arrives at the place where the science is to be done. And then the data starts flooding at you out of the sky and your family life evaporates. Then something breaks – or works in a way you did not expect. Inevitably your mission makes news and the NASA public affairs person shows up to try and get you to tell a story. But the NASA folks are not always interested in what we space reporters are interested in.

Nancy manages to get inside the head of people you have probably never heard of – or, if you have, are only familiar to you because they are usually talking about numbers and pictures – not emotions and motivations. In so doing, she brings you inside parts of space missions that you probably never thought to think about. Many people like to parse space missions as being either human or robotic. Well, this book makes it clear that all space missions are human missions.

The fun thing about this book is that you can just open it anywhere and start reading and skip around to different places. And I can tell you that I learned some things that I did not know about several missions – missions I thought that I knew very well.

If you want to know what happens before and after those NASA press conferences, this book is an excellent introduction to the real world of exploring space.

Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos
By Nancy Atkinson

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.