Tag Archives: NASA

Deception Point

Dan Brown is most known for his series about Robert Langdon, an art history professor who embarks on Indiana Jones-type adventures. I’ve read several of those books and enjoyed them, so when I saw Deception Point, I decided to see what kind of a writer Brown is outside of his most popular series.

Deception Point opens with death, pretty par for Brown’s style. And though it’s not immediately clear, the death is the tip of the iceberg for the political intrigue that fills the book. Rachel Sexton is an intelligence analyst trying her best to avoid the toxic political campaign of her father, who is on track to become the next president of the United States. When she’s sent on an unconventional mission to analyze NASA data, it’s not long before thing start to fall apart. Rachel suddenly finds herself in the midst of a very dangerous political game, and it doesn’t seem like there is anyone she can trust. But if she doesn’t find someone trustworthy to help her, she’ll quickly be beyond any help at all.

This book is a fast-paced read that gets going from the very first page. Filled with political intrigue and scientific explanations, it could easily have become predictable and pedantic. But Brown weaves it all together in understandable terms, and keeps his readers guessing as they try to unravel the mystery. Everyone is playing everyone else, the question is, how deep does the conspiracy run?

Brown’s short chapters fly by, making it really easy to read just one more and very difficult to stop. His characters are interesting and realistic, and he engages the reader in a way that makes you keep questioning the motives behind their actions and responses.

All in all, an excellent book for thriller lovers, as well as readers who enjoy science and adventure. One word of warning, if profanity is make-it or break-it for you, it might be difficult to sink into the story.

Shuttle, Houston

Surprise, surprise, I’m back with the space books. I think I missed my calling in life (thanks, Saxon Math -_-). img_1876

Sometimes, I just like to look online at upcoming releases, and since I work for a bookstore, I have the ability to request digital advance copies for some books. So when I saw a biography-type book by Paul Dye, a NASA flight director who was around for pretty much the entire shuttle program, I was immediately intrigued, even though I’d never heard of the guy before.

Working his way up through the ranks within NASA, Dye has stories from training for missions to working on Spacelab and various shuttle flights. He also has insight in what it takes to make it in the NASA hierarchy. While everyone in the control room has an important job to do, it’s the flight director who is responsible for both the mission success and the safety of the crew. This is the weight Dye carried, and the weight he discusses in the book.

However, the book is a lot more than that, too. It looks at the 135-mission lifespan of the shuttle program, at what was gained by it, and a glance at what was lost when we retired the program.

I’m not sure if it’s because I was reading digitally, which is challenging for me, but I found this book a little dissatisfying. It wasn’t a series of stories in chronological order, nor was it a collection of topics neatly grouped. It felt a little scattered, a little all over the place, making hard to follow along sometimes.

In the beginning, Dye leads off with an intense story where he had to make the choice to attempt reentry or to leave the crew on the International Space Station to guarantee safety. At the end of the story, when the decision is made, Dye reveals it was a simulation, training for an upcoming mission. But these are the kinds of stories I expected to find sprinkled throughout the book, but they weren’t as frequent as I wanted. Instead, it sometimes got a little bogged down in the science and technicalities, which, while still interesting, makes for a very different kind of book.

All in all, though, it was an interesting book. And while there wasn’t maybe as much mission drama as I would have liked, Dye did include many little stories and comments about life in Mission Control that made the book fun to read.

If you enjoy NASA, space, and/or science, keep an eye out for Shuttle, Houston, released today.

 

The Mission of a Lifetime

I’d been eyeballing this book all summer, in light of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. So when it went 50% off in July, I couldn’t help myself. Who wouldn’t want to read a book full of wisdom from the men who went to the moon?

Basil Hero lays out a collection of wisdom and lessons from the Apollo astronauts , along with a dash of the history and the journeys they took.

Covering a variety of topics such as fear, faith, focus, responsibility, sacrifice, marriage, leadership, and the environment, Hero’s interviews with the remaining astronauts paints an insider picture of what made these brave men committed and willing–and what their wives had to go through. Though it would be easy to imagine these astronauts as cocky and arrogant, the picture Hero gives is of humble men who believed in the job, and believed it was about more than just themselves.

Hero also includes chapters on the future–both of space exploration, and the environmental future of earth. Both questions are world-wide questions, not up to any one nation to solve single handedly, but for everyone to come together for the benefit of all.

The Mission of a Lifetime was just as good as I expected it to be. A former investigative journalist, Hero puts his skills to use and writes an easy-to-read narrative focusing on his various topics, while also including the historical context to make it all make sense. Through the book, readers get a little snapshot into the lives of these astronauts in a way that’s missing from other biographical pieces focused on their missions.

The book hones in a little more on “the right stuff” that’s always talked about among astronauts and test pilots. In their own words, the astronauts lay out their commonalities and in the end, readers can see what kinds of things it takes to have “the right stuff.”

Into the Black

Continuing my flight into NASA and space flight history, my latest read picked up, essentially, after the Apollo missions, looking into the development of the space shuttle and the U.S.’s attempt to get back into the space race after the conclusion of the Apollo missions.

Into the Black by Rowland White is several things. White intended it to be the story of the shuttle’s first flight, and how, with the heat shield potentially classified, NASA relied on a classified government agency for help. But more than that, it’s the history of the shuttle program, and how the cancellation of the Air Force’s manned space program made it possible for the National Reconnaissance Office to be in touch with NASA in the first place.

The book covered such a broad time frame, it was easy to forget that it was all leading up to the revelation of now-declassified information. And, after having read it, I would say the synopsis certainly felt like an over-dramatization (though surely in the moment, without knowing if the classified spy satellites could even get a picture of the damaged shuttle, and by knowing how extensive the damage was, the men flying the shuttle and those controlling from the ground were in the edges of their seats).

But as a historical account of the shuttle program, and the journey to get there, Into the Black is excellent, going into detail and getting perspectives and comments from nearly everyone involved. It’s clear that White did extensive research and interviewing to reconstruct the story.

It was complete accident, though not all that hard, to have bought three books on space history and have them chronicle the timeline almost without skipping any time. But I’m so glad it worked out that way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my journey through space history so far.

For anyone interested in space history, the shuttle program, or classified government agencies, Into the Black is a book to add to your reading list.

Apollo 8

I’m on a hardcore space kick, and my latest read (ok, last couple, with more to come) fed right into that.

In natural progression, I went from the the Mercury missions to Apollo (I skipped Gemini, I’ll have to go back sometime), specifically Apollo 8.

Jeffrey Kluger jumps into space history with American Astronauts training for missions to the moon, trying to make good on the late President Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon by 1970. But with a craft that is riddled with issues, and tragedy striking, it seems impossible.

But just when things seem hopeless, NASA’s brightest give voice to an unthinkable but perfect idea: push forward a lunar mission. So, what was supposed to be a routine launch and testing some maneuvers that lunar missions would need for the return trip, became a lunar mission. And not just to the moon, Apollo 8 was going all out, shooting for 10 orbits before reigniting the engine to come home.

Nearly everything about Apollo 8 was untested. While NASA had done the math, there were no guarantees that things would go well. But the men assigned the mission–astronauts, scientists, and controllers– and their wives, set aside fears and the bounds of logic and pursued history.

Kluger’s account of the Apollo 8 mission and the years leading up to it is an easy, interesting read, filled with research and personal interviews. It’s an exciting story that requires no extra dramatization, and Kluger does a good job of allowing the story to unfold and do itself justice.

Whether you’re a space junkie, and adventure junkie, or history junkie, Apollo 8 is worth the read.

Endurance

Seriously, sometimes I think I majored in the wrong thing. From a young age, I remember always thinking it would be cool to be an astronaut. For now, though, I’ll just live vicariously through their biographies.

I was excited to see an advanced copy of Scott Kelly’s biography, Endurance A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery. It took me only a couple days to read through it.

Like many astronauts, Kelly got his start as a military test pilot, though the road to test pilot was anything but easy. Kelly had a rough time focusing in school, which meant his grades were anything but stellar. Kelly reflects on how Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff, was crucial in inspiring him to put his mind to the task of doing well in school so he could reach his ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut.

Once part of NASA, Kelly’s main desire was to fly shuttle missions as the pilot or the commander. Once he’d had a taste of long duration space missions, however, he realized they weren’t so bad either. Kelly’s career culmination was a year-long mission on the International Space Station during 2015-2016. The mission’s main objective was to see how the human body reacts to such a long time in space. Kelly was also able to contribute uniquely to the study because his identical twin brother, also an astronaut, stayed behind on Earth, which meant NASA could compare and contrast data.

The story is told alternately between chapters talking about Kelly’s past–everything from childhood to college to early days at NASA–and chapters talking about Kelly’s year-long mission on the ISS. While it’s a little different technique, instead of starting at the beginning and working to the end, I think it works in Kelly’s case because many people reading his biography will remember the mission, and be anxious to get those behind the scenes glimpses. I think the mixture will inspire people who might otherwise skip to the end to read the whole book.

Kelly is able to write about real danger and emergencies, and write about real tragedies, in a way that captures, I think, the attitude behind so many astronauts, that despite the dangers, the payoff is worth it.

All in all, it was an excellent read. Not too technical and not over-dramatized, Endurance reads like a sit down chat where Kelly tells you his life story, and you’re anxious to catch every word. When this book hits stores in mid-October, whether you love biographies, science, space, or just real-life adventure, this is one book you should make sure not to miss.

John Glenn: A Memoir

I’ll admit, I was interested in this book, not because I knew who John Glenn was, but because I’d looked it up for a customer at work and saw that it was a biography on an astronaut. Sometimes I think that if I could go back, knowing what I know about myself now, I probably would have pursued a career in science, and maybe even my dreams of being an astronaut. But, on to the book review.

The book is an autobiography that explores John Glenn’s life from childhood during the Great Depression, to his joining the military and becoming a fighter pilot during World War II, all the way through his two trips to space–the last when he was 77 years old (maybe it’s not too late for me!).

Glenn writes in a very plain way, unassuming. You get the feeling he is just telling his story, not trying to brag about anything he’s done or reap glory for being an American icon and hero. It feels very much like sitting down and listening to your grandfather regale you with stories from his life. Sometimes you can almost here the laugh that goes along with a funny anecdote.

Glenn’s biography is encouraging and inspiring too, a representation of chasing dreams and making a difference through hard and dedicated work. Not to mention just cool to see how much history this guy lived through.

Overall, it was a fun and pretty fast read, considering it’s more than 500 pages. If you like history, science, airplanes or politics, it’s the read for you.

Hidden Figures

I saw the preview for Hidden Figures shortly after I’d seen the book at work. Right away, I knew I wanted to read it. Astronomy and all its facets has always fascinated me, and I knew Hidden Figures would too.

Having read the book after seeing previews for the film (haven’t yet seen it, though), the book certainly wasn’t quite what I had expected.

The book chronicles the lives of several women–black women–who began working for NASA (or rather its precursor, NACA) in the thick of World War II, and paved the way for not only the astronauts to enter space, but for equality and integration to spread throughout the organization.

The book focuses mainly on four women and how they fought for advancement, seeking titles of mathematicians and engineers instead of being stuck being computers.

After having seen the preview for the film, I was honestly expecting something more biographical of the women–and more interaction between their stores.  Hidden Figures read more like a brief history of how black women worked their way into traditionally white, male jobs. And while it was still interesting and a good read, I found myself having to readjust my expectations in order to finish the book.

My one issue with it was that it just wasn’t long enough. As author Margot Lee Shetterly herself said, she had to cut some parts out. And as I read the book, I wanted more. It seemed like this book could easily have been 400 or 500 pages, including more biographical detail and going deeper into the interactions between the women. But, perhaps that is what the film will accomplish.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read, satiating my appetite for learning, even as it whetted it more. I’ll have to revisit my to-read list, I know I’ve got a few more science-related books on there.