Review: Incredible Stories from Space
by Jeff Foust
|“We haven’t bonded emotionally with it. Sociologists have actually been studying this,” Vasavada said, suggesting Curiosity’s large size may be the reason.|
Atkinson profiles nine ongoing space science missions, ranging from well-known spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope to those who aren’t often making headlines, like the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (A tenth chapter in the book examines some upcoming missions, including ones that have already launched like OSIRIS-REx or even, in the case of Juno, have arrived at their destinations.) Each chapter provides an overview of the mission and its science accomplishments but also, as the title suggests, goes “behind the scenes” to talk with the people leading or otherwise deeply involved in those missions.
For many space enthusiasts, the accounts of the missions will be familiar: the challenges Pluto mission advocates like Alan Stern faced getting New Horizons funded, the mirror problems of Hubble, and the excitement at JPL the night Curiosity successfully landed on Mars. The interviews add an additional dimension, though, that go beyond the missions’ science and technology to provide personal insights into why they’re involved in these missions, and what they mean to them.
Those discussions also provide some interesting insights. Ashwin Vasavada, the project scientist for Curiosity notes that this rover has not really been anthropomorphized, unlike the earlier rovers Spirit and Opportunity. “We haven’t bonded emotionally with it. Sociologists have actually been studying this,” he said, suggesting the rover’s large size may be the reason. “I think of it as a giant beast,” he said. “But not in a mean way at all.”
Those insights are the key part of Incredible Stories from Space, particularly for those who already know the backgrounds of those missions (and can skim past some of those details in the book.) Soon, missions like IXPE, Lucy, and Psyche will have their own stories to tell about their challenges and rewards of exploring the solar system and the universe.