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Review: Space Enterprise

Space Enterprise: Living and Working Offworld in the 21st Century
by Philip Robert Harris
Praxis, 2008
softcover, 620 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-0-387-77639-2
US$39.95

Often, books examining the future of humanity in space take too narrow a view. They will look at launch vehicles and spacecraft, scientific goals and business applications, economics and policy, or subsets of these areas. Rarely, though, do such texts take a step back and try and integrate all of these items, as well as a more fundamental question: why does—or should—humanity want to go into space at all? That broad approach is attempted by Philip Harris in his new book, Space Enterprise.

Harris begins by discussing the need for a global space ethos, that is, that the fundamental character of global culture needs to embrace the concept of humans living and working beyond the Earth. From there he examines a wide range of issues associated with that concept, from the challenges of space settlement, including psychological and sociological, to the planning and managing of major space projects and the role of the commercial sector. Harris also includes several appendices contributed by other authors on issues ranging from governance to nursing.

Harris discusses the need for a global space ethos, that is, that the fundamental character of global culture needs to embrace the concept of humans living and working beyond the Earth.

Space Enterprise attempts to be both very broad (as the scope of topics listed above suggests) but also detailed. That’s a very difficult approach to take, and unfortunately, Harris isn’t able to pull it off successfully. He relies heavily on a wide range of sources for the content of the book, but sometimes lacks the critical thought to determine if these sources, and their content, are still valid. For example, he notes in one section about launch vehicles that “In the contest for a Shuttle replacement by 2012, corporate aerospace giants Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas have teamed up to build a vertical take-off and landing vehicle.” There is, of course, no such contest extant in 2008—nor is McDonnell Douglas, for that matter. There are other places that suggest that the author used dated material without realizing it, undermining his arguments. (This is based on a review copy provided by the publisher in advance of the book’s official publication; it’s possible that some of these were corrected, as were other, more minor errors, like multiple references to SpaceX founder “Elton Musk”.)

Early in the book, Harris argues that “Humankind, whether in the East or in the West, senses that our species seems to be in an epochal transition to space-based living and creation of an entirely new space culture.” That argument is debatable: much of humanity is blissfully unaware of what’s going on in space, let alone sensing such a transition. If that ultimately becomes true, though, it will require closer attention not just to the technology of launch vehicles and lunar bases, but also the broader social and cultural issues such a transition raises. Space Enterprise is a step in that direction, but more will be needed if there really is the need for a global space ethos.


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