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Beyond: Our Future in Space 1st Edition
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“Expansive and enlightening… Impey is not only a skilled scientist who studies active galactic nuclei, he’s also an adept and prolific communicator, who packs his prose with wonderful anecdotes and weird factoids… Beyond truly soars. Its concluding section…offers more plausible ideas than can be found in whole shelves of futuristic science fiction.”
- Lee Billings, New York Times Book Review
“One of the most accessible accounts of the history of rockets and space travel I have ever read…entertaining and informative.”
- John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal
- Discover Magazine
“Bold, elegant and engaging.”
“In Beyond, Chris Impey manages to rejuvenate that ‘Space Is Our Future’ feeling that pervaded human culture a half century ago. A needed reminder that, today, not enough of us are looking up, and even fewer among us are doing anything about it.”
- Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History
“This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the fate of the human race and our bright future among the stars. Chris Impey shows how our efforts to expand beyond Earth are part of the same biological drive that made humans spread their habitat across the face of the Earth.”
- Ben Bova, bestselling author and president emeritus of the National Space Society
“A rare look into the future through a wide-angle lens. With hope and skill, Impey has an optimistic vision in which we finally, and permanently, break the bonds of Earth.”
- David H. Levy, discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and twenty-two other comets
About the Author
Chris Impey is a distinguished professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona and the critically-acclaimed author of Beyond, How It Began, and How It Ends, and four other books, as well as two astronomy textbooks. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
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Additionally, the book could use some judicious editing. It directly contradicts itself in places, the grammar is occasionally rough, and rather than flowing smoothly, it tends to meander and double back on itself, often repeating previous information or imparting facts and anecdotes that seem to have little to do with the subject at hand.
Finally, I was disappointed by the length of the book. The book proper ends at 65 percent, with fully 35 percent dedicated to footnotes, bibliography, and acknowledgments. This ratio seems a little skewed to me.
This book is not without merit, but this diamond in the rough needs a lot of polishing.
Some of us grasp the existential crisis humanity faces today, and fear that global climate change, an asteroid collision, a super volcano, a viral pandemic, or some other easily imaginable catastrophe could put an end to the human project — if not the human race — by the beginning of the next century. By contrast, congenital optimists foresee a glorious future for humanity among the stars. Here, for example, is astronomer Chris Impey, writing about Our Future in Space: “the space industry may be where the Internet was in 1995, ready to soar. . . Leaving Earth may soon be cheap and safe enough that it becomes an activity for the masses rather than the experience of a privileged few.” Others take a similar view — Stephen Hawking, for instance, who asserts that “the human race doesn’t have a future unless it goes into space.”
So, if you’re wedded to a gloomy view of our species’ destiny, you probably won’t enjoy this book. For my part, there’s just enough of the optimist left in me to find Chris Impey’s vision intriguing. Not totally convincing — I’m still wringing my hands over climate change and a possible pandemic — but well argued and totally grounded in a deep understanding of science.
Here is Impey’s thesis: “The itch that led our ancestors to risk everything to travel in small boats across large bodies of water like the Pacific Ocean is related to the drive that will one day lead us to colonize Mars.” This “itch,” Impey argues, arises from our DNA. Today, hardly more than 500 human beings have left our planetary home to venture into space, most of them barely so, in orbital and sub-orbital trips. Tomorrow — by mid-century, Impey believes — tens of thousands will have had that experience and dozens will be setting up our first permanent home on Mars.
Don’t think for a minute that Impey is some starry-eyed fantasist: first and foremost, he’s a scientist. Our Future in Space is laid out in three parts: Present, Future, and Beyond. At each level, the author grounds his story in facts. He describes the origins of the US space program in Wernher von Braun’s V-2 rockets and the arms race with the USSR. In discussing the challenges of the next several decades, he is unrelentingly honest: “traveling into space is four hundred times more dangerous than flying but only twice as risky as driving.” This is not a throwaway line; Impey cites the statistics to prove this. In fact, he draws on a fount of fascinating numbers, explaining that today’s spacecraft are “mostly just hauling fuel around: the actual payload was 4 percent for the Saturn V and 1 percent for the Space Shuttle.” Even in Beyond, where Impey ventures far into a possible future among the stars, his feet remain firmly planted on terra firma. Though he draws analogies from Star Trek and science fiction novels, he never leaves the reader in any doubt that he is fully aware it’s all speculation.
Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor and Deputy Head of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. He’s also a prolific author. Our Future in Space is his eighth book.
It was a worthwhile read, I am not in a big rush to go out an read his other books on the subject of space and astrophysics.