Michel van Pelt's "Space Tethers and Space Elevators" provides a good introduction to a spaceflight subject that probably only very few people understand. Even fewer people realize the benefits that might accrue if Earth's spacefaring nations were to replace their loud, smoky, vibrating, polluting, marginally reliable "rocket ships" as satellite launchers and instead use applications of tether technology to launch their payloads into space. That there are advantages to using tethers and "space elevators" instead of rockets is undeniable. Equally undeniable, however, is that space tethers have their own sets of issues and problems, and most of their applications depend crucially on super-strong yet lightweight materials that have not yet been invented, and may well be unobtainable.
"Space Tethers and Space Elevators" is very well-organized and clearly written, and it contains just the right level of technical depth to make it accessible to most readers who know anything at all about spaceflight. Having had a long career in engineering satellites and spacecraft (among other things), and with a spaceflight library running to several hundred volumes, I still knew almost nothing about tethers when I began this book. My knowledge of space elevators was limited to Arthur C. Clarke's novelized treatment in "The Fountains of Paradise." Now, having read Mr. van Pelt's work, I feel that I could hold my own in any cocktail-party discussion of the subject.
There are many potential uses of tethers in space. Theoretically, they can put satellites into orbit from the ground up, move them into higher or lower orbits, generate electricity, provide artificial gravity, de-orbit re-entry vehicles and even sweep up hazardous charged particles from planetary radiation belts. You'll learn about all these applications, and others, in detail in "Space Tethers and Space Elevators." Much of it seems like science fiction (well, I guess it is, today), but the technology is pretty well understood (if not yet available), and Mr. van Pelt's lucid explanations make the concepts clear and understandable--even the counterintuitive aspects of some of them. Illustrated throughout with line drawings and photographs, "Space Tethers and Space Elevators" is probably as good a primer on the topic as is currently available.
So I recommend "Space Tethers and Space Elevators" if you want to learn about a possible future revolution in how we Earth-dwellers can gain access to space. Unfortunately, however (and this does NOT affect my opinion of the book), I personally believe none of the tether systems Mr. van Pelt describes will ever be built, except possibly as very small-scale test or demonstration projects. We humans seem to be actively turning our backs on spaceflight these days in the face of many other huge global problems that we face. We demonstrate absolutely no ability to get along with each other, and the chances of any nation (especially the U.S., in today's dysfunctional political environment) committing to a project that would cost billions and span multiple government administrations is virtually nil. Grandiose and expensive schemes like space elevators and space colonies, in my opinion, are very unlikely to come to pass, at least in the lifetimes of anyone now living. It's sad to say, but I think these concepts are destined to remain forever just what they are today--science fiction.
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