Do we have a future in space? By astronomer Impey’s (How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe, 2012, etc.) account, the answer is yes—but we must get working immediately.
“Whether we ‘outgrow’ the Solar System or are simply curious about worlds beyond, we’ll leave the safe harbor of our planetary system and venture into deep space.” So writes Impey, whose narrative blends the factual, the historical and the speculative—in the instance of the last, by imagining a deep-space mission in which cryogenically frozen “Frosties” chill on ice until being “reeled back into consciousness to explore a new world.” The author covers the expected basics—e.g., Isaac Newton’s wondering how a cannonball would behave if fired horizontally from above the atmosphere, affected only by gravity. Voilà: a law of motion and a basic premise of rocketry. Lightly running through the history of spaceflight, Impey observe, grimly, that NASA’s budget has been steadily shrinking over many years, with the bank bailout of 2008 costing more “than has been spent on NASA since it was started in 1959.” The author’s arguments are a little diffuse to be useful in countering a know-nothing congressperson who wonders why taxpayers should be funding space travel. Enter the entrepreneurs—Dick Rutan, Richard Branson et al.—who give Impey hope, even if the government has much deeper pockets. The author winds down his narrative with a view of what living elsewhere in the solar system might be like, a matter partially addressed by the Biosphere II project of old—which, he notes, may have been a failure but produced 200-plus published papers. He closes with a resounding cri de couer: “Space travel is urgent and it is real.”
There’s not a lot new here, and most of the information can easily be found elsewhere, including Impey’s own books. Still, he provides a useful synthesis without prerequisites and a welcoming invitation to join the space race.