If you have a taste for space and a desire to fly beyond the moon, Chris Impey will whet your appetite and leave you wishing for the future to hurry up and get here. Impey, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, lays out the current state of space exploration and speculates about our possible futures in Beyond: Our Future in Space.
Generations ago, mankind began spreading out from the cradle of civilization in Africa. Tribes migrated to the unknown, covering distances that took them decades or centuries to travel. In a similar way, we are poised to explore worlds beyond our own. Impey is realistic about the timing: it ain't happening anytime soon. But he's also optimistic about the drive and the technology to get started.
The Space Shuttle program demonstrated the weakness of a bloated government bureaucracy looking to space. The Shuttle "launch rate ended up ten times lower than originally planned and the cost per launch twenty times higher," not to mention two of the five shuttles blowing up. Impey compares the early, government and military dominance of the space program to the early days of the Internet. "The government and military have deep enough pockets to develop technology with no eye on profit or return on investment. Once the field has been prepared and tilled, the private sector can scatter seed and see what grows best." The moon landings and the Space Shuttle program tilled the field. Now private companies are moving us forward to space.
Impey covers a lot of ground (and space!) in Beyond. He's not shy about discussing the logistical, practical limitations we live under now that seem to make interplanetary travel and colonization a pipe dream, but he writes, "We have the technology and the means to live and work in space, gain a permanent toehold off-Earth, and explore the Solar System and beyond. No laws of physics stand in our way." He envisions a near future of a commercial space industry, of colonies on the Moon and Mars within 30 years, asteroid mining in 50 years, and, in a century, a generation of people who are born in space and live out their lives off Earth.
Impey's vision is a great combination of science and speculation, of dreaming and reporting. I hope the children of today can catch his vision and reach heights never reached.
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
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