Book Review: Cosmology for the Curious

What will Curious George grow up to be? Being curious, then George will ask a lot of questions. And if lucky then physics will be George’s destiny, for physics seems to have so many answers. From the biggest to the smallest, that’s its purview. And for Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin in their book “Cosmology […]

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Star Ark: A Living, Self-Sustaining Spaceship

Think of the ease. With a simple command of “Make it so” humans travelled from one star to the next in less time than for drinking a cup of coffee. At least that’s what happens in the time-restricted domain of television. In reality it’s not so easy. Nor does Rachel Armstrong misrepresent this point in […]

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Rock Legends – the Asteroids and Their Discoverers

If we are indeed stardust, then what will our future hold? And what happened to all that other dust that isn’t in people or planets? These are pretty heady questions perhaps best left for late at night. Since the age of Galileo and perhaps even beforehand these inquisitive night goers have sought an understanding of […]

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Book Review: A History of the Solar System

The value of a good analyst is priceless. They can synthesize data from disparate sources and weave a reasonable story to bring sense out of historical events and to provide guidance to planning for the future. Adding a sense of scale to space analysis so as to make things relevant to people living on the […]

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Book Review: A History of the Solar System

The value of a good analyst is priceless. They can synthesize data from disparate sources and weave a reasonable story to bring sense out of historical events and to provide guidance to planning for the future. Adding a sense of scale to space analysis so as to make things relevant to people living on the […]

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Finding “The Lost Science” of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Space station from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The film 2001: A Space Odyssey brought space science to the general masses. Today we may consider it as common place, but in 1968 when the film was released, humankind yet to walk on the Moon. We certainly didn’t have any experience with Jupiter. Yet somehow the producer, Stanley Kubrick, successfully peered into the future and created a believable story. One of his methods was to employ Frederick I. Ordway III as his science consultant. While Ordway has since passed, he left behind a veritable treasure trove of documents detailing his work for Kubrick. Science author and engineer Adam K. Johnson got access to this trove which resulted in the book “2001: The Lost Science – The Scientist, Influences & Designs from the Frederick I. Ordway III Estate Volume 2“. It’s a wonderful summary of Ordway’s contributions and the film’s successes.

What makes a movie? A plethora of ingredients must come together. But most of all, the audience must accept it for what it proclaims to be. For instance, a science fiction show must wander about in space and/or time. And the audience has to believe the wandering. In the 1960s, the general audience had little knowledge of space and could conceivably believe in anything.

Many films used expediency over truth, such as using a gun to shoot a capsule to the Moon. However, to validate his film, Kubrick enlisted Ordway from the Future Projects Office of the Marshall Space Flight Centre. Presumably this alone would have added large amounts of veracity, but Ordway took on the challenge as we see in Johnson’s book and pushed further.

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Ordway interviewed many scientists and engineers. Many of these came to the set to provide advice. Ordway acquired drawings as well as made his own schematics. He went to industry, academia and governments. Johnson skillfully brings this all to light. How did the results mesh with this effort? That is the value of Johnson’s book. It gives credit to the breadth and depth of Ordway’s research.

The book’s first section identifies the knowledge sources; people like Willy Ley, books such as Beyond Tomorrow The Next 50 Years in Space, and organizations such as Boeing and its PARSEC project. It identifies the individuals who came to the filming sets to give advice and has many images of the sets as well.

The second section gives credit to preceding films, though it’s not certain from Johnson’s book as to how or if Ordway drew inspiration from them.

Its third and final section is probably the most fun as it provides many figures of the mock-ups, drawings and schematics. It includes a great full page image of Space Station V and a four page pullout section of Discovery X-Ray Delta One. There’s also an interesting note therein that indicates that the sets and props had to be thoroughly believable from every perspective, as they didn’t know where Kubrick may place the camera. Thus, the book gives the reader a taste of the fine detail for some graphics such as for the Moon Bus. With Johnson presenting all this from Ordway’s collection then it’s easy for the reader to understand why there’s a high sense of believability to the film.

Yes, Johnson’s book shows the amount of knowledge that was available in the early 1960s and that Ordway gained access to much of this information. The very large size of this book, about 11in by 14.5in helps show off many great images throughout. However, its size also suggests the style of the book; that is, it is a scrapbook. The book is a wonderful compendium of information relevant to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it doesn’t add to the knowledge base. It’s an excellent repackaging of existing material with only a little suggestive comments on cinematic technique that might be original. And, as with most scrapbooks, the value of this book is the images. While the text is informative, it’s also somewhat dry, so the reader will probably feel much greater reward from feasting on the many print reproductions, drawings and photographs within Johnson’s book.

Perhaps the greatest value of this book is what goes unstated. That is, with enough effort and research people can construct a likely overview of humankind’s progress into the near future.  A future than can be thrilling. The book “2001: The Lost Science – The Scientists, Influences & Designs from the Frederick I. Ordway III Estate Volume 2” by Adam K. Johnson captures some of the excitement and thrill as humankind lay poised upon the edges of travelling into space. Reading it will give you pause at just how far we’ve progressed in the last 50 years. And perhaps get you thinking about what the films of today might be telling us about the next 50 years.

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Book Review: The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon

ChangE1

I like hiking. Particularly, I like wandering in places I’ve never been before. Sometimes only a map, a compass and a good sense of direction gets me returning to where I began.

Many people on Earth enjoy this simple pleasure. But what to do if you’re on the Moon?

Well, assuming you’ve got the right equipment, like a spacesuit, then all you’d need is a good map because, of course, compasses aren’t of much use. So which map do you use? Well, take a look at “The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon” by Chunlai Li, Jianjun Liu, Lingli Mu, Xin Ren and Wei Zuo. This lovely, featured book will have you easily finding your way about the lunar surface.

“An atlas?” I hear you asking. “Who’s going to sit down and read an atlas?”  Good question, as I didn’t think I would either, but I definitely will use this book.

For me, a good atlas allows me to understand the shape of the land; almost to feel the topology without actually being there. When I hike, I use maps to find interesting outlooks, amazing drop-offs or dry land between swamps. On the Moon we certainly don’t have to worry about water features. But there are many other features that are at least interesting enough to warrant a particular nomenclature according to the International Astronomical Union. This book includes eleven of such nomenclatures.

For instance, there are the very dry Oceani, the Maria that hint at water courses, circular craters with astoundingly sharp edges and the knife edge rimae that slice along. How do I know of these descriptions? Simple. I look at the maps in the book. There are 188 maps each on their own page; all of them presenting an equal and fine finishing. And they include the complete Moon surface, with a space resolution of 500m, a horizontal accuracy of 192m and vertical of 120m. Actually, that’s most of the book. There’s an appendix. It includes a list of 3,698 features placed on the maps with each feature having; its name, its latitude, its longitude, its size in kilometres and its page. With this appendix, one can quickly and easily find the common lunar geographic features. There are a few pages of introduction. And that’s all. It’s just like an atlas should be; straightforward, simple and to the point.

I bet you’re wondering about where the data came from? The title says it all. It’s from China’s Chang’E-1 probe. This book is a re-issue in English of their initial production of 2012. Nicely located in the preamble is a description of the data processing. This includes specifications of the CCD camera, the characteristics of the probe’s orbit and the actual data processing. It’s apparently no mean feat, as the data came from a three-line array CCD stereo imager and resulted in the Mercator or Azimuthal projections. Some additional information is at this link (in English).

However, what’s most impressive for me is that this book shows that China is actively and capably adding to the scientific knowledge of space. Yet, in acknowledgement to lunar mapping already done, the authors included a very informative history of lunar mapping in the book’s preface. So you get to know both where this mapping data came from and where other data may be found.

In any case I suspect that you nor I will be going hiking on the Moon anytime soon. But perhaps you want to study lunar topography, lunar morphology or lunar geologic structures? Maybe you want to know where is the water that’s hiding on the Moon. I recommend “The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon” by Chunlai Li, Jianjun Liu, Lingli Mu, Xin Ren and Wei Zuo. It may guide you to all sorts of interesting features and finds.

The book is available through Springer.

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