Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From the (Space) Horse's Mouth

One Author: Two Great References

Continuing with Reference Week, I had to mention two books that have provided me insights into space travel and our space program as I never would have known it.  In writing a near future science fiction romance, time and again I refer to these two books by one authoritive author: A man who's been there.  

Do Your Ears Pop in Space?
and 500 Other Suprising Questions About Space Travel
by former astronaut R. Mike Mullane

On the morning of February 28, 1990, astronaut R. Mike Mullane flew his last of three shuttle missions, orbiting Earth in Atlantis. The launch was not without glitches. He describes the uncomfortable, lengthy hold on the launchpad due to weather conditions in clear detail and then those final giddy seconds leading up to blast-off. What happens next?

Do Your Ears Pop in Space? provides a wealth of detailed information about how things work in space--and the dynamics of getting there and back again--with questions grouped in nine easy-reference chapters:
  1. Space Physics
  2. Space Shuttle Pre-Mission and Launch Operations
  3. Space Shuttle Orbit Operations
  4. Life in Space
  5. Space Physiology
  6. Space Shuttle Re-Entry and Landing
  7. Challenger
  8. Astronaut Facts
  9. The Future
At speaking engagements throughout the country, Air Force Colonel(Ret) Mullane has addressed everyone from children to business professionals. He's answered thousands of questions about space flight and NASA's space program.  This is a collection of some of the most-asked questions--some expected, but many surprising. Where do astronauts spend most of their time? Is it possible to snore in space? Can you sneeze in weightlessness?  Have you seen any UFOs? If a shuttle is stranded in space, can anything be done to save the crew?  Where do astronauts get water?  Does space flight spiritually change an astronaut?  Do astronauts get taller in space? Can pregnant women fly in space?

Although many of the answers and situations are quite funny, there is an entire chapter devoted to the somber subject of the Challenger and her crew, appropriately Chapter 7. I clearly remember the events surrounding the disaster, but this book revealed facts I didn't know about the incident and changes made to the program in its aftermath.

I highly recommend this books as a resource about space travel from somone who has been there. 

Riding Rockets
The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut
by R. Mike Mullane

If you want to dig a little deeper than the facts to taste the true flavor of what it was like to by a shuttle astronaunt (and a peek behind the curtain of NASA public relations), Riding Rockets may be just what you're looking for.  Released in 2006, nine years after Do Your Ears Pop in Space? it is often funny, surprising, ironic or biting, but sometimes frightening and tragic. Riding Rockets feels much more like reading an adventure novel than a dry autobiography.

With chapter titled The F***ing New Guys and Adventures in Public Speaking, you get an up-close account of life as an astronaut told in a frank, warts-and-all telling. Despite overwhelming five-star reviews, and brief endorsements by the likes of Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and Chuck Yeager (of "The Right Stuff" fame) and Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7) which can be found in the front of the book, it hasn't been without controversy.  One review by John Kloss on the National Space Society refered to some of the hijinks described in Riding Rockets as "Animal House in space." 

A great read for inspiring ideas how bureaucracy and authority can affect space missions.

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