Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wings In Orbit----A new book about the space shuttle

        As the 30-year-old space shuttle era to a close, Nasa brought out a nearly 555-page book called ``Wings In Orbit,'' which traces the scientific and engineering legacies of the controversial space vehicle.

        Though the book is not yet available in India, ``Beyond Moon and Mars' (BMM)'' close friend, Mr Amin, who runs a bookstore at D.N.Road, Sterling Book Depot, managed to procure a copy for BMM. Thank you my good friend Mr Amin.

        It is a very expensive book--paperback and almost coffee table size--but certainly for spacebuffs like BMM it is certainly worth the investment because it throws a lot of light about the design and development of the only vehicle of its kind--partly an aircraft and partly a spacecraft.---it takes off like a rocket and returns like an airline. The Nasa team must be congratulated on achieving this unique combination which proved quite a challenge.

       The forward has been written by none other than John Young and Robert Crippen, the two astronauts who were the first to fly the shuttle on April 12,1981 and return two days later.

       In analysing the book, BMM can call it as an excellent PR exercise for the shuttle. Page after page it provides numerous technical details of the vehicle which honestly for a lay reader becomes somewhat tough to grasp and understand. It would have been good if the editors had presented the facts in a more reader-friendly way: after all the book is meant for the lay person and not only for scientists and engineers.

      Their attempt was to demonstrate through this book what a marvel the space shuttle was. The question is did they succeed?

     Anyone with the remotest links with the space sector, will know that though the shuttle was a technological marvel,  it faced a lot of operational problems and consequently a financial disaster. Except for former Nasa adminstrator, Michael Griffin, hardly anyone has brought out this important aspect of the shuttle. If this had been incorporated, the book would have been more balanced, rather than a Nasa PR exercise!

       The only sections which are reader-friendly are those which discuss in detail the impact of the space shuttle project on the American educational programme. These undoubtedly make a very interesting reading and BMM suggests that nations like India having programmes like Chandrayaan should use them to promote an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among Indian students. 

       In the portions relating to the different achievements of the shuttle like the deployment of various satellites and telescopes, the paras read like press releases. The book should have focussed a lot on the personal experiences of those who were involved in the programme.Yes, astronauts have given personal accounts , but this has been done briefly.

       All in all as BMM has stated earlier, the book is definately worth the investment. But as BMM has also mentioned it could have done in a more interesting way.


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