Astronaut: 1961 Onwards (All Roles And Nationalities) Owners’ Workshop Manual by Ken MacTaggert (book review)
Looking at the cover, you would think that Ken MacTaggert’s book, ‘Astronaut: 1961 Onwards (All Roles And Nationalities) Owners’ Workshop Manual’ was about the spacesuit than the various missions the people in them have achieved. So far, 600 people and counting have been in space with only 10 men been on the Moon and only 11% women. Even so, amongst all these missions, various records have been set up as this book reveals.
The term ‘astronaut’ means ‘star-navigator’ or ‘star-sailor’, which would be appropriate because, other than vacuum, that’s most of the view you get out there, apart from the planet they are orbiting. It was also in use in our genre before man got into space in our reality.
The opening chapter gives a variety of fictional examples of astronauts indicating how this is one of bigger dreams of man to fly in space. One thing I have to say is wrong is showing the Amazing Stories August 1928’s cover and saying it’s Buck Rogers, when it is in fact Dick Seaton from EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s ‘The Skylark Of Space’ but everyone makes that mistake.
Something I didn’t know was Michael Collins had been invited to command a later mission to land on the Moon but declined. The 63 mile height where Man is in space is called the Kámán Line and the that the commercial flights like Virgin have to achieve to qualify to qualify their passengers as astronauts, even if it’s only for 7 minutes. I still think there should be a longer time factor in this, simply because it degrades the length of time those in orbit stay up there.
Much of this book looks at what it takes to be an astronaut and there are roles for a lot more people these days. MacTaggert shows a variety of astronauts from over the years and about the only one missing is Michael Foal which seems an odd omission considering the nature of the repair work he did in space.
The Apollo Missions are looked at, together with the problems of moondust getting everywhere. Something I hadn’t known about was NASA’s X-43A which has achieved Mach Ten and you can look up on YouTube. Looking at its design, I do wonder if people looking for the mythical Aurora Project might have seen this one in flight.
The development of commercial rockets is on-going now and this is covered in detail. The needs for NASA that have been followed has given a variety of rockets. Looking at the current choices means they all might have some time in space but probably not for another 3 years yet. With the current budgetary restraints NASA currently has, at least space isn’t being totally neglected.
Much of the book shows the preparation of astronauts to go up to the International Space Station, now via the Soyuz, although there is some reference to the Chinese space station. From there, a look at some of the foods and problems, not to mention the medical problems. The male body seems to do better in space than the female body.
I wish there had been some examination of the spacesuits themselves and how they’ve evolved over the years, although the only one covered in any detail is the current American Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). From television programmes, we do know that there is a marked difference between the American and Russian spacesuits.
Seeing in detail the problems of unscrewing anything in zero-G in EVA where the astronaut ends up spinning shows nothing is easy in space. Add to that the problems that had to be found in practice and then worked out shows you can’t easily second-guess anything.
Do I need to go on? If you’ve ever dreamt of being an astronaut or merely wanted to get some insight into what’s involved and how they cope, then you will want to buy this book. If you’re planning to write a story involving astronauts or extra-vehicular activity, even set in the future, the knowledge from this book will guide you in making the right decisions that will give a realistic edge. It will also give you an insight into the differing American and Russian attitudes into space travel. I cannot praise this book enough.
(pub: Haynes. 187 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78521-061-7)
check out website: www.haynes.co.uk