Story: The story of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is told in much the same style as the author’s account of the exploits of the Apollo 13 crew in Lost Moon, but occasionally the casual observer might be lost in the midst of some of the tech talk. While Lost Moon had a very human element in the crew and the ground controllers, Journey Beyond Selene is more of a romance novel for engineers. The human story is on Earth, as the engineers deal with the menaces of launch vehicles, NASA bureaucrats, a press corps more obsessed with manned flights, and an apathetic Congress…not to mention the fact that, quite simply, not all of their marvelous hardware worked.
Review: This recently published opus from the co-author of Jim Lovell’s “Lost Moon” tells the often-overlooked story of the frequently unsung pioneers of America’s program of unmanned space exploration.
The book can be neatly divided into three sections: the tumultuous history of JPL’s lunar probes, the incredible story of Voyagers 1 and 2, and the somewhat more troubled – and still-in-progress – tale of Galileo’s visit to Jupiter. While the Cassini probe to Saturn and Titan is mentioned, JPL’s phenomenal success with the Sojourner Mars rover is incredibly conspicuous by its absence – especially when it may qualify as the highest-profile of all of JPL’s accomplishments.
Kluger often brings the story to a full stop to explain the hazards of near-Jovian radiation, the mechanics of gravitational slingshot maneuvers, and the possibilities of life existing on Europa or Titan, but in the best tradition of Carl Sagan or the National Geographic’s spectacular series of articles on the Voyager flights, he manages to make the science accessible to a general audience.
If you can handle the tech, and want to know more about some of NASA’s most fantastic explorations and engineering achievements, I strongly recommend this book.
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 314 pages