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Rocket Dreams, How the Space Age Shaped Our Vision of a World Beyond
by Marina Benjamin
Free Press, 242pp
HB $24.00, PB $16.99, Kindle/Nook $10.99
Release Date: January 6, 2004
I could not put this book down. Its thesis is that the Internet has satisfied the Space Race urges of most but not all of us. This thesis is developed in six chapters. The first chapter defines the Space Age from Sputnik to the end of the Apollo missions to the Moon. Chapter 2 opens on the Apollo astronauts signing autographs at a fan convention and analyzes the collapse of the space program. Chapter 3 is all about the flying saucer nuts who have turned Roswell , New Mexico into a tourist attraction. Chapter 4 looks at the beginning of the Internet's online communities and the 1970s enthusiasm for O'Neil L5 space colonies. Chapter 5 focuses on the SETI@home computer screensaver program that allows anyone on the Internet to help process radio signals in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Chapter 6 continues with a visit to the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico and puts it all together, ending with hopes for Earth observing satellites like the Triana project. Space buffs may violently object to her definition of the Space Age as only lasting about one decade, but they certainly share her anguish at the end of manned space exploration, without resentment of the International Space Station. I tend to think she is right on the mark, as deep space is now generally considered as difficult to reach and as useless as the deep ocean. Yeah, we can get a few resources from there but robots will have to do it. That said, this book is fine therapy and salve for a whole generation raised on a cultural delusion that was encouraged by government, schools and the media and then abruptly abandoned, or rather backpedaled fast. Anyone born after this decade will have trouble realizing just how different our national purpose was and what a shock it was to drop that. In the near future we will have the added humiliation of Chinese and Russian Moon bases thumbing their noses at the corrupt and decadent West. Maybe later generations will then get something like that shock. ~~ Mike Griffin (not the NASA guy)

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