AMBASSADORS FROM EARTH : Pioneering Explorations with Unmanned Spacecraft. By Jay Gallentine. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. 2009. FINAL COUNTDOWN: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program. By Pat Duggins. Gainesville and Tampa: University Press of Florida. 2009.
Both these popular histories of spaceflight are engagingly written by authors (Jay Gallentine a film and video engineer; Pat Duggins a journalist) who know their craft, and who seek to pass along awareness of the early decades of the Space Age to younger readers uninformed about formative events that often occurred before they were born. Academic specialists may decry the scarcity of footnotes, and will be bothered by the sometimes-glaring lack of references to important earlier works which could easily have augmented major portions of the analysis of both authors. Their students, however, will enjoy the glimpses of the very-human excitements and frustrations involved in scientific and technological advance.
Both volumes have to be used with some caution. Meaning that, for example, what they don't say can be as important as what they do say. Both authors, for example, treat only a portion of their subjects. Gallentine covers an approximately 30-year "golden age" of lunar and planetary spacecraftthat ends with the 1977- 1989 Voyager "grand tour" of the outer planets (while curiously saying nothing about important pioneering missions like the first landers on Mars' surface (Viking 1 and 2). Duggins' narrative is weak on portions of the Space Shuttle and Space Station story-USA or (especially) Russian-before the Challenger tragedy of 1986, and ends with the (now largely defunct) President George Herbert Walker Bush Moon-Mars space vision of 2004-2009. The authors, additionally, have defects of their qualities. Meaning that both are very clearly "fans" of the space specialties they treat, and have little, if anything, good to say about human spaceflight (Gallentine) or planetary scientists and astronomers (Duggins). Both authors also ignore the Earthly applications satellites (after early particles and fields research ending about 1960) that were increasingly important-and divisive-within portions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and also ignore (with the exception of a brief manned military shuttle program) the increasingly large military satellite systems that affected the thinking and action of NASA administrators. Advocacy-driven narratives like these are capable and even eloquent. They do not, however, allow younger readers to comprehend how modern space-based networks of communications or weather satellites many use cell phones to access came to exist. Nor do they help students-or their teachers-understand how the modern era of space-based satellites has produced data that allow us to intelligently comprehend and visualize what environmental scientists are talking about when they address the many and growing challenges of climate change and "Global Warming."
Both authors, additionally, depend heavily on interview data and can, on occasion, over-identify with their most important sources. Gallentine's collection of about twelve personal narratives, for instance, tends to be very kind to pioneers at Iowa State University (i.e. Dr. James Van Allen) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. …