A Space Traveller’s Guide To The Solar System by Mark Thompson (book review).

April 30, 2015 | By | Reply More

Mark Thompson’s book, ‘A Space Traveller’s Guide To The Solar System’, is the ideal fodder for both Science Fiction writers and readers because it looks at the current start of our Solar System and how to do a fifty year tour. You get explained the basic scientific formulas and why they are needed and the practical ways to do it using planetary slingshots to be fuel economical. In some respects, I wish he’s actually shown the actual formulas and examples but you do know what to look for to find them.


You also get a bit of history to put things into perspective. Copernicus wasn’t the first person to think the Earth orbited the sun as Ptolemy suggested this in 3BC but it didn’t catch on until 19 centuries later because of religious intervention.

This book will also make you think. Going back to the gravitational slingshot and the speed reached, it did make me wonder if the thrust would be enough to make the floor in front of the motors the ground for feet. That would change when achieving orbit but surely that would be more economical than rotating part of the spacecraft.

Although this is a planned manned tour of the Solar System and Thompson is more concerned about the planets encountered than the spaceship you would be in, he does make a few errors in that regard. Unlike the Apollo trips or indeed extended stays on the International Space Station, you would just chucking bagged urine into space as it’s a waste of water so it would be recycled, although he does correct this in one of the latter chapters.

Something I wasn’t that familiar with was that after launch into space that one of the first effects of zero gravity is the urge to hit the toilets as the body redistributes all of its fluids. It does make me wonder if there’s no constipation in space.

Thompson makes a case to land on Mercury but I can’t help but feel that in the slingshot from the sun, it wouldn’t be productive or the spaceship slow enough to make that a good option and you’d certainly need to put your spaceship in a geostationary orbit hidden from the sun. That being the case, just a couple probes off would be the preferred step. Indeed, that might be considered a problem around every planet, even in orbit, because you would lose too much velocity to keep you going otherwise.

Forgetting that for the moment, the information about each planet and the places to look for can still be useful even if it’s only for direct planetary trips. It’s a shame really that there is no way to economically release the oxygen from the rusty particles on Mars. Looking at the information Thompson gives did stop and make me ponder that I doubt if the red planet ever had much nitrogen in its atmosphere to stop so much rust happening so quickly that trapped the oxygen that way.

He does lay to rest the Titius-Bode concept that the planets are at precise astronomical units apart to some extent but there’s a nagging little thought in the back of my head that says that the gravity of each of the planets tugging at each other wouldn’t have kept them at said distances anyway. Even so, without that concept, would astronomers have looked for the outer planets otherwise? With science, things still can develop from such errors.

Lest we forget, Thompson points out that it was Jupiter that enabled people to calculate the speed of light and then to work out how to navigate accurately at sea. There are a lot of people on Earth who wonder why we are so interested in what’s beyond our atmosphere and then forget how much knowledge we employ from such discoveries.

Although little is really given on the type of spaceship used, I still think it has to be a somewhat massive one to undertake such a trip and think it would be practical to have fewer objectives on such a grand tour. Some aspects that I learnt from this book that I’m surprised Thompson didn’t comment on is using some of these planets and their satellites for their resources as fuel. When you consider this that the moons of both Jupiter and Saturn have high levels of methane and other gases then it would be a shame not to use them.

One thing I wish had been included was a photo section. Granted this would have raised the price a bit but it does seem an odd omission for a book that is promoting interest in looking around our own star system. Having said that, there is a lot that can be learnt from this book and those of you who desire to do a little travelling will certainly find something here to supplement your knowledge and imagination.

GF Willmetts

April 2015

(pub: Bantam Press/Penguin/Random House. 257 page hardback. Price: £16.99 UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-07333-9)

check out websites: www.transworldbooks.co.uk and www.markthompsonastronomy.com

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Category: Books, Science

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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