International Space Station: 1998-2011 (All Stages) by David Baker (book review).

You might have thought until now that I was only going to be reviewing Haynes fantasy output, but knowing what some of the books were coming up, I didn’t hesitate in adding the rather long titled ‘International Space Station: 1998-2011 (All Stages)’ to the list. As you can see from the cover, there’s a sub-title ‘Owner’s Workshop Manual’ although I would hesitate as to who is the precise owner because the ISS is the combined effort of fifteen countries and is the biggest man-made structure in space today. The author here, Doctor David Baker, worked for twenty-five years at NASA so has more access than most other writers would have.

In the build-up to the ISS, Baker first does a brief history of Russia’s MIR and the USA’s Skylab space station. There is also an examination of the 1991 US Freedom space station where oddly, the addition of an air lock module appears to be an after-thought so they didn’t need to depressurise the habitat to go outside. Maybe they hadn’t thought EVAs were likely to happen that often.

The creation of the International Space Station was helped by the fall of the USSR and the removal of the communist Cold War threat which allowed for greater co-operation between the two biggest nations. What I was rather amazed by was how much of the station became ad hoc in its construction became with budget cuts and how the size of sections was reduced so some of it could be carried by the space shuttle and to reduce the number of EVAs needed to build it.

Whatever ideology is concerned with the ISS, the cost is heavy each year and oddly, the Russians chose to let space tourists visit, providing they were rich enough to pay the fee. Considering how commercial America is, you would have thought that they might have come up with the idea. As seen with singer Sarah Brightman announcing her visit there in 2013 recently, the amount of PR is probably worth as much if you compare how little news of what’s going on in orbit appears in the media. I kept note of these tourists and other than a Canadian, all the rest were American via the Russians. It’s amazing that the USA didn’t see the PR possibilities out of all of this in showing that, other than being wealthy, that other than military and scientists, a perspective could be shown for people lacking such training. Then again, NASA had a bee in its bonnet about sharing their exercise machines and toilet facilities up there without paying to the cosmonaut tourists that the American crew, to their credit, ignored.

Baker’s follow-through of the ISS being built, noting the space shuttle crew’s involved, gives you a literal blow-by-blow of what was involved. It’s also fascinating being reminded the crews were not only mixed sexes but carried not only Russian passengers but those of from other contributors to the ISS. Of the three paying tourists, the third didn’t actually go when his sponsors withdrew his funding.

Something I wasn’t aware of was how the spacesuits were run on pure oxygen and before EVAs, the astronauts had to be acclimatised before stepping outside. Then again, I didn’t know that they also had a humanoid robots, sans legs, up there for experiments. It’s amazing how much of what they do up there doesn’t get into the general press, although granted, a lot of it was engineering and would look routine down here. Scientific discoveries will no doubt take longer to circulate so it’s no wonder that it doesn’t get the population’s notice anymore. If anything, this definitely needs a follow-up book covering what they are doing up there now it’s completed.

One thing that comes from reading this book that this isn’t just the history of the International Space Station but also that of the now defunct space shuttle program and to some extent, but only because they are still operational, of the Russian Soyuz rockets as well.

A lot of this book covers technical details which junior readers will probably gloss over but if you have any interest in the human endeavours in space, then this book is a must and full of indispensable information. Make sure you own a copy.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Haynes. 172 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £21.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-85733-218-9)
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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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