Join Donate

Planetary RadioNovember 20, 2019

Space Books and Gifts for Space Kids of all Ages

Download MP3

On This Episode
Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla (2017, alternate)
Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist, The Planetary Society

Headshot of Bruce Betts
Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager, The Planetary Society

Headshot of Mat Kaplan
Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society

Our own Emily Lakdawalla, Planetary Society Senior Editor and book lover, shares her 2019 list of space books for every age range, from infant to adult. She also presents a list of cool space gifts recommended by scientists and engineers. Bruce Betts provides a tantalizing tease for what could be a brief but massive shower of meteors. And there’s much more to look for in the fall sky.

Emily and Curiosity

Mat Kaplan / The Planetary Society

Emily and Curiosity
Members of the media were given a rare opportunity to suit up and enter the clean room in which Curiosity was being prepared for its trip to Mars on April 4, 2011.
Emily Lakdawalla in the Juno Jupiter Orbital Insertion Media Center at JPL

Mat Kaplan / The Planetary Society

Emily Lakdawalla in the Juno Jupiter Orbital Insertion Media Center at JPL

Related Links

Trivia Contest

This week's prizes:

A Yugen Tribe LightSail necklace and earring set! See them in the Planetary Society store.

This week's question:

What is the new or relatively new name for the most distant object visited by a spacecraft?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at planetaryradio@planetary.org no later than Wednesday, November 27th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

What spacecraft observed a planetary transit from the surface of another planet?

Winner:

The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the November 6 space trivia contest:

What mission was the first launch of the Saturn V rocket?

Answer:

Apollo 4 was the first launch of the Saturn V rocket.

Transcript

Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Need a great space book? Emily has the list this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan, of the Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. It's that time of year, Planetary Society senior editor, Emily Lakdawalla is back with her annual list of outstanding books for space nerds of all ages. She'll join me in moments to list just a few of her faves, and she'll read a few passages. You'll also hear my top picks, and we'll sample Emily's separate list of great gifts recommended by space professionals.

Bruce Betts is also ahead on this home team edition of our show. Here are three stories torn from the latest edition of The Downlink, the Planetary Society's weekly digest of space exploration and science headlines. Planetary Society editorial director [00:01:00] Jason Davis has more waiting for you at planetary.org/downlink.

Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft left asteroid Ryugu after spending nearly a year and a half collecting samples, creating an artificial crater, and deploying small probes. The spacecraft will return its two samples of Ryugu to earth in about a year. They might tell us more about the origin and evolution of the solar system.

Ultima Thule, no more. That wondrous Kuiper belt object, officially known till now as 2014 MU69, has been given the name Arrokoth by the International Astronomical Union. The Native American term means sky in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. The New Horizons spacecraft famously flew past it on New Year's Day, 2019. Ultima Thule was never more than a nickname provided by the mission team.

NASA's Mars Curiosity [00:02:00] Rover has detected seasonal changes in oxygen levels that scientists can't explain. The findings may be related to a similar ongoing mystery over fluctuating methane levels. There's a chance the changes could be linked to underground life. Though a non biological explanation is more likely, need we remind you that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Of course, I believe it's a grove of giant sequoias in the Valles Marineris with squirrels. Kidding. The Downlink has lots of links waiting for all of you who wanna explore these and other stories. No kidding.

Going now our friend and colleague, Emily Lakdawalla. I'll remind you again later, but all the books she recommends on her 2019 list can be found in the blog at planetary.org, along with the gift guide. Emily, like you, books have meant, right from the beginning, and still today, mean so much to [00:03:00] me. I remember, in fact, I still have the Life Science Library that my parents bought us. And my favorite volume in that library, the book simply called Space, uh, which gave me a good deal of my introduction to, uh, astronomy, and astronautics, and space exploration.

And then, uh, science fiction as well, not something that you cover, uh, except for the, I guess, the youngest kids, there's a little bit of fiction here, but I still have some, um, some old Robert Heinlein young adult books here. Books are that important to you too, aren't they?

Emily L.: Yeah, I've been a, a huge reader all my life. So it was a little difficult when I had children and I didn't have as much time as I used to, to just get lost in books. Um, like you say, fantasy, Sci-Fi, um, non-fiction. I used to devour everything. I remember a book that changed my life was The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker, which I read as an eighth grader, which had the gall to question established science and propose this revolutionary idea that dinosaurs might actually be [00:04:00] birds. And it's just been delightful to watch that whole thing unfold. So books are very important to me.

And you know, when I became a parent, I wasn't reading so many books intended for adults, but I was reading, consuming and reading aloud a great many books for children. And it occurred to me that I could have a little fun by, uh, suggesting to other parents books that would be good, that were about space, kind of, you know, dovetail both of my interests being a, being a parent and, and of course space exploration. The delightful thing about that is that after doing this for now, 11 years, I get shipped boxes and boxes of books all year long and it's like Christmas every day I get one of these, I get to open it up and see what's inside.

Mat Kaplan: Great fun. As you know, I, I get, uh, some of these as well, but they tend to be intended for adults. I had the best time, some of my best parental memories are of reading to my daughters who I am delighted to say are both avid readers now and, and very fine [00:05:00] writers. And I'm sure that that was very much tied to their exposure to books as young kids.

Emily L.: Oh, definitely. My kids are, are of course avid readers too. And um, it was really important to me that I read books to them that weren't just, you know, informative and had good a story, but the language had to be enjoyable as well. The word choices rich, the rhythm of the sentences, fun to read aloud. And so I, I always look for that in the books that I recommend to my annual book list.

Mat Kaplan: Well, so I don't think that we've ever thrown away a children's book because Adrian was planning for grandchildren right from the start. And so we have shelves downstairs. You have on this newest list, a bunch of, uh, books that, uh, probably belong on some of those shelves. Let's, uh, start going through some of these. And, and I know you've got them divided up by, uh, age range.

Emily L.: Yes. When I recommend book for, books for kids, I'm, I'm not kidding, I, I recommend books for all ages zero to 18. And so to help people out in selecting books for their own kids or their niblings or, whoever, um, I do divide them by age. It's [00:06:00] funny. D-, different years I get a more or less of different age range books. This year was a particularly good year for books for ages around four to seven. The kind that you read aloud to a child who's just beginning to learn to read for themselves. There were some great ones this year.

Mat Kaplan: Okay. And you start even younger than that as you said, zero to, what is it, zero to three?

Emily L.: Mm-hmm [affirmative]-

Mat Kaplan: Even infants, um, get 'em while they're young.

Emily L.: [Laughs]. I have to say some of the books in that category are really more for the parents than they are for the children, but they're good, uh, you know, durable board books. But let's begin, I think with a book from this four to seven year old range. Um, the first one I, I'd like to talk about is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I Know Exactly What You Are. Uh, which was written by, um, Dr Julia Kregenow, who's a, uh, actually an astronomer at Penn state, um, illustrated by Carmen Saldana. And this, as you might imagine, it's a retelling, a rephrasing of the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star poem. But Kregenow has, has actually managed to [00:07:00] compress into that rhyme a huge amount of information about different kinds of stars across the galaxy. And, um, I'd like to read a little selection of it if I could-

Mat Kaplan: Please do.

Emily L.: So this is, uh, toward the middle of the book. Our sun's average as stars go, formed 5 billion years ago, halfway through its life so far, twinkle midsize, yellow star.

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs]. That's wonderful. What a perfect little [crosstalk 00:07:25].

Emily L.: Hold on.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, there's more?

Emily L.: There's more. I want to read a couple of stanzas. Two stars make a binary or a triple if there's three, some are so low, just like ours, twinkle, twinkle little stars. Quarter trillion stars all stay bound within the Milky way. Dusty spiral with a bar, twinkle galaxy of stars. Stars have planets orbiting rocky or gaseous moons and rings. Earth's unique with life so far, thank you to our precious star.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, that was lovely. Thank you. I think that's one for my, uh, [00:08:00] going on four-year-old grandson.

Emily L.: It's so enjoyable to read, because she's r-, she's really, uh, like, I said, packed a lot of information. Each page has a wonderful illustration with it. Each has some- some facts that'll really teach parents about stars, and yet it still has the proper rhythm, and is hugely enjoyable to read.

Mat Kaplan: For adults too. I mean, that's just fun to listen to and to read.

Emily L.: Absolutely. And that's what I... Those are the kinds of books that I really love, and- and pull off the shelf again and again.

Mat Kaplan: All right, any others for this age group, or do we move on?

Emily L.: Yeah, I had one other I wanted to recommend from this one. It's not inverse, uh, it's just a- a pro story written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Rubin. It's called The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon. And it's about Alan Bean-

Mat Kaplan: Hm.

Emily L.: ... the Apollo astronaut who became, uh, a space artist after he returned to earth. Robbins talked with Bean doing research for this. And so it's a, it's a very special story about, um ... It's about the Apollo mission, but it's really more about space art and how Bean wanted to use [00:09:00] art to communicate about the- the wonder of exploring the moon with the rest of the public.

Mat Kaplan: And, of course, we only just, uh, celebrated Alan Bean with the, uh, marking of the 50th anniversary of, uh, of Apollo 12.

Emily L.: And I- I'd like to read a selection from this one, too, if I could?

Mat Kaplan: Sure.

Emily L.: Alan's friends asked him about his time in space. "What was it like up there?" He tried to explain the moon's barren beauty, but words weren't enough, and his photographs just showed a grim and gloomy place. There was so much more to the moon than that. So much magic and mystery. How could Alan share his story so others would understand? He pulled out his paints and brushes. Alan knew he was the only artist ever to leave the earth. The only artist ever to see the moon up close. Maybe a painting could show how it felt to be in outer space.

Mat Kaplan: And of course, uh, since then, we've had a number of other artists, uh, follow Alan Bean into space. [00:10:00] And it's just, it's wonderful to think about not just the- the visual artist, but the musicians and others who've, uh, made it up to the international space station and elsewhere above our heads. It's... Does this book contain any of Alan Bean's actual work?

Emily L.: It does not. It, uh, contains, uh- uh, really wonderful illustrations by Sean Rubin, but it doesn't contain Alan Bean's art. It does, um, I think inspire, uh, parents who are pretty much all hyper-connected to the internet these days to, uh, maybe, Google and look for his really very unusual artworks. And it... The book does talk about how, um, his art is not representational, it's abstract. And it's about communicating the feeling of being on the moon, um, the, kind of, human experience of it, as much as it is about showing what the moon looked like to his eyes.

Mat Kaplan: Now I've always enjoyed his, um, his work as well. And I'm looking at the cover of the book and, uh, it's a great illustration by this, uh, Sean Rubin.

Emily L.: And I should mention that Dean Robbins wrote one of the books that I recommended last year, which was called Margaret and the Moon, about Margaret Hamilton. So [00:11:00] he's clearly a space fan, and I look forward to more from him.

Mat Kaplan: Nice, yeah, a return visit, that's great. Okay, let's move on.

Emily L.: Um, moving up a little bit, we're, uh, going up in age to, um, maybe, older elementary school, to kids who are, uh, reading chapter books, um, easy chapter books. And, so, they're looking for short, maybe exciting books with great illustrations. And I have an unusual one to recommend this time around. I'm always a little fearful when I'm contacted by somebody who self-publishes a book, because... Uh, it's not because people can't write well, if they, um, you know, aren't part of the writing establishment. But, um, often they try to publish their books without having any professional editing done. And that, I'll tell you, is a huge mistake.

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Emily L.: Editors save lives. And, so, um, when I'm contacted by amateur authors or, you know, people who are doing the self-publishing route, I always tell them, "You have to understand. Uh, first of all, I don't recommend you send a book to me that hasn't been edited by somebody who has some skill. And second of all, I almost never recommend [00:12:00] self-published books because they just don't meet that editorial quality."

But this one, uh, really favorably surprised me. It's written by a software engineer named Douglas Meredith, titled Generation Mars, illustrated by Luis Peres. It's a story of the first generation of children born on Mars, and it's intended to be the first in a series. And, I don't know, I have a memory of reading a book, kind of, similar to this, um, as a child that featured children protagonists, about my age, um, experiencing a- a very realistic science fiction future. And it really fired my imagination.

And I- I believe that this story can really do the same thing for kids of that age. Could put them in the boots of these children who are walking out on the martian surface for the first time. The first kids on Mars. And I think it's just a... It has the potential to be a really great and inspiring s- story for that age.

Mat Kaplan: Well that's exactly what Robert Heinlein was up to with his, uh, books for young adults, mostly written in the 1950s, that I certainly identified with. And it [00:13:00] drew me in better than, uh, any of the nonfiction space books that I had started out with, before I discovered Heinlein and the rest of science fiction. Have you got a sample from this one?

Emily L.: I do. So I thought that I'd read part of the book where, um, the child does, the main character, Cass , actually walks out on the surface of Mars for the first time. The outer door rolled open noiselessly, and beyond was the surface. Cass could see a flat red plain that stretched from the air-locked door into the distance. Here and there were round buildings, and rovers, and rover parts stacked neatly.

She stepped out of the air-lock and felt a moment of panic when she looked up the sky. It went on forever, and was not blue like the sky in the town. It was shades of yellow and tan, except for a hazy bluish area around the sun. The sun! That was the real thing! She'd seen pictures of all this, of course, but standing beneath it now for the first time, she felt small and scared. Her head swam and she looked down. "That's quite a sky isn't it, children," [00:14:00] said Sally. "It can be a little scary at first, I know, but come out, gather around, and we'll hold hands while we look."

And then I'll skip forward a little bit. Cass held the gloved hand of the kid to either side of her. She was afraid to look up. She focused on her breathing, counting three for in, and three for out, and looked at the ground to study herself. Her booted feet were huge. She scratched at the red dirt with one, dragging it forward and back slightly, then in a small arc, then in a big curve that became a C. She smiled. She looked up into that endless yellow sky. She let go of her classmates' hands, and she raised her arms up toward that sky, and she wooped. She-

Mat Kaplan: Huh.

Emily L.: ... opened her mouth and let out the loudest, wildest, craziest holler ever heard on the planet.

Mat Kaplan: That is wonderful! Nice work-

Emily L.: [Laughs]

Mat Kaplan: ... uh, Douglas Meredith.

Emily L.: Yeah, it's, uh, it's enjoyable, and I look forward to further installments in the series.

Mat Kaplan: And the cover of the book just happens to be, I- I assume it is a depiction of exactly this scene that you just, uh, [00:15:00] read an excerpt to, uh- uh, from, uh, as these kids in their- their v-, uh, [laughs] very, I don't know, maybe their 22nd century, uh, spacesuits, step out onto the surface of Mars.

Emily L.: Yeah, and I should mention that the illustrations in this book are really beautiful quality. They're full-color paintings, um, and they're just gorgeous.

Mat Kaplan: And those are by, uh, Luis Peres-

Emily L.: Yes.

Mat Kaplan: ... as I see in your list. Let me mention-

Emily L.: Oh ...

Mat Kaplan: ... one. It just happens to be one I'm familiar with, because it's by Sarah Cruddas, who, uh, with a forward by the astronaut, Eileen Collins, uh, The Space Race: The Journey to the Moon and Beyond. Also, really well illustrated. I was very happy to see it in your, in your, uh, list this year. Uh, and it's a great book. Sarah's much better known in the U.K. than she is here, because she's a, kind of, a- a science television, um, personality over there. Uh, but it's, uh, it's a terrific book. Uh, just called the Space Race. And now, please... Sorry for the interruption, Emily, but, uh, go on.

Emily L.: So I've got a great book for the middle grade group. It's, um, it's a young [00:16:00] readers' version of a autobiography by Astronaut, Leland Melvin called Chasing Space. And Leland Melvin is probably best known on the internet right now for a, a his astronaut portrait featuring his two dogs-

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily L.: ... who are jumping all over him, uh, as he's wearing his, his orange flight suit. His, uh, story is really quite remarkable. He was actually drafted into the NFL. He played briefly for the Detroit Lions before being sidelined by a hamstring injury. He was actually on the Cowboys, uh, briefly but was cut before the season started. And he went on to grad school and then became an astronaut. Flew two missions aboard Atlantis, and, um, is now, uh, retired from the astronaut work. But he's, uh, doing a lot of work touring all over the country, um, giving, uh, talks, uh, supporting STEM education, especially for Black youth.

And I have to say, his autobiography is just gripping. There are so many moments in his story that could have ended all hope of having any kind of [00:17:00] distinguished future. And then there are all these kind of moments of grace where things just line up and are lucky for him. And of course, he's skilled and intelligent and, and all of that. His writing is really excellent. But he never fails to give a huge amount of credit to all the people who helped him along the way. And so, it's just, it's a delightful read. I haven't read the adult, the originally version. This is the young readers' edition. Um, but I assume it's, it's just as exciting. This is a, a fast read. And I'm, I'm [laughs] sure it covers, um, uh, most of the same material.

Mat Kaplan: I'll note that the adult version of, uh, Leland's book is, uh, on your gift guide, which we will address in a few minutes briefly. Uh, it's, it's a great book. And, and, man, this guy has lead an amazing life. Almost, uh, lost the opportunity to become an astronaut for reasons that we won't go into. It would give too much away of the story. But, uh, I agree, it's great and, and just a, a very nice guy as well. He's visited us at the Planetary Society.

Emily L.: Yeah. He really is. And the stories that he [00:18:00] tells, you know, he's, he's certainly faced the same kind of discrimination, um, all throughout his life as any other African American does. And he's also gotten extraordinary opportunities. He was actually... He actually had to be, had to be talked into applying for a job at NA-, at NASA. And he actually decided he wasn't going to apply to be an astronaut, because he figured it was too long a shot.

Mat Kaplan: Uh-huh [affirmative].

Emily L.: And then one of his friends, uh, applied and became an astronaut. And he was like, "This five foot tall guy became an astronaut," or five foot four, whatever, "became an astronaut. Then surely I could do it."

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily L.: And so, um, there's, there's all these moments. It's really wonderful. I have two selections, uh, from this book to read.

Mat Kaplan: Go for it.

Emily L.: Okay. So, the first is, uh, just after he's been, um, selected as an astronaut and he is, is talking about moving to Houston. "I bought a house in El Lago, the neighborhood where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lived at the time of the first moon landing. El Lago City Hall has an Astronaut Wall of Fame with photos of all the astronauts who had lived there. 48 at last count, including me. The house I found was simple but [00:19:00] beautiful, and I remember thinking, 'I could get used to this.'"

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily L.: "On the other hand, some people had to get used to me. El Lago wasn't a place that had seen a lot of Black people, let alone many Black astronauts. The day I moved in, a woman across the street stared at me, her arms folded across her chest. 'Hi,' I said, and waved to her. She shook her head and walked back into her house. Thanks for the warm welcome, neighbor."

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily L.: So, that's, uh, that's the first selection. And then here's, uh, the second one, um, is coming at a time when, uh, is actually right after, really the moment after the space shuttle, Columbia, broke up on re-entry. "Everyone at NASA Headquarters was focused on one thing, taking care of our families. Every astronaut chooses what's known as a crew astronaut casualty officer, or CACO, when he joins the Corps. The CACO's job is to help the family interact with NASA in case of a disaster. That afternoon, I was asked to provide support to the parents of David Brown, the flight surgeon who had been [00:20:00] along the crew. I wasn't David's CACO, but he was a close friend. David had lead the investigation to find out what happened to my hearing in the NBL pool. He helped me through one of the most difficult periods of my life with a patience and grace that I'll never forget."

Skipping down a little bit. "'My son is gone. There's nothing you can do to bring him back,' David's father said to me. 'But the biggest tragedy would be if we don't continue to fly in space to carry on his legacy.' Judge Brown's comments, his grace in the midst of grief hit me in the heart. I knew he was right. We couldn't give up. I couldn't give up. His strength and conviction in the shadow of what I know was one of the darkest moments of his life changed how I felt about my place in the world and gave me a whole new understanding of what it means to think of others first. In that moment, I dedicated myself to doing everything I could to honor his words."

Mat Kaplan: Oh, that's very effecting. Very nice selection.

Emily L.: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Highly recommend it to both kids and adults. And actually, that's true for, um, all the [00:21:00] middle grade and, um, teen books I recommend. Several of them are not even in-, intended for children. They're just accessible to children. And I, I often find that, uh, uh, books that work well for young, younger readers are really often the best explainers of experiences, of, uh, events. And, um, they really kind of get to the heart of what happens in major events.

Mat Kaplan: I've got a great example of one of those that, uh, you also included in this age range of 11 to 13. And it's, uh, Visual Galaxy, which is just as spectacular as you would expect a book to be from National Geographic. Uh, and you point out that it's about [laughs] ... It's not just pictures of the Milk Way Galaxy and others. It's really about the contents of the galaxy, including our own solar system. And it, it is gorgeous.

Emily L.: Yeah. It's a whole planetary science textbook.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. More of Emily and her list of great books is coming right up. But first, how about The Great Courses Plus? [laughs] One of my favorite ways to, uh, to learn. [00:22:00] And it makes learning so easy and accessible. Thousands upon thousands of lectures on pretty much every topic that you can think of, and you can do it at any place, lunch break, the gym, washing dishes if you want. And here is a personal recommendation for you. I highly recommend Apollo 11: Lessons for All Time. It is The Great Courses Plus special tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Apollo.

Four lectures, each one of them taught by a wonderful specialist in their field looking at the geopolitics of Apollo, the moon itself, what the moon taught us about the rest of the solar system and beyond. It's absolutely outstanding. And here is that special deal that is available to you listeners. You can go to thegreatcoursesplus.com/planetary and get a free month, not just for this course but every one of the hundreds and hundreds of courses offered by The Great Courses Plus. That's it, [00:23:00] thegreatcoursesplus.com/planetary to start your free month. Have fun learning. Where to now?

Emily L.: In the oldest age group, I'm recommending, um, several books that, like I said, they're not marketed at teens. They're marketed at adults, just accessible to teens. And I have a, a really unusual and fun book, um, by James Trefil and Michael Summers called Imagined Life. It's a book about astrobiology. So, it explains in very plain language, um, really easy to understand how we are looking for life in the universe, what we're looking for when we're looking for life in the universe, why we are looking for life that might look similar to ours, uh, to life on our own planet, and, um, the, some of the techniques that we're trying to use and some of the places, in particular, the places where we're looking for life.

But astrobiology is a, is a funny sort of field. [laughs] There's not a whole lot of data. In fact, we only have one planet where we know that life exists. And so, it's a, it's a little hard to look for, because we don't know exactly what we're looking for. And so, uh, more and [00:24:00] half of this book goes in, into a little bit more speculative territory, where, um, they discussed some different kinds of planets where life might exist and, and how that life might have originated, um, might, uh, thrive and live and consume, uh, energy and reproduce on these different kinds of exoplanets that we've discovered.

And it begins each chapter with a little paragraph introduction that's, that just a little snippet of science fiction. The wonderful thing about this book is that it, it really provides a handbook for people who are interested in basing their science fiction writing on good, strong scientific fact. And so I highly recommend this book as a resource for anybody who wants to write hard science fiction.

Mat Kaplan: I was not aware of this book until I saw it in your list, but I have many books on my shelf, science fiction and nonfiction, about astrobiology, about, uh, the possibilities of alien life. And, eh, from that book that I mentioned right up front, [00:25:00] the, uh, Life Science Library, uh, uh, volume called Space, what stuck with me more than anything in that book were the speculative drawings and paintings of possible aliens, including, uh, this beautiful color illustration of these floating furry gas bags with cat eyes that people speculate could live in the atmospheres of a place like, uh, like Jupiter or the gas giants around the galaxy. Who knows, until we go out and look for ourselves? But this is great stuff and, uh, I, I wanna pick this one up.

Emily L.: Yeah. You know, the, uh, a long time ago before we had all these wonderful space missions, we definitely had to employ more artistic imagination to imagine what was going on on, on other worlds. Now it, it may seem like there's less of opportunity for that, but one of the things I like to say the most about space exploration, and really, actually, any kind of science in general, is that in order to discover something, especially in space, you have to imagine what [00:26:00] might be there first. You have to select missions and instruments that are designed for worlds you've never seen. And so there has to be this speculative imagination among the people who intend to explore planets. And so it's really great to see people who, who write science fact, who write nonfiction, get that opportunity to do all of this imagining.

Mat Kaplan: Fun stuff. I love this kind of speculation. Do you have something to read, uh, to us? A little sample of the Imagined Life?

Emily L.: Yeah. I'd like to read to you the transition that goes from the more fact filled, uh, first third of the book and into the more speculative last part of the book. In what follows, we introduce each new world with a short fictional sketch that describes how a human being, suitably protected and provided with sensing equipment, might experience the environment he or she is encountering. We have chosen this way of introducing the planets for one simple reason, as we have repeatedly stressed terrestrial life is the only kind of life we know about. It constitutes, therefore, the only living [00:27:00] organisms whose response to the new environment we can guess that with some hope of success. With this in mind, let's take a look at a world that we will call Icehein.

Mat Kaplan: Hm.

Emily L.: You're in a long dark tunnel, walled with solid ice. The only light seems to be coming from a far off volcanic vent that is spewing molten material from the planet's interior into your tunnel. At your feet, you dimly spot a pipe leading toward the tunnel's end. The air around it is warm and humid, and you see that it is squirting hot water to melt a clear path from the vents to the exit. Your stomach rumbles. Your trip here has made you hungry. You notice that around the volcanic vent are fields of tube worms, white and red. You sample one, not bad. Perhaps they be-

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs].

Emily L.: Perhaps they could become a staple of your diet here on this strange planet called Icehein. And so they go on to explain that, that Icehein is a water world. It's a, it's a large world with a huge ocean that's, uh, covered with a very [00:28:00] thick layer of ice. So it's a little bit like, um, Europa, but, [laughs], icier, waterier, and a standalone world as opposed to a moon of Jupiter. They do get to Europa later on in the book, and to many other more, uh, unusual kinds of planets. So it's, it's a really an enjoyable read.

Mat Kaplan: Wow. I love it. Uh, feet on the earth and a head up among the exoplanets. That's, that's just great.

Emily L.: So as you can see, it's just, it's an enormous pleasure to get to read all of these books. I had 80 books to read this time around, [laughs]. I get more every year, and, um, it's, it is a bit of a chore. It takes me a long time to produce this. I have to kind of stage it over days and days. But it's, it's so fun. There are so many good books out there, and, and I love, uh, covering a, a little aspect of book publishing that's different. There's, I don't think there's anybody else who's specializing in space books for kids, and so I, I like having my little niche of book reviews.

Mat Kaplan: It is a very fine niche, and you fill it perfectly, Emily. If you don't mind, I'm going to use my host prerogative and call out a couple of others. In this 14 to 18 [00:29:00] category, which you point out, these are as much adult books as they are for these, uh, young adults, and then four more very briefly of my own choices, all which, uh, all of which were written basically for adults... but, uh, you mentioned Urban Legends from Space by Bob King, which I think is just delightful.

I have not finished it, uh, but it does everything that y-you mention that it does. Uh, helping to solve a problem that, uh, you and I both face, and I think that the kinds of things, uh, uh, messages, and, and correspondence that you probably see a lot more of than, uh, than I do, where, uh, people come to you in saying, "I've heard this. Could it possibly be true?" And the answer is often no. [Laughs].

Emily L.: Yeah, it's useful to have somebody, uh, a resource to go to to explain why, um, something is not true. And, and so I'm, I'm really glad to have this on my shelf. I will point out that when somebody asks me if something is true, like if Planet X is really going to pull Earth out of its orbit, or, you know, [00:30:00] if Mars is really as big as The Moon, I try not to lead with, "That's wrong." I do try to pivot to something that is right, rather than focusing my effort on something that's wrong. And so, uh, I'm happy to have other people doing the explaining, the debunking of these myths.

Mat Kaplan: Dr. Sagan would be proud of you for, uh, for taking that approach. Just one other, just because it's k-, uh, an odd book, it's, it's an odd theme, but it's a story very well told, uh, Dr Space Junk Vs The Universe by Alice Gorman, who is Dr Space Junk.

Emily L.: I absolutely love this book. She's a delightful writer. She, uh, is an, uh, an archeologist. She began by studying Earth, some of Earth's most ancient human cultural artifacts in the Australian Outback, but, um, she became enamored with the junk it- has been left behind since the dawn of the space age, and what that tells about, um, the evolution of human technology. It's an especially human science, the study of, uh, what's left behind [00:31:00] in, in the waste heaps of, uh, of human culture. And it's, it's just very well told.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, it's-

Emily L.: Like you say.

Mat Kaplan: Uh, not the kind of stuff that you find in the plethora of space books that you and I receive every year. I got, like I said, four more that I will mention from my own list, and a couple of these will be no surprise to regular listeners, including For Small Creatures Such as We by Sasha Sagan, the, uh, daughter, of course, of, uh, the aforementioned Carl Sagan. And, uh,[inaudible 00:31:29]. It is not specifically a space book, but it does help to establish our place in the cosmos.

And, uh, as people have heard me say very recently, it is an absolutely lovely book, and I think a, a perfect book for, uh, for the holiday season, because she talks about the, the, uh, celebrations, the rituals that we, uh, that we all enjoy, whatever our level of formal religion may be. Uh, the other one that, uh, we've talked about on the show, Spacesuit by Nicholas de Monchaux, a very special book which is about so [00:32:00] much more than the development of the Apollo spacesuit, which was built, uh, as we, as we have mentioned, by essentially the parent corporation of Playtex, largely by seamstresses who got their start sewing girdles and bras for that company.

And a couple of others. Uh, Rod Pyle, our, uh, friend of the show, who, uh, I think wrote something like four books this year. But I will only mention one of them. Space 2.0. if you are curious about what, uh, is still called by many new space, this new era of space development, space industrialization, this is a great book for that. It's, uh, it's a terrific resource; it's very well illustrated. Finally, from another, uh, friend of the show, Eight Years to the moon, by the great Nancy Atkinson. There were so many histories of the Apollo program. I know you were also inundated this, uh, this year by these. Uh, right, Emily?

Emily L.: Yeah, I absolutely was. I had, uh, a huge stack of Apollo books, and reluctantly I [00:33:00] had to just not read any of the ones intended for adults because I had so many for children that I actually had to write a special July post just about the Apollo books.

Mat Kaplan: I felt terrible because there were so many of these that I would have loved to have featured on this show. There just wasn't time. We only get to do 52 shows a year, but they're terrific selections. I will single out Nancy's book because she did amazing research. She talks to, uh, for lack of a bettle, better term, I will call them the little people, although it's the, like that old saying, there no, there are no small parts, only small actors.

Everybody among the 10s of thousands who contributed to the Apollo program helped to make it the success that it became. And Nancy talks to many of them and brings out a lot of stories, which, uh, I don't think have ever been documented in this, uh, kind of format, in a, in a popular book before. And it's terrific. It has all the major players as well. So, uh, Nancy, good on you, as well. Emily, a-any other books you want to mention?

Emily L.: [00:34:00] Yeah, so there's some books that I just can't recommend to kids. They're a little too dense. Um, but I have one that I particularly want to mention for adults. It's called Cosmos: The Art and Science of the Universe, uh, by Roberta, uh, J.M. Olson, and Jay Pasachoff. Um, Olson is an art historian, and Pasachoff is an astronomer, and it's a, a thick and heavy book. An art book about, um, how various aspects of space have been featured in mostly Western art throughout the ages. I've never seen a book quite like this. It's incredibly thorough. The artwork, the reproductions are just gorgeous, and it's richly analyzed by both authors.

And it's organized in a way that's really fun. It's organized not chronologically, but rather by targets. So there are targets on the sun and solar eclipses, and on meteors, and on planets. And at the very end, uh, there is a chapter that discusses how modern photography, including photography by spacecraft, has influenced our perception of space. I haven't had a chance to read the text; it's a bit [00:35:00] long, but I'm absolutely delighted with this book. Many of the artworks I've never seen before. And because of the way it's organized, it's so easy to just dive into it, and say, oh, I'm looking for an artwork that represents a comet. And it's, you just go to the comet chapter, and you can find a dozen artworks that would be perfect for my presentation on this, that, or the other thing. So it's delightful. I highly recommend it.

Mat Kaplan: It has a place of honor on a table, not to say coffee table, in our living room. Uh, [laughs], it's a gorgeous book. I am also working my way through the text, which is brilliantly written. And, uh, hats off to both of these authors, including as you said, Jay Pasachoff, who we featured just last week as he was, uh, in the middle of viewing the transit of Mercury. Maybe the world's foremost chaser of eclipses, although he says that actually they chase him.

Emily L.: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Very briefly, Emily, let's go on to this gift guide, uh, which is becoming available just as this episode of Planetary Radio becomes available.

Emily L.: We're often asked [00:36:00] for recommendations for, uh, gifts around the end of the year for the, for the holidays. And, um, it can be a little difficult among our own staff at the Planetary Society to, to come up with a, a really wide array of gifts to recommend. So this year we came up with the idea of asking planetary scientists and engineers and other science communicators for recommendations from them, and it was just wonderful to put together this list of about a dozen people. Um, they recommended a wide variety of things, from art to jewelry to clothing to books. It's just as delightful to see all of the different people, and, and the different ways that they contribute to space exploration. It was great fun to put this blog entry together.

Mat Kaplan: And I think my favorites are the Little Bits Rover Kit because, uh, I have a Little Bits kit myself that these snap together electronic components, but with this one you can actually build a little, little rovers, I guess. And the wood and Native American space art that a couple of your guests, uh, chose. It's really a baker's dozen of gifts because, uh, [00:37:00] one of your contributors had, uh, had a couple of gifts to recommend. All of this can be found, in case you missed any of these books, or want to check out the gift guide, everything of course is at planetary.org. They are blog entries, uh, from my, uh, esteemed colleague, Emily Lakdawalla, our senior editor at the Planetary Society. Emily, it's, uh, been delightful, not just talking to you about these, uh, books, but, but hearing you read from them.

Emily L.: As you can tell, I take great pleasure in reading from books. I have a, a long held desire to do Reading Rainbow, but with space books, so-

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily L.: [laughs]. If I could get away with that.

Mat Kaplan: I'll only mention one other book, because I still think it's available. Right? There's a certain book about, uh, that spacecraft, uh, Curiosity, that is still exploring Mars.

Emily L.: [laughs]. There is, it's called The Design and Engineering of Curiosity, and it's written by yours truly. I published it two years ago now. I haven't finished its sequel yet, but, uh, I still from time to time get a really nice message on Twitter with [00:38:00] a, a photo of somebody's, uh, copy that they're currently reading, and telling me about a part that they liked. And that's, that just gives an author the greatest joy. It's so easy to reach out to authors right now, um, via social media and you don't know how much it makes their day if you just tag them in a little post, and tell them that you're enjoying reading their book.

Mat Kaplan: Yet another book that stands alone. I've never read anything else like it. If you want to take a deep dive, and I mean a deep dive, right into the core of what makes Curiosity tick, Emily Lakdawalla is your, uh, author. And Emily, I'll look forward to, uh, talking to you again here on Planetary Radio.

Emily L.: Me too, Matt.

Mat Kaplan: That's Emily Lakdawalla, Planetary Society senior editor and editor-in-chief of our magazine, The Planetary Report. By the way, there's one additional gift idea, I think is pretty great. It's a membership in the Planetary Society. Details at planetary.org/membership. We've got to links to my four recommended books on this week's show [00:39:00] page, you'll find at planetary.org/radio.

Kate Howells: The Planetary Society is building the ultimate list of life goals for space fans, and we need your help! Hi, I'm Kate Howells, community engagement leader for the society. What's on your list? The must see objects in the night sky. The most awe inspiring destinations. The experiences of a lifetime. Tell us about them at planetary.org/spacegoals. We'll share them with your space soulmates around the world. That's planetary.org/spacegoals. Thanks!

Mat Kaplan: Time for what's up on Planetary Radio, this, uh, home team edition of Planetary Radio. We're ready to hear about the night sky from the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. That's Bruce Betts.

Bruce Betts: There's a lot of stuff going on in the night sky in the next few days. In fact, if people, uh, are interested, pull out those notebooks, those, uh, electronic devices because I'm going to give you some information. First, there's a possible [00:40:00] very brief meteor storm that will be visible if you're in Western Europe, Western Africa, South America, or the Eastern US. Probably not the Western US-

Mat Kaplan: Darn.

Bruce Betts: Maybe a little bit. Uh, but based upon where the meteors are originating from, this is from a long period comet. There was an outburst in 1995, and they think they're were hitting a similar part of space where we would expect to be up to 400 meteors per hour from a dark site.

Mat Kaplan: Wow.

Bruce Betts: But it only will last, like, 15 to 40 minutes.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, my gosh.

Bruce Betts: So you got to nail the time on that, and that's the other reason why it's not good for half the world. Either Thursday or Friday, so hopefully you've picked this up shortly after it came out. Thursday or Friday the 21st or 22nd, depending on your time zone. It is 4:50, 4-5-0 universal time on November 22nd. That's 11:50 [00:41:00] p.m. Eastern time on November 21st. And these are the, [laughs], Alpha Monocerotids.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Bruce Betts: Which I might have kind of pronounced mostly right, named after the constellation Monoceros, the unicorn, not a very stunning constellation, but right near, uh, some very bright things, uh, in the sky. Including canis minor and canis major where you have bright star Sirius, and bright star Procyon. So have fun with that. But if you, even if you can't see that, or you don't hear this in time, listen to what else we've got going on.

It is a planetary party in the evening and in the morning. So in the evening we've got Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects out there besides the sun and moon, natural objects, in the West, fairly low down, but getting up there in the early evening. They will be very close together on the 23rd and 24th as they switch places with Venus getting above Jupiter, above the [00:42:00] horizon. Check that out. Two very, very bright objects. To their upper left is much dimmer, but still bright, Saturn. And then if that weren't enough, on the 28th, the evening of the 28th, the moon, the crescent moon will be above Venus in this wonderful line going from Jupiter to Venus to the moon to Saturn.

But if you fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon, and you wake up, and you're awake in the predawn? Well, there's stuff to look at there too. You got Mars looking reddish in the east, and to its upper right the bright star Spica, bluish star, which is actually brighter than Mars right at the moment. And to their lower left for the next couple weeks, Mercury coming up to party. So we've got a nice line with Mercury, the brightest and lowest, reddish Mars, and then above that to the upper right, bluish Spica, and wait, one last thing. On the 24th, morning of the 24th, the moon will be near Mars in that lineup. Thank you! [00:43:00] And, oh, wait. No, we're, we're not done. But, phew!

Mat Kaplan: Phew!

Bruce Betts: Ah, okay. Moving on to this week in space history. 2011, eight years ago, Curiosity was launched. Headed off to Mars, did its little roaming thing. Still doing its little roaming thing, making cool science. We move on to random space fact.

Mat Kaplan: You're done? [laughs]

Bruce Betts: [laughs] Done. In the Alpha Centauri system, the closest star system to our own solar system, the two larger stars, called A and B, or now named Rigil Kentaurus and Toliman. They orbit around each other in a binary type way every 80 years. But the red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri, technically the closest star to our solar system, besides the sun, orbits the [00:44:00] two of those in about 550,000 years. Kind of a big orbit.

Mat Kaplan: Hm. Not a whole of birthdays celebrated there.

Bruce Betts: [laughs] For those living on the red dwarf star.

Mat Kaplan: It's hot, but it's not, you know, it's not sun hot.

Bruce Betts: It's a dry heat.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Good one.

Bruce Betts: Ha! So in the trivia contest, I asked you what mission was the first launch of the Saturn V rocket? How'd we do, Matt?

Mat Kaplan: Huge response to this. And we didn't even offer any ultra special prizes, other than, of course, a Planetary Radio tee shirt, which, uh, is pretty special, now that I think of it.

Bruce Betts: It's very special.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] We had a first time winner, I think, although he's been listening for a while. Nathan Molling of Summerville, South Carolina, said that the first launch of a Saturn V, the fully configured moon rocket, was Apollo 4. Correct?

Bruce Betts: That [00:45:00] is correct.

Mat Kaplan: Nathan, congratulations. You have won yourself that Planetary Radio tee shirt from Chop Shop. You can see the whole Planetary Society store, they're chopshopstore.com. That's also where they have that new line of, uh, ugen jewelry. Uh, chopshopstore.com. And a 200 point iTelescope.net astronomy account. That wonderful, uh, worldwide network of telescopes that, uh, you operate remotely. Uh, I don't know, maybe you could go, [laughs], and do it in person. I think they'd probably prefer that you do it remotely.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: What else can you tell us about Apollo 4 and the Saturn V?

Bruce Betts: Well, it was crewed by no one.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Bruce Betts: Ha, trick question. It was uncrewed, and was a test of the whole Saturn V rocket system, and, uh, as I recall it went quite swimmingly. What do you got?

Mat Kaplan: Only what I, I picked up from listeners, and from the distant reaches of my own mind. That, yeah, the first, uh, [00:46:00] human crewed flight was Apollo 7, right? Which just went into orbit, and kind of proved out the system.

Bruce Betts: Yeah.

Mat Kaplan: Here's something from Pavel Parkensik , or Parkensik in Glasgow, Scotland. He says, "Matt and Bruce, it's crazy that this behemoth of a rocket flew in 1967. Just think what could be achieved if the world would come together with current technology. On to Mars and beyond." He says, in a sort of inspiring way. From Joseph Putray in Fanwood, New Jersey. So why were the rockets assigned roman numerals, but the Apollo missions with, uh, modern, Arabic numbers? Not necessarily that modern. Nevermind the mix up of the Saturn 1B.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: So, yeah. I don't know. Do you have an explanation for that?

Bruce Betts: Uh, let's see. No. No. I don't.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] I think I heard something about this one. Somebody will write in and tell us what the, what the story was here. Maybe Wernher von Braun just thought it was cool to use, [00:47:00] uh, Roman numerals.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Finally our poet laureate, Dave Fairchild. 363 feet to the top of the Saturn V, waiting to soar. The capsule was held in the grip of the ship. Apollo flight tag number 4. The five F1 engines ignited on cue, a jaw dropping sight it was then. Apollo director Gene Kranz said it best. We all felt elated again.

Bruce Betts: Aw.

Mat Kaplan: I don't even care if that's a real Gene Kranz quote, but I assume it was.

Bruce Betts: [laughs] Probably.

Mat Kaplan: Uh, we're ready to move on.

Bruce Betts: What is the new or relatively new name for the most distant object visited by a spacecraft? Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.

Mat Kaplan: Hm. You have until Wednesday, November 27th, the day before Thanksgiving here in the US. Uh, at 8:00 AM Pacific time to get us this answer. And, uh, speaking of, uh, chopshopstore.com. We'll give away another set from Yugen, that new line of [00:48:00] jewelry. Uh, it is beautiful stuff. I've bought a couple pieces when, uh, we were all out at the launch of, uh, the Falcon Heavy. Uh, they had a booth there in a room that we set up. This will be an earring and necklace set featuring Lightsail and their little interchangeable images. It's, it's very cool. You should, uh, check them out. Uh, we'll just leave it at that for now. That's a heck of a prize [laughs].

Bruce Betts: Yeah.

Mat Kaplan: All right. We're done.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody. Go out there and look at the night sky and think about your favorite planet. Then think about it spelled backwards. Thank you and good night.

Mat Kaplan: Let's see, that would be Hutray who I think was, uh, that was a Saturday morning cartoon in the '80's I think.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs].

Mat Kaplan: He carried a big sword [laughs]. Uh, you know what I like even better? Montoserus. I, I get it. I get that.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs]. Now try to say it backwards.

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs].

Bruce Betts: Ah, nevermind. Just say goodnight.

Mat Kaplan: Goodnight, Bruce. That's Bruce Betts, the Chief Scientist of The Planetary Society, who [00:49:00] joins us every week here for What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced but The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and it's made possible by its highly-literate members. Have you rated or reviewed us in iTunes Apple Podcast? Mark Hilverda is our Associate Producer, Josh Loyal composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. I'm Mat Kaplan, Ad Astra.

View Full Transcript

Listen more: product review, interview, fun, podcasts and videos, Planetary Radio, Planetary Society People

You are here:
Comments & Sharing
Bill Nye and people
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Mat Kaplan
Support Planetary Radio

Keep our weekly radio program broadcasting online and on the air around the world.

Donate