‘Chasing New Horizons’ Book Review: Go for Launch

New Horizons

Like many who conceived, designed, created, launched and tracked the magnificent bound-for-Pluto spacecraft called New Horizons, I grew up a space geek.

I loved the enticing mysteries of our universe. I devoured science and sci-fi books about it. I even launched my own model rockets, courtesy of Estes Industries.

So it was only fitting that my journalistic career took me to Houston, where I’ve lived since the early ’80s, proud of being a citizen of Space City, whose neighbors reach for the stars.

But those are manned missions. The first closeup looks at our planetary neighbors must come from robotic scouts — and spacecraft such as New Horizons, which made humanity’s first historic flyby of  Pluto in July 2015 after a journey of nine years and three billion miles.

Not that this robotic machine was soulless — not when so many humans’ efforts, hopes and dreams went into it, and traveled with it in spirit.

From such dreams to mission-accomplished reality is the compelling tale of Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon, due May 1 from Picador.

It’s a thrilling story, considering the enormous audacity and determination required to go boldly to Pluto. (Unlike Star Trek, I don’t split infinitives.) But that doesn’t mean the book is always a riveting read.

Its first third is largely a story of how mission leader Stern and others overcame repeated and maddening bureaucratic hurdles to get New Horizons approved and on NASA’s drawing board. Its second third is then a detailed study of how the craft was designed and built.

These are worthy tales, but they bog down the book, especially when the writing is prone to awkward punctuation and run-on sentences bloated to paragraph length, making the read itself an often arduous adventure.

No, if you’re hungry for New Horizons’ triumphant arrival and remarkable discoveries, you’ll have to wait for book’s last third for your third course of just desserts.

Not that the wait isn’t worth it.

Indeed, Pluto proved to be one of the strangest and most fascinating orbs in our solar system. But I’ll leave that for you to peruse in the book, where you’ll get the science in the text by Stern and NASA advisor Grinspoon, and must-see views of Pluto and its five moons in two gorgeous photo sections.

What a journey. What a discovery. And for the most part, what a book — one that makes me proud to be a space geek.

Now let’s keep going. As the authors aptly say, “The first exploration of Pluto is complete, but the call of exploration beckons our species ever onward, into the wild black yonder of our solo system.”

— Bruce Westbrook

 

 

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