Book Review – A Space Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System

Posted by on Jul 19, 2017 in Books | No Comments

A Space Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System

by Mark Thompson

I first heard about this book reading Ars Technicia. It really piqued my interest and I immediately found it and downloaded it. The book is written as a travel guide with a section for each of the planets, and Pluto. I was happy you discover the Pluto information was current.

The book is a bit dry, but what do you expect reading a travel guide cover to cover? It was nice because I learned more than I expected to and it really got me to thinking.

There is mention about many fictional floating cities and resort companies scattered throughout the solar system. He did a good job of setting those up without detracting from the information about the planet in question and the local sights. One little gripe I had was that everything was in imperial measurements. I understand that this was written for an American market, but I sincerely hope that the measurements of Fahrenheit and Miles do not get off the planet. Perhaps the US, Liberia, and Myanmar can work together to make sure this does not happen.

For the most part, he used travel times of current and slightly more advanced technologies with the exception of Project Orion. It really brought it home just what is involved just how far some of these places are. It was quite strange hearing a woman mention the planning windows of some of these imaginary flights. Some you would have to wait 40 years or more for the planets to line up for the most economical flight times.

Like I said, there was the occasional reference to Project Orion for those travelers in a hurry. Never heard of it? Well you should check up on it. Space engineers from the 1950s were straight up wacky. Basically you build a giant rocket with a metal plate on the bottom. Then you explode nuclear bombs under the plate to push you along. And you thought Volkswagen was bad…

He would also mention cities floating in the Jovian sky. He never did say how many cites and how big they were, but it really got me to thinking. Why would someone move to Jupiter? What would they do for a living? How would they buy ice cream? What would there day look like? Where would they go on vacation?

Going through this book reminded me just how much we know about the outer solar system and how much more I want to know. It feels like a travesty that you can say we know Europa has an ocean that is bigger than all the Earthly oceans put together; and we don’t know much more than that. I would be delighted if a big rocket a year was going to a place like Europa or Enceladus. The billion dollar rockets we buy should have space probes on top of them and not explosives.

The biggest thing this book made me realize was just a dark everything is out there. I already knew it was cold. I remember her talking about skydiving into the eye of the storm at the south pole of Saturn and thinking how bright the sun is there. Whenever I think of Saturn, there are many pictures that come to mind. They are all bright and in the brightest colors. They come from probes that spend many seconds collecting photons. They are then sent to humans on Earth who optimize and polish the images. At the moment of thinking about the sky dive, I thought about how much light is there vs. how much is in the photos. It wouldn’t be a dive into a giant yellowish ball at noon. It would be a drop into a deep, dark chasm at the bottom of a giant cold, dark world at twilight. At that moment, the travel idea got less intriguing to me. I realized that I wouldn’t get to see the bright pink heart of Pluto with my own retina, even if I did book passage. I would have to take a photo, stand very still, and play with my pic in lightroom to see it the way I imagine. That made me sad.

So I ended up getting more out of this book than I expected. I learned a good deal and I was able to look at this corner of the galaxy in a whole new light.

One more thing: As the book went on, travel times got longer and longer. Years at first moving to decades. Centuries if you wanted to experience an entire weather cycle on the further destinations. It got me wondering about a future time where humanity has removed the topic of getting old. How many people would spend 40 to 60 years taking a grand tour of the solar system? What would that be like? What happens when you start your tour and 5 years later they develop a faster travel method? What happens when you tell your neighbor about your trip to Pluto? You find a place to cryro-freeze the cat, cancel Netflix, and hop on a space ship on a 20 year journey. Fifteen years later, they develop a much faster way to get there. You land on Pluto, and there are you neighbors, waving and greeting you from the spaceport. How would that make you feel?

So if you enjoy science books with a bit of a twist, I would suggest you take a look at this one. Just don’t get your hopes up on kayak.com