Humans in Outer Space – Interdisciplinary Perspectives, U. Landfester et al (Eds), Springer, 2011, 333pp, £117.00/$129.00/E129.95, ISBN 978-3-7091-0279-4 [hardback]
In 2009, Springer published a book with the title “Humans in Outer Space – Interdisciplinary Odysseys”, which was based on a series of conference papers; this volume is the second in the series. According to its introduction, it “provides ‘Perspectives’ related to governance, management of space exploration, space settlements, the role of astronauts in the future as well as possible encounters with extraterrestrial life” (which is a fairly broad remit).
The book itself is divided into four “chapters” covering politics and society, history and religion, culture and psychology, and an “annex” that includes documents on spaceflight plans, exploration strategies, an overview of the Mars 500 isolation experiment and even an extract from “Mars Life” by science fiction author Ben Bova. Clearly, this is a multidisciplinary effort. One example of this multidisciplinarity, covered in the book, was a huge reproduction of a NASA photo of an astronaut spacewalking outside the International Space Station that was stretched across the nave of the Jesuit Church in Vienna. Apparently, on bright days, the ‘screen’ was slightly transparent and the ornate decoration of the church ceiling showed through, but at night “there was no vault anymore” and it seemed “as if the church itself [was] in outer space”.
It is evident from the chapter contents and the images of anything from historical woodcuts to science fiction movie stills, and from electronic circuit boards to ‘Space Age fashions” that this book has something for everyone. However, it is let down by two main aspects: the lack of an index and some of the worst illustrations I’ve ever seen in a hardback book that costs more than £100, $100 or 100 euros!
The missing index is by far the most important omission, simply because it makes it impossible to access the material in any random or research-oriented manner. The only access is effectively to read chapters or subsections from end to end and make your own content notes! Notwithstanding some sharp and clear monochrome photos, the fact that others are blurred, lacking in contrast or covered in scan-induced interference patterns is unforgivable. Possibly the worst picture is what appears to be a screenshot of an Internet webcam showing, or rather not really showing, an astronomical telescope. However dedicated they are to space books, publishers should not be allowed to get away with such appalling lack of quality…not at any price.