Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Explorationby Chris Impey
"When the history of the last fifty years can be viewed in a more balanced perspective, some of its most inspirational highlights will surely be the major space projectsoften international in scopethat have voyaged to distant planets, extended our cosmic horizons, and deepened our understanding of Earth's place in the wider universe. This fascinating
"When the history of the last fifty years can be viewed in a more balanced perspective, some of its most inspirational highlights will surely be the major space projectsoften international in scopethat have voyaged to distant planets, extended our cosmic horizons, and deepened our understanding of Earth's place in the wider universe. This fascinating and finely written book chronicles the peak achievements in this grand exploratory endeavor, showing that credit is due to the cutting-edge technology as well as to visionary science."Martin Rees, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and Astronomer Royal
"Until we build the starship Enterprise, our efforts to boldly seek out new worlds will depend on mechanical surrogates. This book gives voice to their exploitsadventures not equaled since the great Age of Exploration four centuries ago. The flood of imagery sent back by these craft has revealedfor the first timea universe of uncanny beauty, terrifying desolation, and inspiring promise. Surely, this is the most wondrous legacy of our generation."Seth Shostak, SETI Institute
"Dreams of Other Worlds interweaves cutting-edge science, popular culture, and history, using each mission as a springboard to launch into what are sometimes quite unexpected directions. There is really nothing else quite like this book out there."Michael A. Strauss, Princeton University
"In writing that is clear, engaging, and at times almost lyrical, Dreams of Other Worlds provides deep treatments of these important space missions and their cultural relevance. Scientifically attentive readers will gain a great deal from this book."Stephen P. Maran, author of Astronomy for Dummies
"Dreams of Other Worlds traces the history of ideas about the cosmos from the Greeks to the latest space missions. Exciting to read and accessible to lay readers, this book offers inspiration and intriguing speculations in addition to facts."Larry Esposito, author of Planetary Rings
Although less sexy than manned space travel, satellites, probes and landers have produced a scientific bonanza with more to come. Impey (Astronomy/Univ. of Arizona; How It Began: A Time-Traveler's Guide to the Universe, 2012, etc.) and Henry (English/California State Univ., San Bernardino; Virginia Woolf and the Discourse of Science: The Aesthetics of Astronomy, 2003) team up for an enthusiastic account of a dozen programs. When the technologically primitive, glitch-prone Mariner 4 flew past Mars in 1965, sending back 21 grainy black-and-white photographs, the world exulted. Within a decade, two Viking landers settled on Mars, sending back far superior pictures and some unsettling news: Maybe there is life beyond Earth, but maybe not. Two Voyager craft, 35 years after their launch, are still returning data from far outside the solar system after passing close to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Probes have visited comets, gathered their dust and returned to Earth. Readers aware that that the Hubble telescope produces vastly sharper pictures than terrestrial observatories will learn that other space telescopes named Spitzer, Chandra and Wilkinson produce even better images due to their increased sensitivity to infrared, X-ray and microwave radiation blocked by the atmosphere. Countless readers are fascinated by the existence of planets around distant stars; the sprinkling turned up by Earth-based telescopes turned into an avalanche with the 2009 launch of the Kepler satellite. Few deny that manned space exploration is inevitable and that a great nation must lead the way; however, since Congress is unwilling to foot the bill, that great nation is likely to be China. The authors' largely uncritical, gee-whiz approach is entirely appropriate since these programs were not only technological marvels, but produced dazzling, quantum-leap discoveries.
"Dreams of Other Worlds synthesizes that knowledge as it has been derived from unmanned spacecraft in the half-century since NASA was founded in 1958. . . . One of the strengths of Dreams of Other Worlds is its discussion of how the data generated by any given mission continues to produce results long after the mission ends. . . . An account of a magnificent panorama of knowledge."Konstantin Kakaes, Wall Street Journal
"Refreshing. . . . [W]ell-analysed and presented in a scholarly yet engaging way. . . . [F]rom the interior of the Sun to the outer reaches of our Solar SystemImpey and Henry are able guides. They explain the scientific imperative of these missions in a way that is accessible and interesting to specialists and generalists."John Zarnecki,Nature
"Although less sexy than manned space travel, satellites, probes and landers have produced a scientific bonanza with more to come. Impey and Henry team up for an enthusiastic account of a dozen programs. . . . The authors' largely uncritical, gee-whiz approach is entirely appropriate since these programs were not only technological marvels, but produced dazzling, quantum-leap discoveries."Kirkus Reviews
"[W]ell-balanced. . . . This richly illustrated work of remarkable scholarship spans the depths of the solar system, the Milky Way, and beyond, revealing how the great leaps forward in astronomy have brought into focus a landscape few could have imagined. The authors present a combination of hard science and edifying narrative that is both informative and entertaining. Recommended for NASA 'nerds' and anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy."Library Journal
"Packed with absorbing insights and written in an accessible voice, this volume translates scientific discoveries into simple, visual terms. . . . Diverse referencesranging from the caves at Lascaux and Pythagoras to Einstein, Carl Sagan, quantum mechanics, and, yes, even Virginia Woolfenliven and enrich this engaging and beautifully crafted book."Kristen Rabe, ForeWord Reviews
"The book helps provide a bigger picture of the significance of studying the universe with these robotic explorers, be they spacecraft that remain in Earth orbit or, like Voyager 1, head out into the cosmos."Jeff Foust, Space Review
"[A] riveting read. . . . The book is well told, and interweaves its story with wonderful little nuggets."Katia Moskvitch, BBC Sky at Night
"Dreams of Other Worlds is a substantial chronology of the exploration of the solar system objects that humans have wondered about ever since Galileo first pointed his telescope at Jupiter and peered through it. The undertaking spotlights all the struggles and setbacks that ultimately led to a complete mapping of the solar system."D. Wayne Dworsky, San Francisco Book Review
"Noted astronomer Impey has teamed up with English professor Henry to write an interesting book about NASA's unmanned space explorations. . . . People with an interest in space exploration will want to read this fascinating work."Choice
"The achievement of this book is to present robotic spaceflight in intimate relation to the cultural world we all inhabit. . . . Dreams of Other Worlds succeeds in connecting the cultural work of science to everyday dreams and stories."De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Quest
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Dreams of Other Worlds
The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration
By Chris Impey, Holly Henry
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2013 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Someone who "missed" the late part of the twentieth century, perhaps by being in a coma or a deep sleep, or by being marooned on a desert island, would have many adjustments to make upon rejoining civilization. The largest would probably be the galloping progress in computers and telecommunications and information technology. But if their attention turned to astronomy, they would also be amazed by what had been learned in the interim. In the last third of the century, Mars turned from a pale red disk as seen through a telescope to a planet with ancient lake beds and subterranean glaciers. The outer Solar System went from being frigid and uninteresting real estate to being a place with as many as a dozen potentially habitable worlds. They would be greeted by a cavalcade of exoplanets, projecting to billions across the Milky Way galaxy. Their familiar view of the sky would now be augmented by images spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, revealing brown dwarfs and black holes and other exotic worlds. Finally, they would encounter a cosmic horizon, or limit to their vision, that had been pushed back to within an iota of the big bang, and they would be faced with the prospect that the visible universe might be one among many universes.
This book is a story of those discoveries, made by planetary probes and space missions over the past forty years. The word "world" means "age of man" in the old Germanic languages, and that proximate perspective took centuries to expand into a universe filled with galaxies and stars and their attendant planets. The missions at the heart of this narrative have not only transformed our view of the physical universe, they've also become embedded in culture and inspired the imagination — this book is also a story about that relationship. But people were dreaming of other worlds long before the space program and modern astronomy.
Almost nothing written by Anaxagoras has survived, so we can only imagine his dreams. He was born around 500 BC in Clazomenae in Ionia, a bustling port city on the coast of present-day Turkey. Before he moved to Athens and helped to make it the intellectual center of the ancient world, and long before he was sentenced to death for his heretical ideas, we can visualize him as an intense and austere young man. Anecdotes suggest someone who was far removed from the concerns of everyday life. He believed that the opportunity to understand the universe was the fundamental reason why it was better to be born than to not exist.
Anaxagoras' mind was crowded with ideas. Philosophy is based on abstraction — the power to manipulate concepts and retain aspects of the physical world in your head. He believed that the Sun was a mass of fiery metal, that the Moon was made of rock like the Earth and did not emit its own light, and that the stars were fiery stones. He offered physical explanations for eclipses, for the solstices and the motions of the stars, and for the formation of comets. He thought the Milky Way represented the combined light of countless stars. We imagine him standing on the rocky Ionian shore at night, with starlight glittering on dark water, gazing up into the sky and sensing the vastness of the celestial vault. The dreams of such a powerful and original thinker were probably suffused with the imagery of other worlds.
This is speculation. As with most of the Greek philosophers, and especially the pre-Socratics, very little of their writing has come down to us unaltered. Typically, there are only isolated fragments and commentaries, sometimes by contemporaries and often written centuries later. Each historical interpreter added their own predilections and biases; the result is a view of the original ideas seen through a gauzy veil. Modern scholars pore over the shards and often come up with strikingly different interpretations. Anaxagoras thought that the original state of the cosmos was undifferentiated, but contained all of its eventual constituents. The cosmos was not limited in extent and it was set in motion by the action of "mind." Out of this swirling, rotating mixture the ingredients for material objects like the Earth, Sun, Moon, and planets separated. Although the nature of the animating agent is not clear from his writings, Anaxagoras was the first person to devise a purely mechanical and natural explanation for the cosmos, without any reference to gods or divine intervention. His theory sets no limit to the scale of this process, so there can be worlds within worlds, without end, either large or small. A case can be made that he believed that our world system is not unique, but is one of many formed out of the initial and limitless mass of ingredients.
Radical ideas often come with a price. For daring to suggest that the Sun was larger than the Peloponnese peninsula, Anaxagoras was charged with impiety. He avoided the death penalty by going into exile in Asia Minor, where he spent the remainder of his life. Pluralism — the idea of a multiplicity of worlds, including the possibility that some of them harbor life — had antecedents in work by Anaximander and Anaximenes, and in speculation passed down by the Pythagorean School. But Anaxagoras was the first to embed the idea in a sophisticated and fully fledged cosmology. By the time of the early atomists Leucippus and Democritus, plurality of worlds was a natural and inevitable consequence of their physics. There were not just other worlds in space, but infinite worlds, some like this world and some utterly unlike it. It was a startling conjecture.
The next two thousand years saw the idea of the plurality of worlds ebb and flow, as different philosophical arguments were presented and were molded to accommodate Christian theology. The pluralist position was countered by the arguments of Plato, and particularly Aristotle, who held that the Earth was unique and so there could be no other system of worlds. European cultures were not alone in developing the idea of plurality of worlds. Babylonians held that the moving planets in the night sky were home to their gods. Hindu and Buddhist traditions assume a multiplicity of worlds with inhabiting intelligences. For example, in one myth the god Indra says, "I have spoken only of those worlds within this universe. But consider the myriad of universes that exist side by side, each with its own Indra and Brahma, and each with its evolving and dissolving worlds." In cultures around the world, dreamers' imaginations soared. The Roman poet Cicero and the historian Plutarch wrote about creatures that might live on the Moon, and in the second century CE, Lucian of Samosata wrote an extraordinary fantasy about an interplanetary romance. A True Story was intended to satirize the epic tales of Homer and other travelers, and it began with the advisory that his readers should not believe a single word of it. Lucian and his fellow travelers are deposited by a water spout onto the Moon, where they encounter a bizarre race of humans who ride on the backs of three-headed birds. The Sun, Moon, stars, and planets are locales with specific geographies, human inhabitants, and fantastical creatures. This singular work is considered a precursor of modern science fiction.
For more than a millennium it was dangerous in Europe to espouse the idea of fully fledged worlds in space with life on them. Throughout medieval times, the Catholic Church considered it heresy. There was an obvious problem with this position: if God was really omnipotent, why would he create only one world? Thomas Aquinas resolved the issue by saying that although the Creator had the power to create infinite worlds, he had chosen not to do so, and this became official Catholic doctrine in a pronouncement of the Bishop of Paris in 1177. Nicolas of Cusa sorely tested the bounds of this doctrine. In 1440, he produced a book called Of Learned Ignorance where he proposed that men, animals, and plants lived on the Sun, Moon, and stars. He further claimed that intelligent and enlightened creatures lived on the Sun while lunatics lived on the Moon. It's said that friendship with the Pope shielded him from repercussions, and he went on to become a cardinal.
Giordano Bruno was less fortunate. The lapsed Dominican monk had deviated from Catholic orthodoxy in a number of ways, but his espousal of the Copernican system, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe, brought him extra scrutiny. He believed that the stars were infinite in number, and that each hosted planets and living creatures. Bruno was incarcerated for seven years before his trial and was eventually convicted of heresy. A statue in the Campo de' Fiori in Rome marks the place where he was burned at the stake in 1600 as an "impenitent and pertinacious heretic." Religion had cast an ominous shadow over the idea of the plurality of worlds.
The same year Bruno was put to death, a twenty-nine-year-old mathematician named Johannes Kepler, an assistant to Tycho Brahe, was working with data that would cement the Copernican model of the Solar System. As he published his work on planetary motion in 1609, he dusted off a student dissertation he had written sixteen years earlier, where he defended the Copernican idea by imagining how the Earth might look when viewed from the Moon. Kepler elaborated on his youthful paper and added a dream narrative to turn it into a sophisticated scientific fantasy: Somnium. Kepler was inspired by Lucian and Plutarch's earlier work, but unlike them, and unlike the mystic Bruno, he was a rational scientist who wanted to realistically envisage space travel and aliens. His narrative is rich with comments on the problems created by acceleration and varying gravity. The geography and geology of the Moon are realistically rendered. He even speculates on the effect of the physical environment on lunar creatures, foreshadowing Darwin and Lyell. Kepler had every reason to take refuge in a dream. He was frail and bow-legged, covered in boils, and was cursed with myopia severe enough that he would never see the celestial phenomena he enunciated so elegantly. Somnium was known to Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, and it's a crucial step in the progression toward rational speculation about other worlds.
The Copernican revolution was not a single event; it was a series of realizations over a period of a century that the cozy idea of Earth as a singular place at the center of the universe was wrong. Displacing the Earth into motion around the Sun was the first wrenching step, but another was recognizing that the Earth was one of many worlds in space. The Copernican principle is more than just a cosmological model; it's a statement that the Earth is not in any central or favored position in the universe. A heuristic that extends from the work of Copernicus is the principle of mediocrity, which goes much further by supposing that there's nothing special or unusual about the situation of the Earth, or by extension, the fact that humans exist on this planet. That is of course a central tenet of modern astrobiology, but four hundred years ago it was a radical idea.
The Scientific Revolution recast the debate over the plurality of worlds. Within months of Kepler's dream piece, Galileo pointed his telescope at the Moon and affirmed it as a geological world, with topography similar in scale to the Earth. He also showed that Jupiter had orbiting moons and that the Milky Way resolved into points of light that seemed to be more distant versions of the bright stars. The word world was no longer confused with kosmos; it meant a potentially life-bearing planet orbiting the Sun or, hypothetically, a distant star. Speculation about life on the Moon became routine, almost mundane. However, theology and philosophy still colored the debate in several ways. One theological concept was the principle of plenitude — everything within God's power must have been realized, so inhabited worlds should be abundant. Another was the strong influence of teleology — purpose and direction in nature that implies a Creator, who would surely not have gone to the trouble of creating uninhabited worlds.
For a long time, scientific arguments could do no more than support the general plausibility of the plurality of worlds. Telescopes could easily track the motion of stars and planets, but gaining a physical understanding was much more challenging. The blurring effect of Earth's atmosphere prevented astronomers from resolving anything smaller than continent-sized surface features on any Solar System body other than the Moon. Even the nearest stars are a hundred thousand times farther from us than the size of the Solar System. In addition, planets do not emit their own light, so astronomers must gather the hundred million times dimmer light that they reflect from their parent stars. Three centuries of improvements in telescope design after Galileo yielded only two new planets, a dozen or so moons, and no success in detecting worlds beyond the Solar System.
And so the dreamers held sway. Many of them were grounded in science so they advanced the Copernican idea that our situation in the universe was not special. One striking work from the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment was Conversations about the Plurality of Worlds by Bernard de Fontenelle, published in 1686. He wrote about intelligent beings inhabiting worlds beyond the Earth, and incorporated the biological argument that their characteristics would be shaped by their environment. Fontenelle also followed Galileo's lead by writing in his native language, French, rather than the scholarly language of Latin, and he was forward-looking in having a female protagonist and explicitly addressing female readers. A much later high-water mark was On the Plurality of Habitable Worlds by Camille Flammarion, which reached a wide audience in 1862. By the early twentieth century, scientific speculations and fictional accounts of worlds beyond the Earth proliferated, but technology and research weren't able to address such conjectures. There's an unbroken thread between earliest Greek thinkers and more recent explorations of science fiction writers. Anaxagoras was a visionary, but it would probably have taken his breath away to know that one day we would actually visit other worlds.
* * *
Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, a three-volume masterwork published in 1687, is a landmark in the history of science. Principia, as it is known, laid down the foundations of classical mechanics and gravitation. Tucked away in one of the volumes is the drawing of a cannonball being launched horizontally from a tall mountaintop. This "thought experiment" sustained the dreams of space travel for nearly three centuries. October 4, 1957 was a pivotal moment in the history of the human race; on that day a metal sphere, no bigger than a beach ball and no heavier than an adult, was launched into orbit. The world was transfixed, and amateur radio operators monitored Sputnik's steady "beep" for three weeks until its battery expired. Within two years the Soviets had crashed a probe into the Moon — the first manmade object to reach another world — and the Space Age was in full flight. Humans have never been any farther than the Moon but we've sent our robotic sentinels through most of the Solar System and slightly beyond.
For the universe beyond our backyard in the Solar System, we have no direct evidence and we cannot gather and analyze physical samples. The data are limited to electromagnetic radiation. Newton improved on Galileo's simple spyglass with a design for a reflecting telescope. All research telescopes are now reflectors. In understanding distant worlds, the complement to direct exploration with spacecraft is remote sensing with telescopes. A succession of larger and larger telescopes over the past century have now expanded our horizons, and extended the Copernican revolution. We know that we orbit a middle-aged, middle-weight star, one of 400 billion in the Milky Way, which is one of 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The pivotal moment in the remote sensing of distant worlds happened on October 6, 1995, when Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz announced that they had discovered the first planet beyond the Solar System. We're now "harvesting" Earths from deep space, and our dreams have moved on to the nature of life that might be found there.
This book explores how our concepts of distant worlds have been shaped and informed by space science and astronomy in the past forty years. Scientific understanding of the universe has been intertwined with culture since the time of Anaxagoras, and the popular imagination continues to be fueled by insights from space probes and large telescopes. What follows is not a survey of the many facilities that have furthered our understanding of the cosmos. Rather, it's an exploration of twelve iconic space missions that have opened new windows onto distant worlds. Most are in NASA's portfolio, but all have non-U.S. investigators, as space science and astronomy have become increasingly international. In general, the arc of the book is chronological and moves from the proximate toward the remote. From comets to cosmology, from the Mars rovers to the multiverse, these missions have given us a sense of our cosmic environment and have redefined what it means to be the temporary tenants of a small planet.
Excerpted from Dreams of Other Worlds by Chris Impey, Holly Henry. Copyright © 2013 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Chris Impey is University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. His books include The Living Cosmos, How It Ends, and How It Began. Holly Henry is professor of English at California State University, San Bernardino. She is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Discourse of Science: The Aesthetics of Astronomy.
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Are you a space enthusiast? If you are, then this book is for you. Authors Chris Impey and Holly Henry, have written an outstanding book that captures the story in detail of unmanned space exploration and discoveries over the past forty years. The authors begin by taking a close look at the Viking landers that touched down on Mars on July 20, 1976. Next, they cover the two rovers: Spirit and Opportunity, which have been exploring Mars since their landing on January 3, 2004. Then, the authors track the two most distant human artifacts: Voyager 1 and 2, as they sail out of our solar system into the void of space. In addition, they examine a six-ton spacecraft called Cassini, which was launched in October 1997, to begin its billion-mile journey to explore Saturn and its rings. Also, the authors visualize how the Stardust spacecraft (which was launched on February 7, 1999) captured material from comet Wild 2, in the most ambitious NASA mission ever undertaken. They continue, by showing you how the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft (which was launched on December 2, 1995) measures the location, intensity, and spectrum of either high-energy X-ray and ultraviolet radiation or cosmic rays. Next, the authors discuss how the Hipparcos mission can be used as a tool to help astronomers map plausible sites for extraterrestrial life; as well as, accurately map the location, velocity, and vector of stars in our galaxy, so that we can understand the age and morphology of the Milky Way; how our galaxy has evolved in the past; and, what the future holds for our Solar System and the galaxy. Then, they examine NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and its remarkable ability to see through interstellar dust; and, into the vast clouds in which stars are born, like those of the Orion Nebula (our nearest star-forming region). In addition, the authors explain how the Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO) has helped X-ray astronomers gain several orders of magnitude of sensitivity, and the ability to make images as sharp as a medium-size optical telescope. Also, they discuss how the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has contributed to the identification of exoplanets, the dark energy that permeates the universe, and massive black holes that lurk in nearby galaxies. The authors continue by showing you how the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotrophy Probe (WMAP) was conceived as a way of pushing to a new level of precision and a new set of tests of the big bang theory. Finally, they discuss the near future, and the efforts to measure the realms of the universe that are currently at the edge of our vision. This excellent book explores how our concepts of distant worlds have been shaped and informed by space science and astronomy in the past forty years. Rather, this great book is an exploration of twelve iconic space missions that have opened new windows onto distant worlds.