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Book Reviews


Heavenly Ambitions: America’s Quest to Dominate Space
Author: Joan Johnson-Freese

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press

ISBN: 978-0-8122-4169-3

Price: £19.50 (Hb), 192pp


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Opening with the questions “What will the future look like?” and “What do we want the future to look like?” I naturally expected an interesting discussion about manned missions to Mars and beyond, but instead this book focuses on Earth orbiting satellites, space weapons and defence systems.

President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) therefore really begins the substance of this work. Originally SDI was conceived as ground and space based defence systems, including electromagnetic rail guns, nuclear explosion powered x-rays lasers and particle beam weapons, though notably in his 1983 address to the nation President Reagan never used the word space. This book details the propaganda, controversies, results and what really happened in this programme throughout the subsequent presidential offices. The author argues that simply because the United States has more satellites than any one else, despite the peaceful and non-military intentions of the vast majority of them, other nations will view the United States as a threat. I am not sure that this is true and this book does seems a little too United States centric, almost viewing everyone else as a potential threat.

Space weapons however are inherently political and China’s successful destruction of one of their own defunct weather satellites in January 2007 demonstrated this, viewed by the United States as a “strategically dislocating event” contrary to China’s declared peaceful intentions in space. International condemnation was strong and great concern expressed over the debris which now poses a risk to other satellites and manned spacecraft. The author makes the point that the United States and China’s relations really begin on the ground and not in space as she moves on to discuss diplomacy and arms control, concluding that America must take a peaceful lead in this respect.

This book is like reading an intense academic thesis, it is certainly not an easy read. It also suffers from a small font size and a lack of any photographs or diagrams but it is a thoroughly researched and praise-worthy work.

Robin Flegg

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.
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Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
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Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!
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Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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