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Russian Space Probes: Scientific Discoveries and Future Missions

Author: Brian Harvey, Olga Zakutnyaya

Publisher: Springer-Praxis

ISBN:978-1-4419-8149-3

Price: £40.99 (Pb) 514pp


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Most of what we hear about Russian space exploration these days seems mostly to relate to resupplying the ISS, but it wasn't always so. Back in the Cold War era, space nerd kids like me had huge interest in lunar, Solar System and Earth-orbit Soviet missions.

In a real tour-de-force of Russian space missions, this welcome text starts at the very beginning, even before the famous 'beep-beeping' Sputnik, with high-altitude balloon flights. Although we in the West rarely pay any attention to the facts, pioneering Russian balloon and low Earth-orbit satellites contributed enormously to our understanding of Earth's radiation belts, ionospheric science and cosmic ray research.

For me, the long series of missions – which included many failed attempts – to Venus have always had a special place, and they receive extensive coverage here. Remarkably, the first data ever sent from the surface of another planet came from Venera 7 in August 1970. Given the 90-bar pressure, sulphuric acid clouds and 450 degrees Celsius heat, it was – and remains – an astounding, if hard-won technical achievement for Russia.

Of interest to human space exploration enthusiasts will be the chapters on the Salyut and Mir space stations, covering diverse topics from how bacteria grow in space to the human psychology of long-duration spaceflight. A curious – and to me entirely new – revelation in the book is that two Russian Steppe tortoises were the first animals to fly around the Moon during the Zond 5 mission! They were accompanied by fruit flies, meal worms microorganisms and some plant seeds. The overall idea was to test for the effects of radiation.

This is a very readable, 'must-have' book, covering all the Russian missions in great detail. There are also some good and rarely-seen photographs. It's written in a slightly quaint manner where word order and terms are sometimes influenced by Zakutnyaya's contribution to the text, but that just adds to the book's authenticity.

John Rowlands

 

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