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Book Reviews


Soviet Robots in the Solar System: Mission Technologies and Discoveries
Authors: Wesley T Huntress Jr, Mikhail Ya Marov

Publisher: Springer-Praxis

ISBN: 978-1-4419-7897-4

Price: £40.99 (Pb) 453pp


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This book details the Soviet Union’s robotic space programme from the first lunar launch in 1958 to the Mars 96 mission. Beginning with the biographies of directors and chief designers, descriptions of design bureaux and research institutes, together with an account of early rocket development and launch vehicles, this provides a solid background for a detailed account of lunar and planetary missions. Many rare photographs and diagrams are included.

Occasionally the quality is not ideal but the writers explain that some sources were second hand and often reflect the era in which they were produced. Given the level of secrecy within the Soviet Union’s space programme the authors must be commended for gathering extensive details on every mission. I was interested to discover that when the French produced a laser retro-reflector for the Lunokhod 1 Moon rover they were only given a drawing for how the device would be mounted and not told what kind of vehicle would carry it. Lunokhod 1 was even spotted from orbit by the Apollo 15 astronauts, while for early lunar missions the Soviets did not have radiation resistant film and scavenged this from downed American spy balloons flown over USSR territory.

Numerous losses and the pressure for success show just how challenging this time was. The extensive research, knowledge and hard work of the authors have produced an outstanding book that should be considered a standard reference. Some tables were printed rather faintly but that is the only flaw I could find. With an extensive bibliography, appendices and index this is an essential purchase for spacecraft enthusiasts. I have been privileged to visit NPO Lavochkin, the bureau responsible for interplanetary exploration. How I wish I had this book then. Let us hope their Phobos-Grunt mission planned for launch in late 2011 revives Russian exploration and defeats the curse of Soviet missions to Mars!

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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