Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

By Neil deGrasse Tyson, Avis Lang

6,465 ratings - 3.98* vote

America’s space program is at a turning point. After decades of global primacy, NASA has ended the space-shuttle program, cutting off its access to space. No astronauts will be launched in an American craft, from American soil, until the 2020s, and NASA may soon find itself eclipsed by other countries’ space programs.With his signature wit and thought-provoking insights, N America’s space program is at a turning point. After decades of global primacy, NASA has ended the space-shuttle

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Book details

Paperback, 384 pages
September 2nd 2014 by W. W. Norton Company

(first published January 1st 2012)

Original Title
Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier
ISBN
0393350371 (ISBN13: 9780393350371)

Community Reviews

David

This book is a collection of fascinating essays. Each essay is a gem; Tyson has excellent points of view about a number of subjects related to space exploration. The main theme of the book, is that NASA's funding should be increased, in order to allow manned space flights beyond low-Earth orbit. Tyson has some very good reasons for this; perhaps the chief reason is that only manned space flights will generate enthusiasm among young people, sufficient to encourage them to become scientists and engineers. And the missions need to go beyond low-Earth orbit, because satellites and manned missions in low-Earth orbit are "old hat". They have been done many times, and do not generate enthusiasm any longer. Tyson is a fantastic spokesperson for the space program, and his common-sense approach and his sense of humor come through on every page.

So, why only three stars? There is no underlying structure to the book. The essays become very repetitive. Each essay discusses the space program from a slightly different point of view--over and over and over again. The last third of the book is an appendix containing the legislation that created NASA. Hmmmm....not that interesting, to tell the truth. There really isn't enough material here to make a book--the appendix seems like filler. This is disappointing, because Tyson's message is right on the mark, and his writing style is...fun!

Monica

This was a middling read. I enjoyed the vignettes on Space and Astrophysics. This was an interesting foray into science. I listened to the book which worked out nicely with one or two magazine articles each commute trip direction. I confess I didn't retain much; but in reality, there isn't much meat here to digest. Superficial and a little repetitive; this was mildly educational, entertaining and amusing. A much needed primer and some well-earned cheer leading for NASA. Love de Grasse Tyson which inevitably influenced my rating.

3.5 Stars rounded up

Listened to the audiobook. Mirron Willis narrated. At times he sounded like a text-to-speech application.

Brian Clegg

I really struggled with this book. I love space and space travel - I have lived through and been thrilled by the entire space race and the development of space science. I expected to love a book by a great astronomer and science populariser, but instead I pretty well had to give up, part way through.

There are two problems. The lesser one is the structure of the book. It consists of a collection of articles, interviews and such that Tyson has produced on the subject of space exploration. This inevitably means there is repetition. A lot of repetition. It's not that what he is saying is not interesting, but after you've heard it for the tenth time it loses its novelty. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the way Tyson is so obviously pulled in two directions. On the one hand he appreciates how superior unmanned satellites and explorers are from a bang-per-buck science viewpoint. On the other hand he believes manned missions are essential to raise interest levels. But of course manned missions are very expensive and almost purely political/military in role, so he really does have to go through some entertaining gymnastics to defend them.

But the thing that made me give up was the sheer jingoism of the book. If you aren't an American, I can guarantee this book will irritate you. Here's one example, the words of an interviewer speaking to Tyson (who Tyson doesn't argue with): 'If we land on Mars, how are we going to know if USA is number one if an American astronaut is standing next to a French guy? Are we going to say, "Go Earth!"? No, we're going to say, "Go USA!" Right?' So basically international cooperation like CERN is a waste of time and money - all that's important, all that space science is about, is knowing that USA is number one.

An even better example, as it is purely Tyson's own remarks is when he is talking about the aerospace industry, bemoaning the loss of US control. He says 'In the fifties, sixties, seventies, part of the eighties, every plane that landed in your city was made in America. From Aerolineas Argentinas to Zambian Airways, everybody flew Boeings.' I'm sorry? I worked for an airline in the 1970s, and I can tell you this is total baloney (which is apparently American for bilge). Remind me, for example, who built the Comet, the first jet airliner. Which American company? Oh, no, it was British. Of course Boeing was the biggest player in the period he describes, but there were plenty of others. (There were even a couple of other US manufacturers. Remember Lockheed?) Could I just point out also who made the only supersonic airliner flying back then. And come to think of it, the only one to fly ever since. The UK and France. And what did the US contribute to this amazing advance? They tied it up with red tape and objections so it was almost impossible to fly it.

This really made me angry, I'm afraid. In another article, Tyson tells off a judge for inaccuracy because he referred to 1,700 milligrams rather than 1.7 grams. Okay, it wasn't a particularly sensible convention, but at least it wasn't wrong. Saying 'all planes were (US) Boeings' is just factual inaccuracy to put across your political position. A book on space travel must cover politics, but once it is so hugely politically biased towards one country, however significant it may have been to the aerospace business, it loses credibility. This isn't a book about space science, it's a rallying cry for Americans. That's something that has its place. I'm not knocking America, and it's good that Tyson is proud of his country. But a science book isn't the place for such sentiments.

Review first published on www.popularscience.co.uk and reproduced with permission

Mike

“Space Chronicles”.

I like the topic. I like the author. I like his style, his insights, his humor (most of the time), and his enthusiasm for what lies beyond the wild blue yonder.

This would have been a great book at one-quarter length. Why do I say that? Because there is so much repetition of themes: to the point where whole sentences and even passages are identical in multiple places. Not that the specific places where these statements get re-used are inappropriate or just “filler”. No, they are logically part of the “article” (i.e. chapter). But because this book is taken from a large number of short articles and interviews over a few years, the same topics are addressed and the same facts and issues are raised. It’s a by-product of how the book was created.

If the author had set forth to write a book that touched on his experiences over the same time frame he could (and I’m sure would have) created an informative, amusing, and insightful look at the prospects of the US Manned and unmanned (i.e. robotic) Space Programs, NASA itself, the technology and it’s successes (e.g. Hubble Space Telescope) and failures (e.g. Challenger, Columbia, various probes), and the challenges ahead. It would have gotten at least a four-star rating.

Taken individually, each article is very good. If I isolated a few key chapters in “Space Chronicles”, then I could write glowingly of this and that, but even 50 pages in I was getting annoyed by the repetition. Maybe I had expectations that were too high. In the past I read collections of columns from authors such as Isaac Asimov and I did not feel that way. Perhaps because the range of topics was more varied and there was less repetition.

If you are a fan of space & space exploration, then there is good, frankly-reported material here. If you like Neil deGrasse Tyson from other writings or from seeing him on PBS (or other shows where he is a talking head, which I have not), then maybe you will not mind the recycling of his views. I like his appearances on PBS and I understand the way the book came about. I’m giving the book a moderate score only because I could not ignore the boredom of reading the same stuff. I still recommend it, though and I will keep looking for more original material from him.

Simon

I'm starting to think and hope that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is our generation's version of Carl Sagan. In that he not only writes and speak about space with such energy and passion, but he shares Sagan's ability to explain the universe in humurous, elegant and easy to understand ways, that make his work accessible to the laymen, as well as the passionate science and space geeks out there.

I watched Tyson give an interview the other night and he had me shouting "yes!" at the television as he systematically debunked superstious nonsense with such ease, and like all good scientists concentrated on revealing the beauty of the natural world and the process of evolution, from exploding stars through to the elements wich make up our beautiful planet and bodies. We are only star-matter after all :)

This is the first book I've read of his, and I'm too early in to give any kind of critical review, but I can say that 50 pages in and I already love it. I'll write more about it layer, but as for Neil DeGrasse Tyson, he's already in my book of legends.

J.P.

One has to be careful in writing about science. Dumb it down and you risk losing your main audience who'll think it was written for grade schoolers but make it too advanced and people tend to get bored with all the technical jargon.
The author's approach is just right. What I liked best was he correctly points out that there are other reasons besides exploration for having a space program. There are scientific discoveries that can be applied for the benefit of all. It will interest kids so they might choose science or engineering as a career. As he says about the number of lawyers graduating college compared to scientists: " It tells me we are going into the future fully prepared to litigate over the crumbling of our infrastructure."
He makes his points without getting redundant. Well, most of the time. Which brings us to the one little drawback in this book. This is a compilation of previous writings so there are places where points of view get repeated. (Just half a cent of the budget goes for space exploration folks, for those of you up there in the cheap seats that's right, half a cent.)
This book raises valid questions and more importantly supplies workable answers and backs it up with data. A fun and informative read.

Amanda

In short: a number of essays where deGrasse Tyson argues that America needs to spend more on NASA and its science and research. Many good arguments that people might not be thinking about. Some history on space travels and their impacts on science, culture, and more. He goes on arguing that America needs more space travels, but he's arguing that while space travels without humans (only robots) is cheaper, astronauts become symbols, almost celebrities and can cause the general population to take a greater interest in space travels, something robots won't.

All in all, the arguments are all well and good, but with the endless repetition that comes out of the fact that this is just a collection of essays, many are repeated (often the ones with least impact), and they lose their "punch" after the third time they're are repeated.

Book

Space Chronicles: Facing The Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson

“Space Chronicles" is the inspirational plea of why NASA matters to America and what space exploration means to our species. Renowned astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson dissects the politics of space and also enlightens the reader of the sense of awe that comes from space exploration and discovery. This book selections represent commentary, interviews, thought-provoking quotes reflecting a spectrum of fascinating topics from one of our icons of science. I share the love and awe of science that radiates from Mr. Tyson; this book arouses such emotions in witty, lucid fashion while stressing the importance of America retaining its global leadership in space.

This 384-page book is composed of thirty-six chapters and broken it in three Parts: Part I. Why, Part II. How, and Part III. Why Not. The first part of the book (Why) has to do with why we want to explore space. It appeals to emotions and wonder and the politics involved. The second part of the book (How), is of more practical science. The last third of the book (Why Not) wraps everything together and is the most passionate.

Positives:
1. A passionate, engaging prose that reflects the love of science of Mr. Tyson.
2. Fascinating topic in the hands of an icon of astrophysics.
3. Witty and humorous tone.
4. Profound without being unintelligible. An accessible book for the masses.
5. The politics involved. The author stresses the need to eliminate partisan politics.
6. Sixty-seven space tweets interspersed throughout the book. A clever way of injecting topical space wisdom.
7. The allure of space evidence by the most popular museum of the world, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
8. Mr. Tyson is a thinker and educator and uses his prodigious knowledge and skill to enlighten the masses like few scientists can. He makes use of popular science and movies to convey concepts: The Movie Contact to illustrate how radio waves attempt to make "contact".
9. The author's view on fascinating topics like extraterrestrial life and some really interesting views from Stephen Hawking.
10. The reality of killer asteroids and the justification to pursue space. Chart that illustrates impact on Earth.
11. Is China the new Sputnik? And our we losing our scientific edge? Find out...
12. NASA and Mr. Tyson share a birthday. Diverging paths that ultimately converged. Some insights into the interesting life of Mr. Tyson and kudos.
13. The history of NASA, the great Apollo ere and the next fifty years in space.
14. Tidbits of knowledge throughout the book! Love that...there is so much that the universe wants to tell us that doesn't reach Earth's surface. I will not spoil it...
15. The three drivers to justify spending large quantities of state wealth. Find out...a recurring theme. Find out what really drove America to space travel.
16. Find out why the Super Collider budget was canceled.
17. A brief but fascinating account of space discovery. Find out the most important single discovery in astrophysics.
18. The turning point in human understanding of our place in the cosmos.
19. The future of discovery.
20. The greatest achievement of flight is...
21. The great Isaac Newton .
22. The solution to the many-body problem of the solar system.
23. The understanding of the achievements of the Soviets. Many firsts...
24. Facts and fictions of space travel. The greatest challenge to human exploration besides money is...
25. Astronauts...the super models of space travel.
26. The many new technologies that resulted from space travel. An interesting list...
27. The Hubble Space Telescope...the most productive scientific instrument of all kind. The discoveries associated with it.
28. Apollo 11 and the great late Walter Cronkite.
29. Mr. Tyson's absolute admiration for the Saturn V design that launched Apollo astronauts.
30. Very interesting look at the future of propulsion for deep space. Topics include the use of the sun (solar sails) and the difficulty with an anti-matter drive.
31. The points of Lagrange.
32. Star Trek lovers rejoice...Mr. Tyson adds a couple of interesting tidbits.
33. The future of US space travel and the challenges. Money is a recurring theme...the actual cost of NASA.
34. Wisdom, "A review of history's most ambitious projects demonstrates that only defense, the lure of economic return, and the praise of power can garner large fractions of a nation's gross domestic product".
35. One of my favorite chapters, "America and the Emergent Space Powers".
36. One of my favorite quotes, "the greatest conflicts in the world are not between religion and science; they're between religion and religion".
37. How some religious forces have quenched scientific endeavors. Great stuff.
38. The delusions of space enthusiasts.
39. Witty and humorous...projectile dysfunction. Let me leave it at that.
40. By using numbers, Mr. Tyson really puts in perspective how tiny we are...mesmerizing. "More bacteria live and work in one centimeter of my colon than the number of people who have ever existed in the world".
41. Pioneer anomaly...case and point, why science is awesome and the quest to know drives us.
42. The best justification for why we need to spend money on space travel.
43. Practical appendices and charts.

Negatives:
1. The book tends to be repetitive. A lot of the stories and interviews overlap so some concepts and thoughts are repeated.
2. It is not an in depth look at the science of astrophysics. It is more about educating the public of why it's important to funds NASA appropriately. So those looking for an in depth look at the science of astrophysics will surely be disappointed.
3. This book is a plea to fund NASA. Politics is involved but the author treats the topic with utmost respect and care. He is clearly appreciated and respected by both parties as evidenced by being appointed by both parties to important position. That being said, he does make it clear that he is left of liberal.
4. No bibliography or extended notes of references. I would have been interested in reading some recommendations.
5. No colorful illustrations of space, so this is not a cocktail table book.
6. Having to wait for the author's next book and/or Cosmos series!

In summary, I loved this book. It spoke to my love and passion for knowledge and the value to our culture of new voyages. No one makes a better case for the need of space exploration and the drive of discovery than Neil deGrasse Tyson. Space travel is not just an emotional frontier, it is the frontier of all sciences. That being said, some readers may be disappointed that the book focuses more the emotional appeal to fund NASA than the hardcore science. That aside, if you want to rekindle your love for space exploration and discovery by all means read this highly recommended book!

Vicky N.

Space Chronicles is a compilation of essays, interviews and even tweets by everyone's favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. They all discuss the history of space travel, how it came to be and what can be expected in the future.
It is divided in three parts.
Part one: Why
It talks about why we are so fascinated with space. It discusses everything from what the requirements for life are to the probabilities of been killed by an asteroid (which, spoiler alert, is the same as dying on an airplane).
Part two: How
Talks about how space travel became possible. It discusses how the technology for space was invented, how flying was started and it talks about the evolution from the Space Race era and the Space Shuttle era.
Part three: Why not
Neil Tyson very candidly talks about the lack of progress during the past few decades, his disappointment and the reasons behind why there has been no progress. And how even other countries see space as a commercial enterprise and no longer look forward to space exploration.

Neil Tyson initially wanted to name this book, Failure to Launch: The Dreams and Delusions of Space Enthusiasts, which is a way more fitting name than Space Chronicles.
The purpose of this book is to educate people about space and how little progress there has been since NASA's budget nowadays doesn't allow much.
It is a cry for people to remember how small we are compared to the rest of the universe and we need to do something or we will become extinguished.
Space Chronicles' greatest fault is mainly that it is a bit repetitive since it is a compilation of works and they sometimes overlap.
But it is very interesting and very important subject that everyone needs to be aware of.

If you are a space enthusiast I would recommend you read this book because it will teach you a bit more of space.
And if you're not that this is the perfect book for you to start!

Belhor Crowley

Can't do it man. Just can't keep reading this thing. It's not interesting. It's too disjointed for me to enjoy, and too much stuff about NASA's policy and things like that. I wanted to read something like "packing for mars" I guess.
So, even though I love Neil and his mustache and everything, I will have to stop reading this book right here.

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