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Space News for December 11, 2001

Book review for Spacefaring: The Human Dimension

This review has taken a little while to write, mostly because I was really enjoying this book. So, I apologize to Albert for the delay on this. :-)

Book cover

Spacefaring: The Human Dimension by Albert Harrison

Like many of you, I'm a total advocate for human space exploration. Sure, robots are great, with their indestructibility and unquestioning loyalty, but there are times when you really need to get some human hands and eyes on location to provide some solid data and deal with the unexpected. But humans are soft, fragile, and can sometimes get a little grumpy.

Spacefaring: the Human Dimension by Albert Harrison helps fill a niche that I've found largely unfilled in most of the Space exploration books I've read - how to keep humans alive, and stop them from killing each other during long space trips. And by focusing only on this aspect of space travel, Harrison gives the subject matter the time and respect it deserves. Each element is covered in tremendous detail, including the basics of food, air, water, heat, etc. but also the more psychological elements of coping with stress, group dynamics, training, and dealing with mistakes and disasters. Harrison throws in a plenty of anecdotes to give real world examples to the topics covered.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who finds this aspect of Space exploration fascinating. I'd especially recommend it to folks like the Mars Society, as many of the issues have been largely ignored by NASA so far. And I'd force scriptwriters and directors to read this book before they make another Mission to Mars. Great book!

Carolyn Shoemaker
Comet Hunter Carolyn Shoemaker

Carolyn Shoemaker is a 'relative newcomer' to astronomy. Yet she is acknowledged as the most successful 'comet hunter' alive today. Jennifer Laing talks to this remarkable woman, who has stepped out from behind her late husband's shadow, and contributed significantly to our understanding of our solar system.

Astronauts Spacewalk to Install Blankets

Astronauts Linda Godwin and Dan Tani exited the International Space Station on Monday to wrap thermal blankets around motors at the base of the station's massive solar panels. The motors keep the panels pointed towards the sun, but because of the low temperatures in space, they've been prone to stalling. Currently docked to the station, the Space Shuttle Endeavour is expected to undock on Friday or Saturday, and return to Earth on December 17th.

Io Lacks a Magnetic Field

During its most recent flyby of Jupiter's Moon Io, the Galileo spacecraft recorded its magnetic field and radio transmissions. This latest data seems indicate that Io has no magnetic field of its own, other than that driven by interaction with Jupiter's massive field. Galileo also took a series of new images, including a vivid photograph of the Tupan Patera crater; a kidney-shaped lava pool filled with colour.

Meteor Shower and Solar Eclipse this Week

If you missed the mighty Leonid meteor storm in November, here's your chance for a minor sequel: the Geminid meteor shower will flare up Thursday and Friday nights this week; although, it's not expected to get much more than 100/hour. As a special bonus, there will be an annular eclipse on the afternoon of December 14th, best seen from Costa Rica, but visible from most of North America. With an annular eclipse, the Moon doesn't cover the Sun completely, so it appears as a ring of fire in the sky.

Distant Star's Unusual Twisting Behavior

Astronomers have discovered a star with an unusual behavior; it twists and untwists itself regularly. During a cycle that takes several years, star AB Doradus' equator spins faster than its poles. At some point the cycle reverses and the it's the poles that rotate faster than the equator. This twisting behavior is similar to activity on our own Sun, and could be a reason why our own star goes through an 11-year cycle of Sunspot activity.

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