The Space Shuttle Operator's Manual - Kerry Mark Joels, Gregory P. Kennedy, David Larkin

I know very, very little about rockets and spaceflight, but like everyone else I'm kinda intrigued. So, I got this book!

It's clearly designed for (older) children, everything being described in terms of 'you' going into space in it. It still has a fair amount of loose technical detail (all in imperial units!), covering everything from operational details (including launch and landing), through all the components. You've probably seen photos of the cockpit, with the vast swathe of indecipherable buttons. Reading this, you can start to see how it all fits together and might become comprehensible!

The magic device becomes a set of engineering assemblies. A trip to space starts to sound like a particularly unpleasant economy transatlantic flight, with bad food, horrible toilets, unpleasant sleeping accomodation, and huge danger. But the view is great and the wonder can't be entirely dispelled.

It's obviously boiled down from real documentation. Some of the diagrams have arrows removed that presumably pointed to a feature too complex for the intended audience. Presumably, it's a propaganda side-project of NASA's, showing off the incredible technology. It look likes it worked - the children who got this are now people working on stuff like Space X, Armadillo Aerospace, etc.

Indeed, it's a rather bittersweet book. It talks about the wonderfully advanced technology that is now hopelessly outdated. It inspires awe and hope around a horrific deathtrap (Challenger is mentioned incredibly briefly and obliquely), and a white elephant of an engineering project. The idealism is contagious, even in the face of reality.

It reminds me that we went to the moon with men wearing mechanical wristwatches. Since then, be exponential growth of computing power has been awesome. Computing seems to fit wonderfully with a virtuous circle of development. Is that an intrinsic thing, or could other technologies worked the same? With the right choices, where could we be now with space travel, or nuclear power, or whatever? The information age is pervasive. Did we ever have a chance at the space age or the atomic age?

This is probably not the intended reading of this book. On the other hand, if it makes you dream of the possibilities of technology, maybe it is.

Posted 2013-04-20.