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Understanding Space--An introduction to astronautics (3rd edition).


UNDERSTANDING SPACE--An introduction to

astronautics (3rd edition)

By Jerry Jon Sellers, with contributions from William J.

Astore, Robert B. Giffen, Wiley J. Larson

Published by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, 2005

800 pp with photographs and diagrams.

Size: 257 x 206x 33mm Weight: 1.64kg

ISBN-10: 0073407755 ISBN-13: 978-0073407753

Hardcover. Price $70.31

Books on astronautics and space flight often fall into one of two categories; they are either aimed at advanced undergraduate or post-graduate level, or they are very basic and non-mathematical descriptions of the subject that feel somewhat hollow to the more mathematically inclined reader. This book fills the vacuum between these two extremes and provides one of the most enjoyable and accessible introductions to astronautics that I have yet come across.

As I was familiar with earlier editions of this book, I was quite interested to see how it has evolved. This latest edition is an absolute pleasure to browse through and, from a visual perspective, is a very significant improvement on the somewhat crude illustrations in the first edition.

In the main, understanding the book requires only high-school level mathematics--but don't be fooled by this. Even with such simple mathematical tools, the authors develop the formalism for describing orbits, manoeuvring in space, interplanetary trajectories and atmospheric re-entry. They manage this by putting the more advanced derivations in appendices that are accessible to a reader with knowledge of introductory calculus and vector analysis. For readers who are a bit rusty with their high school physics and mathematics, the writers provide a review of basic mathematics and physics.

Each of the mathematical sections is illustrated with detailed worked examples. I particularly appreciated the attention given to physical units throughout the calculations, since this is an area where students often go astray in their calculations. For readers who would like to tackle some problems to test their understanding and retention of the material, each chapter has a number of numerical problems, the answers to many of which are provided at the back of the book.

Access to space and space propulsion are also covered, although in less mathematical detail. Launch vehicles are covered at the basic level of the rocket equation, the basic thermodynamical principles of rockets, and a basic mathematical introduction to staging calculations.

The second half of the book deals with space systems engineering, spacecraft subsystems, space operations and space applications. This is a more descriptive treatment than in the first half of the book, but one still finds numerical examples here and there, as appropriate (e.g. attitude control or communications links).

Readers who are less interested in the mathematical details can still profit from this book, especially in the more descriptive sections on space operations, space applications and so on. However, readers looking for a thorough introduction to issues such as space commerce, space policy or space law, should look elsewhere. Those issues are discussed only fleetingly.

The book uses a number of devices to capture and retain the reader's interest. The text is lavishly illustrated throughout. Each section ends with a comprehensive review, followed by worked examples and problems. Each chapter ends with a Mission Profile that examines a particular space mission. This collection of mission profiles gives readers a good sense of a number of the historically important space missions. The selection of missions profiled covers a wide range of topics, but is heavily biased towards American missions. There are also "Astro Fun Facts" throughout the book to supplement the information in the main text. There is a comprehensive set of appendices with derivations of key formulae, physical constants and planetary data. In that regard, the book is self-contained; all you need to enjoy it is a calculator, a pen and lots of blank paper.

If you want a solid introduction to the basics of spaceflight, with some real mathematical understanding of basic astronautical principles, this is the book to read. Space professionals will also find this a handy reference volume to have on their bookshelves.

Table of contents

Space missions History of space Orbits and interplanetary trajectories Atmospheric re-entry Space system engineering Spacecraft subsystems Space operations and support Economics of space Satellite communications
COPYRIGHT 2008 Astronomical Society of Southern Africa
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Author:Martinez, Peter
Publication:Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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