On October 4, 1957, the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched into orbit. This technological first marked the beginning of a new era of competition between the former Soviet Union and the United States. While on the surface the Space Race might have appeared to be spurred on by man's desire for knowledge and exploration, in truth, the only thing that made man's footprints on the Moon possible was the looming Cold War and aspiration to assert technological dominance over each other. Adjusted for inflation, the Apollo program today would cost over 200 billion dollars, twenty times the yearly budget of NASA. It is unlikely any of us alive today will ever see man step foot on the Moon or another planetary surface, or see the equivalent of what millions of people witnessed on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. The overwhelming costs, technological hurdles, and political backdrop are what make the Space Race such a fascinating subject, and it would be hard to find someone who is so passionate about it or conveys these ideas better than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Like his last novel Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, Space Chronicles is a compilation of previously-published articles and talks over the last fifteen years, with a central theme of the Space Race and exploration (although some of the chapters don't really fit this theme entirely). It is mostly centered on the United States' involvement with a look at the development of NASA. It contains an original prologue by Dr. Tyson with a discussion on Space Politics, with a focus on the last three presidential administrations. A selection of Dr. Tyson's tweets (which are usually interesting facts about the Universe) are scattered in relevant sections throughout the book, and add short distractions to the current chapter. The rest of the book is divided into three sections:
Part 1 - Why - Articles detailing with the reasons humans desire to explore space
Part 2 - How - Articles concerned with how we have overcome the barriers to space entry.
Part 3 - Why Not - These chapters are mostly ideological articles and speeches about why we should explore space.
The last third of the book contain Appendices related to NASA and space travel. I think they're a nice addition to Space Chronicles, although I'm pretty sure they were added as filler, since without them, the actual content of the book is only 220 pages. All of them are easily found online but they make a nice reference while reading and I frequently found myself going back to them. They consist of:
National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (the law that created NASA)
NASA's budget from 1959-2010
2010 Space Budgets for the United States and Globally
Space Budgets: US and Non US: 2010
Anyone who has enjoyed Dr. Tyson's previous books will enjoy Space Chronicles. Since it doesn't deal with as much cosmology, it is a bit easier read than his last book, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries. I also found it more persuasive. Space exploration is a subject Dr. Tyson excels at. For anyone who has ever heard him give a speech on the subject, he offers up very convincing reasons for the necessity of a space program, many which will resonate long after finishing the book. A great example of this is the final chapter in the book, which is a speech given at the University of Buffalo that I originally saw two years ago, and still has a powerful impact on me today. Unlike Death by Black Hole, which seemed to be a bit thrown together and thematically forced, the articles that make up Space Chronicles flow much easier into each other and under their relevant chapters, although you will notice some repetition throughout them. The speeches that make up some of the chapters are also well-adapted, although I strongly encourage anyone who enjoys them to go back and watch the original videos, or actually, to just skip those chapters and watch the videos instead (especially the last chapter). The main reason Dr. Tyson is so successful as a media figure is due to his ability to convey subject matter to his audience, and he does this best in person, where his passion and oration can really stand out.
Almost all of the material from this book is already available publicly online. The only original material I noticed was the prologue and a poem (Ode to Challenger, 1986). Although it's been published before, I think the editor has done an excellent job in culling through Tyson's large body of work to pick the best material, and arranged it in a way that makes for an intriguing (albeit very short) read. Some of the chapters are as short as one paragraph, others are a dozen pages or so. Tyson's most ardent fans might find the material a bit too familiar, but as a whole, Space Chronicles presents itself as a nicely-wrapped look at the last fifty years of space travel, and what's in store for the future. All of the material works well in the book, but all of the chapters adapted from speeches are much better when viewed in their original video presentation. Other than the length of the book, the only real criticism I could give it is that it doesn't source the original material. A few of the chapters do this and actually state at the top that they are from videos, but most of them don't. I can't figure out any rhyme or reason to including this information on some but not others, which would seem simple enough to do (I was able to find almost all of it in about an hour). If you are interested in reading some of the articles or videos from the book, I will provide links to all of those that I've been able to find that are in the public domain, as well as book previews from the publisher and Google Books in the review comments below.