One of my favorite volumes in my collection of space-related books is a library discard titled "Your Trip Into Space."
The book by Lynn Poole -- "Producer of The Johns Hopkins TV Science Review," the title page proudly proclaims -- was published in 1953, four years before the beep heard 'round the world ushered in the space age, and eight years before anyone would actually take their own trip into space.
It's a fascinating piece both for what it got right, years before the U.S. would being serious work on putting a man into space, and for what it got wrong. Practically on the eve of Sputnik and then Gagarin, the book boldly pronounces, "No one can give you the precise time and exact date for departure. We are willing to take a chance on predicting that man will fly out into space within your lifetime, at least within fifty years." Emphasis theirs.
Looking back from a little more than that half-century later, "Your Trip Into Space" really isn't of much use if you're actually planning your trip into space. But it is a captivating snapshot of the state of spaceflight -- and public perception thereof -- at that moment in time.
Fast-forward now to the present, and a new book with a title that echoes the spirit of that half-century-old library discard, "The Space Tourist's Handbook." This book's bona fides are equally impressive, with the name on the spine belonging to Eric Anderson, president of tourism company Space Adventures. (The author credit beneath Anderson's name adds, "And Joshua Piven, co-author of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.")
To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from the book when I first heard about it, and Piven's author credit did little to allay that. The success of his above-listed work has spawned a variety of imitators, how-to guides that promise the reader everything up to and including, literally, superpowers. I feared a book that might have some interesting information, but, in living up to its title, would fall as flat as those would-be Supermen. On the flip side, there was also the possibility that it would go the other way, serving as nothing more than a 192-page brochure for Space Adventures.
The book's similarity to its spiritual forebear was pleasantly surprising. Like the earlier book, "The Space Tourist's Handbook" uses the conceit of preparing you for "your trip into space" to present a surprisingly complete picture of the state of human spaceflight at this particular moment in time. From the space shuttle to Soyuz to SpaceShipOne to Shenzhou (and many other things that don't start with S), the book provides an overview of all the major elements of spaceflight in 2005. A person who knew nothing about current events in space could pick up the book and in a couple of hours be relatively conversant about what's going on today. And for the reader taking the book off the shelf as far into the future as "Your Trip Into Space" is into the past would get an excellent idea of what was going on in this moment in history.
There are times when that spaceflight overview is shoehorned into the book's space tourism approach. The book notes the prospect of the space shuttle being used for tourism may be "tantalizing," and, while it notes that there is "no indication" that the government plans for it to be put to such use, to say that's an understatement would be an understatement. The book also notes that a spacewalk is "space tourism's ultimate walk on the wild side--the outer-space equivalent of bungee-jumping, parasailing, and skydiving all rolled into one amazing rush." And that description may be true, but overlooks the fact that while EVA may be "just a single step outside your door," that's one giant leap that no space tourist will be taking any time soon. (The space tourism bias also shows up in such ways as when it promises that "you will be an official astronaut upon completion of your sub-orbital flight." That's "official" according to whom, exactly?)
Those issues aside, the amazing thing about "The Space Tourist's Handbook" is that, in addition to providing an overview of the state of modern spaceflight, it actually lives up to its name. Unlike Poole's book, a person could actually read this book as preparation for their own trip into space. Granted, that's more because of the difference in the age than the difference in authors -- though, to be sure, Anderson has done his part to bring the change about -- but it adds a level of excitement knowing that chapters that still read almost like science fiction are, in fact, rooted in fact.
Even if the $20 million price tag for a Soyuz ticket is slightly out of your budget, the space tourism hints can be fascinating reading while you're waiting for suborbital costs to fall -- the book shares everything from how to prepare for a spaceflight medical exam to how to pass the psychological exam (though one wonders if the tips for seeming sane were actually left over form one Piven's other projects) to what to expect during cosmonaut training to why not to play chess in space (I suggest a new strategy -- let the Russkie win.)
To top it off, furthering its idea that the era of spaceflight for the average man is upon us, a card in the back of the book offers you a chance to enter to win a free suborbital spaceflight.
So when will we actually see someone use this book as preparation for a ride as a passenger on a suborbital spaceflight? I am willing to take a chance on predicting that man will fly out into space on commercial flights within your lifetime, at least within fifty years."
And probably a lot sooner.