on October 26, 2002
In the past four years, Apogee Books has compiled a variety NASA documents, press kits, crew interviews and the like, which recount the early days of the space race, focusing primarily on the race to be the first country to land a man on the moon. For the latest installment in the Apogee Space series, the author examines a facet of space exploration that was missing during the Apollo era. That is, women astronauts. One important thing to note, as stated by the author on the back cover, this book is geared towards girls and young women and as such the book is a bit light on technical details.
The book opens with a nice overview of a typical space shuttle mission and living on orbit and covers such things as sleeping, eating, clothes, working, etc. The book then covers an early woman in space program called FLATS - First Lady Astronaut Trainee, which was a program to examine the possibility of putting women into space in the 1960's. Here, the book, unlike some other texts on the subject, accurately presents the FLATS program as only a medical study of several female subjects undergoing the same medical tests that the NASA astronauts did and not a parallel program to the all-male Mercury program. It is important to note that the FLATS could have lead to women in space, however, the program was killed by the Johnson Administration. Next, the book presents, a chronological history of women in space and all their achievements. The book then presents one to two page biographies on all the women astronauts (Russian, NASA and other countries) that have flown and all the candidate astronauts. The section encompasses approximately 60% of the book. The book then concludes with an extremely interesting section on space medicine related to women and what it takes to be an astronaut.
While I feel that this book is a worthy additional to the series, I also feel that the author left out several important aspects of these astronaut's careers as well as what they do at NASA when they are not flying in space. One of the first things that struck right was the lack of information describing the military careers of these astronauts. For example, many of these women have had impressive military careers such as test pilots and have achieved a high military rank. Even though flying in space is the most visible and probably most exciting part of an astronaut's job, their duties consist of much much more. For example, astronauts are involved in spacecraft design, training, spacesuit design, biological experiments and the list goes on and on. A description of this aspect of their job is not presented.
As is typical of the books in the Apogee Space Series, it contains a Compact Disc that includes approximately eight hours of interviews with several women astronauts. Interviewed astronauts are: Ellen Baker, Kalpana Chalwa Eileen Collins, Bonnie Dunbar, Anna Fisher, Linda Godwin, Ellen Ochoa, Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper.