Y'herd thisun? 

“In the early 1950's Senator Joe McCarthy kept the nation guessing with his accusations that there were 35 or 200 or 56 or 111 communists in the State Department. As a result, people didn't ask whether or not there were communists in the State Department, but rather how many communists were there in the State Department.”

from Phantoms of Space by James Oberg

Reopening the Space Frontier by John Hickman, the Amazon Review

TaggedSpace, Advocacy, SpaceX

[This is the 1st Amazon Review for the November 2010 book "Reopening the Space Frontier" by John Hickman] 


First off... someone is going to say it and rate low for it so let's get it out of the way: The book has quite a few typos. I didn't notice any until about chapter 5 (the mid point of the book) but then it got common. Missing words mostly, so that you are reading along and all of a sudden something doesn't make any sense so you go back and re-read and re-read till you spot the typo. You can quickly figure out what was missing (usually a "be" or "an" or "the" or "is") but it does get distracting; page 175's use of "South Korans" instead of "South Koreans" took me a second longer to figure out ;-). At first I took it as a problem with a translation but since this is apparently an English source book, it's just some tired proofreader. I took one star away just and only for that.

That said, the book is very good. Thin but packed with solid information, it is not a one-day read. I took a week because I needed to put it down and ponder some points before moving on. Even with the typos it does flow well, it is well written and every single mention of anything has a direct reference at the bottom of the page. Hickman has certainly done a lot of homework.

I'd go as far as saying that this is an important book for *Anyone* who considers themselves an "Space Enthusiast" whether they are working in the industry or just grew up Apollo, love watching Science Channel space documentaries and keep asking themselves "where is my stinkin' jetpack already?'.

If you personally have emotions over Space, specifically *Human* Spaceflight, then read this and take some time off to let it sink in before you do the next assault on Washington.

It will slap you directly in the face. The slaps will hurt.

The book takes every single positive that has ever been used as a bulletpoint for Human Spaceflight and rips each one apart.

Spinoffs? Written off with the sad but true reasons.

Budgetary level relationships to social programs (or to cosmetics, pizza and beer or dog food spending)? Exposed as useless.

Robots can't do it all better? Yes they can (or at least they soon will beyond a doubt if only because of the growth in robotic power over time due to more and more small missions building on each previous one... perhaps if we'd spent the same amount with Humans included up front that would not be the case but we didn't and there it is).

Every argument you have ever used to convince the uninterested in the Big Dream is handled.

Is NASA the bad guy? Can Corporate do better? Here come the historicals that may shake your faith in putting NASA completely out to pasture.

We do it because "it is what makes us Human" or 'it is just like the settling of the west' or 'we came out of Africa the same way'. Hickman does a solid of killing those grand ideas too. Not that you ever got very far using that stuff on an unbeliever, am I right?

The blurb here on Amazon makes it look like this is just some attack on International Cooperation and a gung-ho Nationalist Military rant. It is not. However, if you have ever secretly thought the evil thought that 'it will happen as soon as China rubs our faces in it in a few years', well, I'd say that he makes a pretty good case for that being perhaps a rational hope. The facts he presents here sit like a perfectly formed wet blanket all over the lack of movement through the decades that we have been so dependant on the warm fuzzy drone International Cooperation.

If you want to keep paying your monthly dues and perhaps even volunteering for the Mars Society, Planetary Society, NSS and the rest then that is good. But if you want to do it and perhaps get more on your deathbed than a stack of magazines still saying "Next Year For Sure!" then I think that reading this book will get you back on track... off the stuff that hasn't worked for 40 years and with an adult mind for working on things that may REALLY be required to turn the sad tide.

I bought a second copy for a man who runs a pretty well-known Space Advocacy non-profit. After buying it I actually had a worry that his reading this might hurt his passion. Thing is though, I believe that Hickman is "one of us" and it's just that he got tired of it and did the work to help us all clear the cobwebs. Reality is a good thing. If someone reads this and leaves Space for American Idol then they weren't really interested in Human Spaceflight after all; for the rest of us this book could be a help as we get ready to guide our leaders into the actions they will take following the upcoming 2012 Human Spaceflight NRC meetings.

Updated April 15th 2011: If all of the above makes this book sound like a huge downer, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. It is not a book about throwing your dreams away. Not at all. One possible crack in some of the points made can be found on page 173 where Hickman states that even SpaceX is only going to be continuing the LowEarthOrbit ISS/sat delivery system... as last week's announcement of the Falcon Heavy with "Its more payload capability than any vehicle in history apart from the Saturn V" [Elon Musk April 5 2011, Washington DC] means that an American vehicle with the potential for Lunar reach IS now potentially on the table. If this plan goes as well as Musk's previous "impossible goal" announcements then that can be part of the puzzle. However, even a fleet of rockets hitting a grand a pound will not be any guarantee of a Reopening of the Space Frontier... tech has never been the real problem - TECHNOLOGY NEVER HAS BEEN THE REAL PROBLEM. What is carefully lead up to and then presented in the book conclusion could be the real answer, SpaceX Heavy and the Dragon could play a big role in the beginning of it but Hickman professionally and without fear of truth presents a good argument for the *required* non-tech powerplay that may actually make the Big Dream finally happen.

Go China! Grab that Lunar Territory and opt-out of the 67 Treaty so we can all - legally - get rid of that bad bit of paper. Anyone who doesn't want them to do it first may be in for a few more generations of pain.

Read this book and review it.

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