Space travel buffs and history lovers alike will revel in this awesome and inspiring book about the Pioneer planetary probes, the forgotten trailblazers that took us deep into the unknown from 1958 to the late 1970s. Author and science writer Mark Wolverton pays overdue tribute to the Pioneer probes, which literally began the era of space exploration, broke new and tremendous ground in our understanding of the solar system and beyond, yet have often been overlooked by flashier NASA projects.
The Pioneer spacecraft documented in detail in The Depths of Space, were the first to reach Jupiter and Saturn, the first to leave our solar system, the first to bring in new data about the outer reaches of space, yet were quite simple and inexpensive by today’s standards of space travel. The humble projects literally opened up the realm of space for future projects, such as the more lavish and colorful Voyager probes, yet never received equal recognition. These unmanned spacecraft did things for the first time, including penetrating beyond the asteroid belt surrounding our planet, that humans once thought impossible, fueling the spirit of exploration on to greater discoveries over the next few decades.
Wolverton not only dissects and chronicles the many Pioneer projects, but offers us inside glimpses into the world of space exploration with interviews with project managers and technicians like Charlie Hall, the Pioneer project manager, and the people at Ames research facility working overtime behind the scenes to make it all happen. There are some, but not enough for my liking, black and white photos, and plenty of technical detail as well as informative and eye-opening examinations of the politics and bureaucracy, and the intense competition between researchers at Ames and JPL, behind the entire Project history.
This well-rounded book reads with the excitement of a thriller or sci-fi novel, but also with historical depth and scientific detail. The combination is a satisfying journey into space that will please both the dreamer and the down-to-earth. The blood, sweat and tears involved in the planning and execution, the successes and the heart-breaking failures, of the Pioneer probes is laid out in all its glory, complete with both the human stories and the intricate scientific challenges that combined to make these first forays into space so important and ground-breaking.
What the Pioneer probes did was open the door to the universe. What they failed to do was get their due credit for it. The Depths of Space gives them that long overdue “thank you” for introducing the earth-bound to a vast and mysterious realm called outer space, where the only limitations for exploration exist in the heart, ingenuity and spirit of humanity.