May 29, 2020

Review Space Chronicles by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

On sale now!

Neil deGrasse Tyson is on a mission. That mission might best be described as assuring the citizens of today’s modern technological society maintain scientific literacy and feed their wonder for the universe.  And if that’s the mission, then this week’s review, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier is the space aficionados’ manifesto. Out earlier this year from Norton books, Space Chronicles is an excellent guide to all things Tyson-ian; from speeches, to essays, to an ode to Challenger written in his younger years (complete with inferences to all five shuttle Orbiters), Space Chronicles delivers. And the timing couldn‘t be better as NASA faces uncertain times and yet another impending “lean decade” with a budget less than 0.5 cents on the tax dollar and no clear road map to get back to deep space.

Like Sagan before him, Tyson does a wonderful job of bringing space and science to the masses. But as Tyson delivers the wonder of science to the everyday man via appearances on the Colbert Report, he also explains the “99%” to us space enthusiasts who wonder why friends, family and co-workers “just don’t get us.” Unlike Sagan, Tyson shares an equal passion for manned and unmanned spaceflight, noting that “They’ve never named a school after a robot…” I always felt that Sagan was lukewarm to manned spaceflight at best, and that the wonder of Viking and Voyager was where it truly was at for him.

But beyond just a yearning to return to the new frontier, Tyson also tackles science fiction, with a send up of Star Trek, a look at modern culture, and the troubling decline of science literacy that picks up where Sagan’s Demon Haunted World left off over a decade ago. For far too long, the author notes, we’ve given folks a pass on math and science literacy; no one lets scientists and engineers say “we’ve just not very good at those nouns and verbs…”

I would heartily recommend Space Chronicles to both the hardened space fan and the space curious. Mr. Tyson also recognizes the utility of social media (he’s @NeilTyson on Twitter) and Chronicles is one of the first books I’ve seen to intersperse tweets for use as quotes or factoids throughout the text, very clever.

Anyone can learn something from this book; for example, I didn’t realize that the 2009 bank bailouts were larger than the budget of NASA, through its entire history. Wow, think of how many interstellar Orion spacecraft that would have built! (Why don’t we get to charge the banks interest on that loan, like they would do to us?)

Now is also a great time to read Space Chronicles as more or more folks ask the question; what good is space? The author also points out that the fact that the space program is often cited (as in why are we wasting money in space when we could <blank>?) shows how high profile the return is on the pittance we invest on exploration. Perhaps it will be economics and resources that eventually propel us into space for good; or perhaps fear and national paranoia will continue to dominate. (More launches have historically been military payloads than not).

Mr. Tyson is also poised to reach a new audience with a revamped version of Cosmos set to launch in 2013 on Fox. Many decry the choice of placing the show on Fox TV, but Mr. Tyson argues that they are most in need of “science-literacy” to begin with… now, will Fox re-run it online or will us space-obsessed folks who have “made the break” from cable TV be forced to peep into a window near you?



  1. [...] versus “unmanned” travel is also breeched, always a hot topic in the space flight community. While Neil DeGrasse Tyson has pointed out that “they don’t name schools after robots,” Mary Roach also noted in Packing for [...]

  2. [...] also wrote Space Chronicles, which we reviewed here back in [...]

Speak Your Mind