As far as author Greg Klerkx is concerned, NASA has been milking its three-decade-old Apollo success far too long. As he sees it, President Kennedy's challenge of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth" became not only a mantra for NASA's finest hours, but an endpoint for the agency's goals and achievements. In Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age, Klerkx argues that the agency has not fulfilled the promises of the Space Age. Further, he says the initial Space Age has already passed us by, ending with the explosion of space shuttle Challenger in January 1986.
Klerkx, a former journalist and former director of resource development for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, is the outsider's insider. For the most part, Lost in Space is an informed chronicle of the activities of the space community at-large. Through his many contacts among former astronauts, engineers, scientists and space enthusiasts, Klerkx is privy to the work being done on the next generation of space transport, rovers and living environments. Klerkx is also a wonderful writer, whose accounts of visiting Star City for Dennis Tito's Mir launch and roughing it at the Haughton-Mars Project site near the Arctic Circle are among the best parts of the book.
For all the attention this book will get for its harsh portrayal of NASA, Klerkx doesn't call for a complete elimination of the agency. He does, however, argue that NASA bungles, if not outright sabotages, any attempts to do the job "faster, better, cheaper," to use the words of former NASA chief Dan Goldin. Klerkx suggests forgetting about the glory days of the Cold War and instead looking to the early days of aviation when government efforts were matched with private initiative for inspiration. He also echoes space tourist Tito's conclusion that the next space race is already under way, with the Russians leading in the commercialization of space. Putting humans back into the equation and embracing space tourism, reasons Klerkx, may be the only way NASA can and should participate in the new space age. MiChelle Jones writes from Nashville.