It's hard to believe, but it has been 30 years since men last walked on the moon, and more than four decades since the great endeavor we call the Space Race first began. That initial period, bracketed by the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the splashdown of Apollo 17 in 1972, marked perhaps the most exciting and technologically innovative period in modern history. The years since have been no less miraculous, yet are rendered mundane purely because we have become so accustomed to space flight. Now, scientist and journalist Andrew Chaikin has culled the best images of this incredible journey in Space: A History of Space Exploration in Photographs (Carlton, $50, 256 pages, ISBN 1842224980).
Chaikin's engaging prose begins each chapter, recounting a phase of man's entry into the great beyond, from the earliest dreams of Greek philosophers, Russian mathematicians, American inventors and German scientists to the small steps and giant leaps of jet jockeys and test pilots to the tragedies and triumphs of school teachers and space shuttles. The photographs some famous and some never before seen are breathtaking and gorgeous, from the first dizzying views of sub-orbital flight to portraits of our solar neighbors, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn snapped by remotely controlled explorers; there are astonishing looks by the Hubble Space Telescope at the vast, terrible beauty at the edge of the universe, and views from above of our own fragile planet.
While we can only dream of what astonishing discoveries lie before us, Andrew Chaikin's Space is as fine a visual history of where we have been as you are likely to see.