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Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

by Neil deGrasse Tyson. W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 384 pp., $24.95.

in the exploration of space, America is at a crossroads. NASA retired the space shuttle last year, and a restructuring of our national priorities is under way. In his new collection of essays, letters, speeches, Tweets, and even a poem, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson makes a compelling appeal, at just the right time, for continuing to look up.

Not only is our economic health dependent on space exploration, he argues, but our very survival as a species may be as well. For example, without further exploration, we might miss spotting an incoming asteroid in time to deflect it from wiping us out.

Tyson says that the spinoff benefits of space exploration aren’t enough to drive the massive expenditures of a program on the scale, say, of Apollo. The best driver for the government programs he says we need to get us back into space in a big way is a war, like the cold one that got us to the moon. Space travel, he says, is too expensive and too hard for mere garage tinkerers.

While this might have been true 40 years ago, I would argue that the recent successes of Scaled Composites and SpaceX, which designed, built, and flew craft into space for a combined outlay of less than a single space shuttle flight, tell a different story. Fortunately, NASA is no longer the only game in town.

The book has three sections—Why, How, and Why Not explore space—that include mind-bending facts about the universe and our place in it. These accessible, highly readable essays provoke thought and showcase Tyson’s gift for explaining big concepts in easy-to-understand terms.

n n n Michael Belfiore wrote this issue’s cover story, “Extraterrestrial outfitter” (p. 48).

Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration

American Museum of Natural History.

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