Reviews and Previews: Soldier of Fortune

The life and mysterious death of an American ace in the Spanish Civil War

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New York, NY. Exhibit runs through

August 12, 2012.

How will humans ever get out of Earth orbit to explore the galaxy—or even just the solar system? It’s a question the American Museum of Natural History tries to answer in its new exhibit, “Beyond Planet Earth.”

Like any good history museum, this one begins the exhibit with the past: Sputnik and a rusty Vostok capsule—both reproductions from the museum’s fabrication shop. From a tiny port you can sniff a sample of a simulated lunar surface; Apollo astronauts say the real thing smelled like gunpowder but I sensed a hint of charcoal. In low lunar lighting, you see a miniature diorama depicting a proposed moon settlement, and a powerful, revolving liquid mirror telescope that should bring in crisper images of the universe. On one side of the hall there’s a scale-model inflatable-expandable lunar habitat; overhead is a model of a proposed lunar elevator. (Despite the obvious convenience, I’d never take an elevator to the moon—or live for extended periods inside anything inflatable.)

In the asteroids section, we find out how to deflect one from ramming into Earth, potentially the most important skill in space exploration. In the Mars section, the lighting turns—surprise—red, and there is a prototype worksuit for nimbly negotiating a barren surface. In a hands-on display, you can attempt to terraform Mars—reducing to seconds a process lasting around 1,000 years—but usually with bleak results. I tried with a combination of pollution-spewing factories, nuclear weapons, and other fun stuff, and failed. Do we really need to pump another habitable planet’s atmosphere full of greenhouse gases?

n n n Phil Scott is a frequent contributor to air & space. he

wrote “take a ride in a b-25” for the apr./may 2011 issue.

Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific

by Phil Scearce. University of North Texas Press, 2011. 352 pp., $29.95.

In the randomness of World War II combat assignments, which bomber crew service do you choose: Europe or the Pacific? Before you decide, read Finish Forty and Home. “The role of chance could be depressing to a bomber crewman if he dwelt too much on it,” writes Phil Scearce. It’s one of the themes in his exhaustive account of a B-24 Liberator crew island-hopping from Hawaii to Iwo Jima.

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