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Read from Space Age:

The Shape of Things to Come

Space Age

Life is serendipitous. In 1989 Chip was developing a PBS series on space exploration. Earlier that year he had written a series of articles for Final Frontier Magazine about the space station. That fall when he returned from a train trip across Canada, he found a letter from an editor at Random House saying he enjoyed the articles. And then the letter made the request every writer dreams of, "Would you be interested in writing a book for us?"

The result was Space Age, published in 1991 by Random House as the companion book to the primetime PBS series of the same name, the series that Chip was working on when he received the letter.

Here's how the book was described when it was published in 1991 (that was before

The exploration of space represents a shattering cultural shift, like the invention of agriculture or the arrival of the industrial revolution. It also marks a biological leap as important as the wriggling of the first fish onto land or the passage of the first primate from the jungle to the savannah. Such adventures inevitably foreshadow momentous change. But how is it that the human race has arrived at a time in its history where the force of its curiosity has become so great that it has carried us beyond our home world?

Space Age is the companion book to the extraordinary six part PBS television series produced by WQED/Pittsburgh in association with the National Academy of Sciences. Written by journalist and filmmaker Chip Walter, it takes readers on an exciting and unexpected journey into the past, and maps out strange and surprising possibilities for the future. It explains how the space age has revolutionized the way we work and communicate; has radically shifted our view of our own world and provided us with the most powerful possible tools for reversing the momentum of our planet's, and our own, destruction.

It begins by telling the stories of the extraordinary rocket pioneers who made the dream of exploring the stars possible: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a deaf, small-town Russian schoolteacher who in 1898 first calculated how to launch a rocket beyond Earth. Robert Goddard, the secretive and determined New England physics professor, who had the personality of a parson, but the mind of a mad adventurer. And Hermann Oberth, a high school mathematics teacher from Transylvania. His failed effort to build a rocket for a publicity stunt in the 1920s became the first in a long line of rockets, which led to the ship that ultimately sent American astronauts to the moon 40 years later -- the Saturn V booster.

Space Age also looks into the future: The tremendous challenges of mounting a human mission to Mars. (Can any crew survive the trip?) The unexpected possibilities of returning to and settling the moon. (Will lunar resorts be the place to go in the 21st century?) And the surprising evolutionary possibilities that will follow in the wake of interplanetary and intergalactic exploration. Is it possible we will learn something of our own origins as we search for life on Mars? Will we clone new Earths, transforming the solar system into a kind of cosmic rain forest, brimming with new species of plants and animals and intelligent beings, all springing from common terrestrial ancestors?

We have only begun the extraordinary adventure of exploring beyond our home planet. It has been a part of a long process of the human race transforming curiosity into knowledge - progeny of the universe let loose to comprehend it.

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