Reviewed by: John J. Vester
Title: NASA’s Voyager Missions: Exploring the Outer Solar System and Beyond (Second Edition)
Author: Ben Evans
Date: August 2022
Retail Price: $34.99/$19.24
ISBN: 978- 3031079221
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With this book, British author Ben Evans will have you doubting that he really is a “non-scientist.” Evans has written several books for preeminent science book publisher Springer Praxis. In these works the author has been able to give free rein to his love of space travel accomplishments, and, as in this book, he does so with confidence, impressive detail, and narrative verve.
First published in 2003, the book was originally co-authored with David M. Harlan, Scottish space historian. The new edition carries only Evans’ name, so, without considering the first edition, this review will concern itself only with the new edition—letting it stand on its own.
NASA’s Voyager Missions, second edition, is more than a record of the missions and the probes. There have been numerous other books on these historic emissaries to deep space. What Evans gives the reader in addition is a master class on a relatively young science that the Voyagers helped to midwife: planetology.
To give his account a thorough and broad foundation, the author delves into ancient notions about the planets, the mythology behind planet names, and the history of their discoveries. Even before it’s coverage of the Voyagers launch, the book has plenty for a reader to sink his teeth into.
In one detail-rich chapter, the Voyager missions and the Voyagers themselves are introduced. The magnitude of this historic charge into the unknown, easy to forget 50 years on, is told so as to recreate the sense of wonder that those who remember it felt then and still feel.
Each of the next four chapters recounts encounters with one of the four planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune), including a close look at many of the moons visited.
But the beauty of this book’s approach is that the role of the Voyagers in expanding our knowledge of these far-flung outposts is supplemented by information gathered by all subsequent probes (Juno, Cassini, etc.), Hubble observations, and published scientific papers attempting to answer questions the Voyagers raised. As a result, the reader is brought up to date on the state of our understanding of the outer four planets years after flybys by these dauntless travelers into the void.
The details of the Voyagers’ instruments and the amazing jobs they did, the mission flight paths, the challenges and problems incredibly overcome are all there. But these facts are like bookends for the fullest possible consideration of the storms on Jupiter, the eruptions on Io, the rings of Saturn, the satellites of Uranus, the winds and ring arcs of Neptune, and much, much more. A college course on planetology could hardly be more thorough.
The book concludes with a chapter on the golden record (Carl Sagan’s gift to some possible future alien discoverer of the probes) and the extended mission to find and enter interstellar space. This final phase of their mission will last until the plutonium in their Radioisotope Themoelectric Generators (RTGs) decays completely. After that, they will continue to sail away practically forever.
NASA’s Voyager Missions, aside from being an excellent survey of the field, is a worthy tribute to these amazing human creations. For the reader interested in the Voyagers or the planets visited, this book will not disappoint.
© 2023 John J. Vester