SPACE 2.0 by Rod Pyle, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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SPACE 2.0 by Rod Pyle, Review

Matthew Kresal looks to the future.
As I write these words in the summer of 2021, it's an intriguing time in the history of space flight. In the past month, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have carried out their first space tourism sub-orbital flights via their respective companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Also, it's been roughly a year since the Crew Dragon from Elon Musk's SpaceX began carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Yet, if reading tweets and social media posts are any indications, there's a great deal of cynicism about these recent developments, even the feeling that these are little more than expensive publicity stunts. Offering some much-needed context to these events, and NASA's partnerships with these companies, is Rod Pyle's 2019 book Space 2.0, exploring the current era of space travel.

Coming from the pen of space author Rod Pyle, it's a journey bookended by the last NASA Space Shuttle lunch in 2011 and the 2018 first launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. Between those two different launches, they represent the end of the era that began with the launch of Sputnik and the first humans being in the 1950s and early 1960s and what we might think of as the coming of age of our current era: the titular Space 2.0. Pyle spends some time exploring how we got to this point, offering a concise history of the Space Race as governmental space agencies alone led the charge, including the dizzying heights of Apollo landing men on the Moon. Indeed, most chapters contain such history lessons, which help to put more recent developments into context as public-private partnerships become increasingly common. Or, as Pyle does across a couple of chapters, looking at how China, Russia, and India's space aspirations compare with both past space efforts and where the road might take their countries in the years ahead.

As a result, this is a volume that covers quite a bit of ground. Taking readers from the heady days of the Space Race to the hangers of Virgin Galactic and SpaceX's launch facilities in California, Pyle offers up something of a crash course. One that covers the basics of space flight (including just why it's so hard to get into space to start with), while also offering enough details for the intelligent layman or space enthusiast to come away feeling informed. As they should, given Pyle draws upon interviews and visits to many of the companies and individuals involved in Space 2.0. There are also his observations, such as watching the US Air Force's public affairs all but bungle a SpaceX launch at Vanderberg Air Force Base, which bring a human dimension to what might otherwise be a tech and engineering-heavy affair.

It's the human dimension that also helps to make this book a joy to read. Pyle turns more often than not to the people involved in the topics at hand, from executives or engineers at SpaceX and Virgin to those building CubeSats, to space flight advocates or those in planetary defense watching out for asteroids. More than a few of whom view themselves as 'orphans of Apollo,' those who grew up surrounded by visions of a tomorrow that is only now starting to come to pass. The story of Space 2.0 is as much their story as it is for anyone else. It is the belief they share in a better tomorrow, in a future that requires a more active human role in space, that stands out as the driving force here, something Pyle never lets his readers forget. The visions are optimistic ones, maybe too much so in places (as the year or two at least behind schedule launch dates at times show), but they feel tantalizingly real, all the same.
It's also a well-illustrated book. Between the covers are a wealth of photographs and artist's conceptions to illustrate the various spacecraft, people, and locations that play roles big and small in this new era, a visual guide to readers familiar and new to this world. The highlights, however, might be in the photo illustrations from artist James Vaughan. Vaughan's artwork is to this era what Chesley Bonestell's was to Space 1.0: beautiful visions of what might be the shape of things to come. A sentiment perhaps best summed up in the image that accompanies Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin's forward. As wonderful as the text is, Space 2.0 is worth buying for the pictures alone.

Whether we seize the day this time is, of course, up for debate. And there's no doubting that not everyone is keen on this new era of space flight. Space 2.0, both with its prose and illustrations, makes a compelling case that "the new Space Age has room for all of us to be engaged to the limits of our skills, our talents, and our passions," as Pyle writes late in the book.

So why not get a glimpse of the future and help be a part of it?

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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