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New Moon Rising: The Making Of America's New Space Vision And The Remaking Of NASA by Frank Sietzen Jr & Keith L. Cowing
Review by David Hecht
Apogee Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 1894959124
Date: 31 July, 2004 List Price $33.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This is a shockingly bad book. Well, perhaps it would be kinder to say that there is probably a respectable journal article (40-60 pages) within its 250-plus pages, struggling to get out.

I confess that I approached this book with enthusiasm, but put it down more than once with disappointment and weariness. I thought this would be a book about NASA?s ??new, comprehensive space policy.? Instead, it is almost exclusively about ??day-to-day events as lived by senior NASA management?? (Both of these quotes are taken from the back of the dust jacket.) In fact, the book is in large measure a 280 page embodiment of the old joke about any government agency: when the announcement is made that Earth will be utterly destroyed by some calamity in a week?s time, the first question asked is ?How do you think that will affect next year?s budget??

This book suffers?aside from its content?from execrable editing. On the very first page, we begin with two typos of the sort I call ?spell-check typos?, where a homonym has been substituted for the right word in such a way that the spelling is correct, but meaning is not: ?budgetary slight [as opposed to ?sleight?] of hand?, and ?worked?as a Senate aid [rather than ?aide?]? [Emphasis mine]. On page 52, an entire paragraph appears twice, with slight wording changes that suggest the author was unsure which version to include.

Continuing with leaden syntax and dreary use of clich?s: from the first page, again, we have ??he had staved off financial disaster and ended the space agency?s chronic annual bouts of cost overruns.? [Emphasis mine] We have here a classic opportunity to apply the journalistic editing principle: ruthlessly pare away all that is excess (?Fresh Fish Sold Here? becomes simply, ?Fish?): how about just ?overruns?? A single word where previously six appeared? Alas, the authors seem to have eschewed such editing as well.

Finally, let us address the orgiastic excess of detail. The first numbered chapter, ?The Long Goldin Goodbye? (don?t even get me started on the half-clever chapter headings) begins on page 19 and ends on page 40: 22 pages. Here is my synopsis, with all the ?fascinating? details of bureaucratic infighting and Kabuki theatre pared away: ?Dan Goldin was brought into NASA by G.H.W. Bush. He survived two changes in administration by keeping his head down and his agency out of the headlines: in any case, Clinton had other fish to fry and?after September 11th, 2001?so did G.W. Bush. His tenure was characterized by shrinking budgets, overruns on the shuttle and space station programs, which he concealed, from Congress, bureaucratic infighting, and general torpor. When G.W. Bush finally got around to firing him, he replaced him with a trusted veteran, Sean O?Keefe, who had served G.H.W. Bush as OSD Comptroller and SECNAV.? That?s it: 22 pages summarized in seven lines.

One could accept these longueurs if this were, in fact, a book about Dan Goldin: or, perhaps, a history of NASA?s administrators: or even a case study in bureaucratic management. But, as the book purports to be about G.W. Bush?s new vision for NASA, one could be pardoned for wishing that the authors had not dedicated nearly one-tenth of their book to a blow-by-blow description of Goldin?s self-promoting tenure and his efforts to prolong it.

The balance of the book is no improvement: it continues with a meticulous, day-by-day, exhaustive (in all senses of the term) description of events at NASA up to the present day (or at least up to the middle of 2004, when the book was published). If you are interested in the intimate details of the ins and outs of NASA personnel and program management?the ?inside baseball? aspects of a major Federal agency?this book is certainly a useful source: though even in that regard, the authors seem to have some odd omissions. In discussing Administrator O?Keefe?s most noteworthy selection, that of former Admiral Craig Steidle, as the head of the new Office of Exploration Systems?and thus as point man for development of future manned space vehicles?the authors dutifully cover his resume as program manager of both the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and F/A-18 Hornet series fighter/attack aircraft, but fail to follow up on why O?Keefe likely picked him: he knew him and respected him from his tour as SECNAV, back in the G.H.W. Bush administration. It would appear that the authors? finely tuned antennae only extend to the boundaries of NASA?s world, and not to the broader world of other Federal agencies.

If you are interested in a mind-numbingly detailed history of who did what to whom at NASA over the last 15 years, this book is for you. If you are looking for a broader approach to NASA?s vision of the future (such as it is), I suggest you look elsewhere.

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