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Rocket Science: Rocket Science in the Second Millennium
(Apogee Books Space Series) by Alfred J. Zaehringer
Review by Paul Haggerty
Apogee Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1894959094
Date: 30 October, 2004 List Price $20.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Rocket Science: Rocket Science in the Second Millennium is a new volume in Apogee Book's Space Series. Alfred Zaehringer lays out for the reader an exhaustive collection of information detailing physics, history, and projections for the future. The book is organized into eight chapters, starting with the history of rocket flight, covering the state of the art in considerable depth, and ending, naturally enough, with the outlook for the future. It's a useful and authoritative work, though the author's biases might make Heinlein stir a bit in his grave.

    Chapter 1: Rocket Science History

    This chapter details the history of rocketry from the first Chinese rockets of the 11th century through the various wars, where most of the advances were unfortunately made, and up to the present. The majority of information starts with World War II, which took all the bits and pieces, put them together, and scaled them up to what we popularly think of rocketry today.

    Chapter 2: Rocket Science Energetics

    This chapter is a fascinating synopsis of the balancing forces of physics that make rocketry both possible and difficult. Gravity pulls us down, Newton's Second Law pushes us up, and ballistics describe the path of the tug of war between them. Fuel efficiency, aerodynamics, and rocket staging are all intertwined in the decision of which fuels and oxidizers to chose. The old joke about something being easy because it?s ?not rocket science? becomes even more evident once you see what rocket science really involves. Every pound of payload means less distance traveled. Higher energy fuels require larger and heavier tanks, which mean less lifting ability. More inclined orbital paths mean less payload or lower altitude. The frustrating trade-offs are found in every equation and every requirement.

    Chapter 3: Rocket Science Economics

    This chapter detailing the economic price tag associated with rockets from Apollo to the Space Shuttle and the latest experimental craft, including several tables attempting to compare fuel efficiencies of space craft with cars, planes, and cruise liners.

    Chapter 4: Rocket Science with Government and Industry

    This chapter covers the close connection between the United States government and the various corporate entities involved in making space travel possible. Part history, part state-of-the-art description, this chapter covers the transformation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the workings of the Space Shuttle, and the space needs of both the military and a growing civilian industry which is finding out space is useful for a great number of applications.

    Chapter 5: Rocket Science in the Space World

    A short chapter detailing the types of rockets available to all the other space-capable countries of the world.

    Chapter 6: Rocket Science and Humans in Space

    Of all the new frontiers humans have attempted to conquer, space is the first one where the natural environment is instantaneously lethal. Every breath of air, drop of water, and crumb of food must be carried along with the travelers, along with a fully protective artificial environment. This chapter deals with consumables, radiation problems, temperature control, hygiene, motion, and various forms of "space weather" such as solar flares and meteors.

    Chapter 7: Rocket Science and the Future

    So far nearly all rockets have relied on a common form of propulsion. Basically, burn some energetic fuel in the presence of an oxidizer. Whether the pair is hydrogen and oxygen, or rubber and nitrogen oxide, the basic chemical process is the same. This chapter goes into extraordinary detail on the various mixtures of fuels and oxidizers that have been used and then branches out into the more fantastic new concepts that scientists and engineers are developing to replace the old paradigm. Ramjets and Scramjets that take oxygen from the air on the way up to reduce that amount of oxidizer that needs to be carried. Ion drives for slow, steady low thrust propulsion for space probes and satellites already out of the atmosphere. Engines where the power plant remains on the ground and the energy is beamed to the engine by way of laser. Several varieties of nuclear propulsion rockets. Electro-magnetic rail-guns and, of course, faster-than-light physics.

    Chapter 8: Rocket Science Sources

    The final chapter in the book gives a wealth of contact information. Mailing addresses and or Internet URL's are given for a variety of rocket clubs, companies, government agencies, and private space organizations. Also listed are about three dozen books the reader might be interested in getting if they wish to learn more.

This book is an excellent reference to keep around the house for when you need to remember what the difference is between Total Impulse and Specific impulse, or if you need to know the total thrust produced by the Saturn V rocket. The facts, figures, and equations are meticulously researched and clearly presented.

Unfortunately, Mr. Zaehringer has, like all humans, some built in biases. Mixed in throughout all the science are pieces of personal philosophy, many of which while presented as fact, are still being hotly debated in the rocketry world.

Mr. Zaehringer states as fact that horizontal-takeoff-horizontal-landing is the only practical mode for a reusable space plane. In fact several corporations are spending billions of dollars building vertical-takeoff-vertical landers, since they have many superior qualities. He states that expendable rockets will always be cheaper and more efficient that the one piece single-stage-to-orbit rockets. These are also currently under development under the philosophy that flying the same ship many times (like airplanes) will always be safer and cheaper that one-shot rockets which can not be tested without actually being launched, and, of course, destroyed in the testing.

Like in all things, there are tradeoffs in every method of achieving a goal. However, having a personal preference (and writing a book) does not translate opinion into fact. So when you read his opinions on single-stage-to-orbit rockets, solar sails, communications satellite usefulness, HTHL vs VTVL systems, or moon mining, keep in mind that these are personal opinions held by the author, and not necessarily the generally held views in the field of rocketry.

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