Review: “The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration”

After my last review, I wanted to read a bit of Moon science. As I perused the titles in the Selenology section of the Lunar Library, my eyes paused upon The International Atlas Of Lunar Exploration by Philip Stooke, but I hesitated. It’s a big book, weighing in at 440 pages all-in. I was daunted, and that’s what decided it for me, so I dove right in.

I’m glad I did. This is a fantastic book. The volume of data conveyed is just stupendous, purveyed in a straightforward, no-nonsense and factual manner. The large volume of images is just overwhelming, showing the gradual accumulation of better and better images that helped pathfind the way for Apollo.

What’s neat about the book is how often it makes you want to look something up. One example is in the descriptions of the Surveyor missions, where the author notes that several of the probes carried bar magnets on the footpads to study magnetism in the regolith. Given recent results from Dr. Taylor at UTenn, I was curious to know more about the results, but the book didn’t mention them. So I went to the Apollo section of the Lunar Library and consulted the Apogee book Surveyor, which provided more details.

When the book mentions some of the early projects for sending people to the Moon, like Project Horizon, I can pull out another Apogee book, The Lunar Exploration Scrapbook, which has details and images of many of the projects discussed. When I get more curious about the Lunakhods, I can consult Soviet and Russian Lunar Exploration by Brian Harvey. Charles Byrne has done a terrific job putting the various photos together with his Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Near Side of the Moon and more recent The Far Side of the Moon.

What’s truly amazing is that all of these books were published in the last four years.

The book starts at the beginning – with Thor-Able 1 (a/k/a Pioneer 0) on 17 August 1958 (Fail), followed shortly thereafter by Luna 1958A (Fail). There were many Fails, some of them Epic, in the early years. But as you read through the entries, you can see how we were getting better, slowly but surely. Fatal rocket errors crept from the first stage up to the second stage and then the third. 60,000 km misses became precision landings. Blurred photos became crisp and clear. This quickens the pace of data accumulation to ensure better decisions, and the author is sure to include the various sites considered by various working groups for succeeding missions. There’re even notes on various Moonbase concepts that have been proposed.

In some regards the abundant use of images contributes to what might be considered the one weakness of the book. There are so many images and tables that the text can’t keep up. By this I mean that you might be reading about Surveyor 7, but the associated images are 20-25 pages ahead, meaning much flipping back and forth and trying to find the images referred to in the text. The images where the text on Surveyor 7 is found are of Surveyor 5. Unfortunately, because of the images used and the way the book is laid out I don’t see any easy solution without lots of tree-killing white space.

The book wraps up at SMART-1 and notes some future missions. Since Kaguya, Chang-e 1, and Chandrayaan-1 are all at the Moon now, soon to be joined by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, I guess it won’t be too long before it’s time for an update to this really thorough book.

One thing that always sways me when I’m reading a Moon-related book is when I note something(s) that I haven’t already seen in my research. This book is full of them, from the bar magnets on the Surveyor footpads noted earlier, to the nature of the first higher life forms from Earth to pass around the far side of the Moon. (it wasn’t human)

Anyone who’s doing research on science and our Moon might as well start here, because the author methodically lays out the various science experiments associated with our Lunar explorations in as close to an encyclopรƒยฆdic manner as you’re going to find.

I knew about the book when it came out, but the price tag moved it right down the priority list for acquisitions for the Lunar Library. Then I saw a copy at the last Lunar & Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), and knew that I had to have one. Luckily, LPSC attendees got a discount from the publishers, so I ate pasta for a few weeks and saved up the money to purchase a copy. I noted when it arrived that my initial skim through the book tweaked my Asperger’s hard, and I was tempted to take a couple days off work to really explore it. I can’t believe I waited this long to read it. This one is a must for any high school or university library.

Unquestionably a Full Moon at perigee.

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