Review: Blogging the Moon

[Note: This review is reprinted from the May 2011 issue of Moon Miner's Manifesto]

“Blogging the Moon” by Paul D. Spudis. Published in 2011 by Apogee Prime, it weighs in at 328 pages, plus a DVD of his talk “Luna Nova” and a slideshow of his personal Moon quest over the past three decades. Well edited, with the only noted errors in the included commentary.

It might seem counterintuitive to publish a print book of web content, but it’s not new in the space community. The first notable example of web content collected into book form would likely have to be the PERMANENT book, drawn from the www.permanent.com website which addresses Projects to Employ the Resources of the Moon and Asteroids Near-Earth, Near-Term. Which sounds an awful lot like what Dr. Spudis is talking about.

The book opens with a brief preface describing how the author came to have a blog at Air & Space Magazine online entitled The Once & Future Moon, which name is taken from his 1996 book, its title an homage to the T.H. White book that all future leaders should read as a young lad. As so often happens with blogging of substance, the frequency of the blog posts may not have been what management expected, the posts themselves were usually worthy of their episodic (rather than periodic) nature. (Paul has admitted that blogging is a lot more involved than he had anticipated. Amen to that)

The original offer was to have Dr. Spudis “live-blog” the launch of India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe, which carried Dr. Spudis’ Mini-SAR instrument to the Moon, recounted here as “India Aims for the Moon”. The story continues with “Hitting a Bull’s-Eye on the Moon”, where he recounts the thoroughly modern story of sitting in his hotel room at 4am, having just gotten images from Chandrayaan’s Moon Impact Probe (MIP) that evening, and live-streaming the upcoming Endeavour launch and seeing a full Moon slowly rising above the horizon in the Florida twilight, from Bangalore. This is also the first post to include the article’s comments.

Readers want constant novelty (for free!) and so there is a constant pressure on bloggers to generate new posts to try to get the traffic numbers up. This leads to Dr. Spudis posting on a variety of topics, in many cases policy-related, but also regarding legal issues, Lunar water, myriad reports on space issues, and a host of other things, for a total of 65 chapters dating from October 21st, 2008 to July 23rd, 2010.

Over that timeframe, NASA “bombed” the Moon with LCROSS, and the President released a new prescription for NASA, one involving less work on a custom new launch vehicle system (that was apparently too expensive to actually do anything with once built) and more work on moving the technologies useful for doing things in space, like fuel depots, rendezvous & docking, on-orbit assembly, radiation shielding, many-restart rocket motors, and so on. Which technologies can be used by the private sector to serve not only their own ends, but also those of NASA.

Dr. Spudis doesn’t quite see it that way, and spends much of the latter part of the book detailing his views on the shortcomings of the President’s directions to NASA. His argument seems to boil down to “NASA needs to have a specific target and direction before they can achieve great things”. The danger therein, however, is that NASA’s results tend to be optimized to that particular target/direction, with little cross-adaptability to any other application in space activities.

Including the comments that people leave at the blog expands the context of each post to that of a dialogue with both the author and other commenters. In some instances this aids in understanding each post, in others the thread can be drawn astray from Dr. Spudis’ intent, and has to be shepherded back on topic. Even these diversions, though, often have their own value.

Overall, the book is an interesting foray from Lunar science in India, to rocket design in the halls of Congress. It’s readily accessible to the layman, but given Dr. Spudis’ position in the forefront of Lunar science it also offers numerous insights on the advantages of the Moon for more informed readers. The book format allows for easier flipping back and forth between related blog posts, as well as the ability to jot notes in the margin to capture important points. I’ll have to be sure to get the Paul to sign the review copy in the Lunar Library at the next ISDC, where he is slated to receive the University of Luna award from The Moon Society.

A solid work in every way, this one gets a Full Moon rating.

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