Book Recommendation: Chasing New Horizons

If you’re a Pluto fan, this book is required reading.  Authors Alan Stern (who led the New Horizons Mission) and David Grinspoon tell us the story of why NASA neglected to send a space probe to Pluto for so long, and how an intrepid group of scientists fought for a Pluto mission and eventually won the day.

This is not just another book about science and technology.  Yes, a large portion of the book is about the technology it took to get to Pluto and the science we learned once the New Horizons space probe started sending back its data. But more importantly this is a David and Goliath story, with NASA’s bureaucracy cast in the roll of Goliath and the so-called “Pluto Underground” playing the roll of David.

I feel like the authors must have made a few enemies at NASA, and maybe a few enemies in Washington D.C. as well, for writing this book. This is an honest and forthright look at the kind of political and bureaucratic resistance New Horizons had to deal with.  As a space enthusiast, I keep hearing about other space missions that are struggling to get to the launch pad.  After reading Chasing New Horizons, I think I have a clearer idea of what causes these sorts of hold up.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Pluto’s planet status.  The authors say very little about that, which in and of itself says a lot.

I’m guessing the authors made a few enemies at the International Astronomy Union as well.  They give us only a few pages about the I.A.U. vote to demote Pluto and why they believe that vote was wrong.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.  Five out of five stars, or maybe I should give it a rating of nine out of nine planets.

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