The late science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke, in an article published in 1945 in Wireless World, suggested that it would be possible to build a global communications system by placing artificial satellites in a strategically located orbit—the so-called geostationary Earth orbit. From their vantage point high above the Earth, the satellites would be able to relay information from any place to any other place around the world. Just twenty years later, Clarke's tentative proposal became a reality with the launch of the world's first commercial communications satellite—Intelsat 1. Now, a further four decades on from Intelsat 1, many of us would find it difficult to adjust to a world without satellites. Our cars and mobile phones routinely come equipped with satnav, the weather forecasts that we watch on our satellite TVs display images taken from space, Earth observation satellites monitor the threat of global warming and science spacecraft, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, have transformed our view of the universe. There can be no doubt that communications satellites, and the plethora of other satellites in diverse orbits, have profoundly affected the way we live.
But how are these satellites—these marvels of technology—designed? In what orbits can they operate? Once they are in orbit, how can we control them? What hazards do they face? How do we get them into orbit in the first place? Moving beyond Earth orbiting satellites, how can we design and propel spacecraft to rendezvous with comets or land on other planets? And, perhaps most importantly of all, what is the future of manned space exploration?
In this highly readable and entertaining book, Graham Swinerd shares with us his immense and personal experience of the first half-century of the Space Age, to answer these and many other questions—and all without recourse to mathematics!
Stephen Webb Portsmouth, England April 2008
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