Spaceport Earth by Joe Pappalardo – Review

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By Roger Crow

In 2011, while on a Press trip to Florida, I settled into my Orlando bed after a day of travelling from the UK. Within an hour I was wide awake and standing on the ’skywalk’ of one of Disney’s most impressive hostelries.

No, it wasn’t an early morning event organised by Team Mickey, but the launch of a space shuttle. STS 133 – the final flight of Discovery after 27 years of service.

Ideally I’d have been a lot closer to the action, but that involved hardcore planning and a lot of dedication to get a decent vantage point. I was just in the right place at the right time, albeit many miles away. It was enough to see a speck of fire in the distance rise into the heavens.

Joe Pappalardo would not have settled for such a distant viewpoint. He’s one of those writers who has made a living out of watching launches in various parts of the world. His book Spaceport Earth is a compelling odyssey involving the nuts and bolts of being such a devoted rocket launch aficionado.

spaceport earth book review joe pappalardo coverGiven the fact NASA have scrubbed their space shuttle programme, it is of course tycoons like Richard Branson and Elon Musk who are pioneers in the heady world of space tourism. Someone needs to supply parts for the International Space Station, and where there’s a lucrative business, you can bet providers thinking way outside the box won’t be far behind.

“Sense of wonder”

In the sci-fi world, Cooper’s lament about the lack of manned space flight in Chris Nolan’s flawed but mesmerising Interstellar becomes more relevant with each passing year. “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars,” sighed Mathew McConaughey’s hero. “Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.”

Given the fact US manned space flight seems to be on hold, it’s meant other heroes have had a chance to shine. Little wonder our own Tim Peake has achieved such superstar status recently.

Spaceport Earth is such a compelling read, it almost demands to be turned into a documentary. BBC’s Horizon could do worse than green light a one-off at least. Until that happens, I’d recommend it to anyone who has dreamed of travelling into space, or just gets a kick from watching things take off.

Though the acronyms get a little top heavy at times, the author has a terrific way with words that keeps me hooked. And with a selection of photos helping to illustrate his quest, this is one of the most compelling books on space travel since Peake’s Ask An Astronaut.

Though the mid-noughties excitement generated by Branson regarding space tourism may have abated a little, it’s clear things are still happening. Obviously it’s not the sort of thing to be rushed, and when tycoons do jet into space, however briefly, it should rekindle that sense of wonder millions felt by the Apollo and shuttle missions.

Until then, Spaceport Earth is a great literary way of travelling to infinity… and beyond.

‘Spaceport Earth: The Reinvention of Spaceflight’ by Joe Pappalardo is published by Duckworth Overlook, £18.99 hardback


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