Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
Four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the spacecraft's Ralph instrument to create this enhanced global color view of Pluto.
Enlarge / Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument to create this enhanced global color view of Pluto.

Humanity’s expansion into the solar system seems to be a recurring theme here. We’ve dedicated a podcast to it The expanse and looked at the book Beyond Earth, which envisions humanity colonizing Saturn’s moon Titan. Recently, we had the chance to look at another take on humanity’s journeys to other worlds, one that goes beyond political drama and existential threats.

Instead, it’s all about planetary tourism. Designed as a travel guide, with chapters for each planet and Pluto, Vacation Guide to the Solar System envisions a future where people spend a few decades touring Saturn and don’t want to miss any of the major sights when they get there. And while Holiday guide is anything but a hard science book, you will probably become smarter after reading it. That’s the whole point.

Guerrillas in space

The book’s authors, Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich, belong to a group called Guerilla Science, which uses art, installations, performances, and more to bring a little science into the lives of people who don’t necessarily care about it. were missing. The group started the Intergalactic Travel Bureau as a bit of a gig: members of Guerilla Science acted as trip planners, asking people what they were interested in before suggesting a planet that would suit those tastes. Eventually, the made-up desk turned into a real store in Manhattan.

Now the Intergalactic Travel Bureau has released a book, one that takes over most of the tropes of a typical tourist guide. So for each planet there’s a page with basic stats about the destination, like how Venus goes around the sun at 78,000 miles per hour. Or how his runaway greenhouse ensures that the high, low and average temperatures are all the same. Or how the slow rotation ensures that a day lasts more than 2800 hours.

Vacation Guide to the Solar System has sections on when to go to each world (Pluto’s highly elliptical orbit gets you there while it’s close by) and a detailed discussion of travel times, as well as how to get around the planet once you get there. For those planets where the surface is accessible and not made of metallic hydrogen, there’s a discussion of precautions to take to survive when seeing the sights.

Thanks to ESA, NASA and the Soviet space program, we have a remarkably good idea of ​​what those sights are. So each chapter has a long list of craters, cloud formations and other strange terrain that no space tourist should miss. Even if the planet has no surface, it is guaranteed to have moons that do. Koski and Grcevich envision all sorts of mountain-climbing challenges, along with some real sci-fi pastimes, like low-gravity baseball or bungee jumping through the depths of Saturn’s atmosphere from one of its floating cities.

However, the authors cut the veracity a bit short. Unlike in a real travel guide, Vacation has no tips on where to stay or where to eat. However, there’s a long debate about the nasties of space travel, making it unclear why anyone would want to spend more than a decade getting to Pluto. Although the authors helpfully note that many tourists make this their last journey, as the round trip takes nearly half a lifetime.

Does it travel well?

Let’s be clear: the authors’ dedication to staying in guidebook mode is admirable and definitely the book’s greatest charm. That said, most people don’t read a travel guide from cover to cover because it can get more than a little repetitive. For this topic, the risk of recurrence is increased by the fact that most of the notable features NASA has identified off-world are variations of craters, fissures, and cliffs. Comparisons to Everest and the Grand Canyon abound.

That being said, Vacation is not a book that suffers if you put it away for a while and come back to it later. There is no plot, so forgetting details of an earlier chapter is irrelevant.

And those details are absolutely in line with the overall goal of sneaking science into what is part sci-fi work. Jana Grcevich is an astronomer and the material in the book has been vetted by several other astronomers. The basic information is all solid.

Where Vacation what really shines, however, is that Koski and Grcevich have thought carefully about the consequences of those facts. Like noting that there is a moon (one from Mars, I think) that is so small that someone with reasonable arm strength could throw a baseball into orbit. But the attention to detail goes much deeper than that.

For example, they note that we can’t build anything that would survive conditions near Saturn’s surface, meaning lighter-than-air ships are essential. But Saturn has a low-density atmosphere composed mostly of hydrogen. So for an airship to work on Saturn, the entire interior would have to be a vacuum. In contrast, Pluto’s low gravity and frigid nitrogen ice make transportation a snap. Just pump some waste heat under your hovercraft and it will explosively vaporize the surface, allowing you to fly over the dwarf planet.

Vacation has plenty of other examples, and I’m struggling not to spoil the best of them (I deleted at least three sentences with others). To see more, get the book. If you do, it’s a fun, new way to look at our solar system. But if you’re like me, that will mix with a wistfulness about how you’ll never really see it all.

By akfire1

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