Space Places chronicles man's reach for the stars
Text by Robert Ressmeyer.
Foreword by Buzz Aldrin.
Photographs by Robert Ressmeyer, NASA, and other international space programs.
Collins Publishers, 208 pages, $45.00
By DOUGLAS D. KELLER
WHEN I FIRST LOOKED at Space Places, I thought it would be another "up with NASA" collection of pro-America propaganda. But in an attempt to be fair, I decided to let the photographs speak for themselves and judge the purpose of the book only when I had a better knowledge of its contents.
Space Places is a collection of photographs primarily taken by Robert Ressmeyer. Through photographs and insightful text, Ressmeyer recounts the history of man's reach for the stars, focusing on subjects such as astronomy, life in the universe, international advances in space exploration, and missions to the planets.
Space Places begins with an overview of ancient observatories such as the pyramids at Gaza, Egypt, Stonehenge in England, and the Star City of Beijing, China. Ressmeyer recounts the advances that the ancients were able to make in forecasting the seasons and predicting eclipses using the crudest of instruments. He then proceeds to document the improvements that have occurred in telescope technology, the process of discovery of cosmic events, Supernova 1987A. The book then moves on to the possibility of life in the universe, international advances in space exploration, future missions to the planets, and the dawn of the Second Space Age.
In the introduction to the book, Ressmeyer relates to the reader the basis for his interest in space: "Ever since childhood, space exploration has enthralled me. As a boy, I liked its mysterious implication of the infinite and the eternal. As an adult, my career as a photojournalist has enabled me to visit the world's leading centers of research -- Space Places, I call them." Ressmeyer became interested in space
upon hearing, at age eight, that there was something above the sky and that John Glenn was about to orbit the earth. Like the rest of America, he became hooked on space.
Space Places is a whirlwind tour of the important centers of space research and exploration around the world. From the Keck Observatory atop the summit of Mauna Kea, HI, to the Xichang Satellite Observatory in China, Ressmeyer has been to all of the major Space Places in the world. He has been on tours through Mexico to photograph the solar eclipse in March 1970; aboard the "vomit comet," NASA's KC-135 weightlessness research plane; and on a tower holding a fueled rocket so that he could reset his cameras. Ressmeyer's dedication and experience is what sets this book apart from others. He has been all over the world, talking to scientists, launch controllers, and researchers. His extensive knowledge of space research and exploration comes through in the text which accompanies the photos.
However the photographs are what catch your eye when you pick up this book. In a word, they are spectacular. When looking at these images, some of
them seem immediately familiar; this is because most of the photos have appeared before in science and popular magazines. Ressmeyer uses elaborate strobe setups, indoors, to make the most boring of scientific environments come alive. Some of his most striking images, however, are taken at night. Through the use of long exposures -- up to 10 hours in some instances -- Ressmeyer transforms night into eerily lit "daytime" photos. Through the use of the long exposures, he also captures the rising and setting of the stars in the nighttime skies.
Space exploration and research is expensive. But Ressmeyer foresees the advent of a Second Space Age because the benefits of space research, in his mind, far outweigh the costs. "Around the world, space engineers are working on critical problems that precisely mirror
the environmental challenges facing the planet as a whole -- and are developing techniques for safe production of energy, for recycling and waste management, and for finding new resources in the solar system that can benefit earth."
Space Places is an exceptional collection of photographs whose descriptions provide not only insight into the photographs themselves but a coherence for the book as a whole. It is definitely pricey at $45, but with over 170 gorgeous color photographs, Space Places is worth the investment.