New Horizons

Today is the day New Horizons will make its closest swing by Pluto, and the world is waiting for the photos and information. It’s going to be an amazing day!

NHHopkinsPoster_letterSize-page-001If you’ve been following NASA’s delve into the deepest parts of our Universe, it’s been a long time coming. Launched in 2006, New Horizons is the first spacecraft to reach Pluto and the Kuiper Belt…the farthest reaches of our Solar System. While it won’t land on Pluto, it is tasked with taking photos and uploading as much information to be transferred back to NASA as possible. We are finally going to see what this planet—and then non-planet—is all about.

Last week, only 10 days before the final pass, New Horizons had a bit of a technical issue which resulted in no information being sent to NASA for almost a 90 minute period. They were forced to shut down the main computer system in order to figure out the problem, but for a while, it was unclear if they’d be able to get it functioning in time to take photos or send back any information at all by the time today rolled around. Thankfully, the amazing brains at NASA managed to figure out the glitch and get New Horizons back on track.

You can read all about the mission, future missions, and what they hope to discover about Pluto at NASA’s New Horizons page right here.

For weeks, NASA has been answering fantastic questions posted by people on their Facebook page, on Twitter and through email. Questions like, “Why is it just passing by and not landing?” (Watch this quick video to find out! Hint: it has something to do with fuel.), and “How big or how small is Pluto?” (answer: it’s only about half the width of the United States).

We have lots of books about space in the library, as well as NASA, and specifically, Pluto. And if you’d like to have your own New Horizons Plutopalooza party to celebrate (maybe a fun event for the kids?), check out the information NASA has compiled on their website, complete with printable stickers, posters and more.

plutoHappy fly-by, New Horizons!  We can’t wait to see what you find!

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Need a Little Space?

With the blockbuster GRAVITY still in theatres, and a year filled with fascinating videos and tweets from the International Space Station, the world can’t seem to get enough of space and astronauts. So, it seems fitting that we’re heading into a new year with plenty more sci-fi action. And I couldn’t be happier.

I wasn’t lucky enough to make it out to one of the many book signings he did in Ottawa in December, but I managed to pick up Chris Hadfield‘s book AN ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE TO LIFE ON EARTH here at the library when it came in. I followed @Cmdr_Hadfield on Twitter the entire time he was leading Expedition 35 on the ISS earlier this year, and couldn’t get enough of his witty, interesting and educational tweets. So you can imagine, I was really looking forward to reading this book.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life in Space

I have to admit, I’m not exactly sure if this was meant to be an autobiography or a self-help/inspirational book. At the outset, Hadfield describes his life as a young boy and the choices he consciously makes to one day become an astronaut–even though it seems impossible (there is no Canadian space program, and NASA only considered American’s for their program at the time). I loved hearing about his wise choices as a young person, always asking himself “what would an astronaut do?”, even when the debate was something as simple as staying up late or not.

Similarly, the details of life in space, no matter what mission he was on, were always fascinating. From quarantine regimens to water filtration to suit discomfort, everything is covered. His accounts are well written and full of his trademark humour. If you’re looking for a great read about life in space, this book will not disappoint.

My only negative thought about AN ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE is that it feels at times like he’s trying to prove that he’s a great astronaut, and a great person on top of it all. He’s an extremely confident person, and so he should be. It’s amazing what he’s accomplished in his life, but he seems to want to make sure the reader knows this. For example, he tells a short story about spending time during one mission untangling cords in order for a video feed to broadcast back to Earth. Great. He got it working, and it’s a super example of how the astronauts must work together, sometimes doing menial tasks, to accomplish their goals on each Expedition. But then he mentions offhand that he never told anyone he did this, just went about the job until it was done, because not everything needs to be recognized as an accomplishment. Except that he wrote about it in the book. So, if he didn’t want recognition for doing it, wouldn’t he have left it out of the book altogether?

Unfortunately, after a while, I got a little tired of reading about all the great and simple ways he manages to excel in his life and his job through constant introspection and the humble support he gives his fellow astronauts and team. It not only made me feel like he was constantly bragging about how great his life is, but also made me feel pretty inferior in my day to day life.

His motivational ideas could be quite inspirational for the right person, and anyone gleaning just one great idea from this book will probably see a big difference in their life because of it. I only wish he’d stuck to the mechanics and observations of space travel and life as an astronaut, and left his personal ideals somewhat in the background. I would have sailed through the book if that had been the case.

Keeping with the space theme, I couldn’t pass this book on the shelf without picking it up: Lily Koppel’s THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB.  Koppel details the lives of the other important people involved in space travel…..the women left behind. I can’t wait to crack this open and start reading!

wives

Maybe it’ll keep me going until we receive our copy of Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN in 2014, or even Rachel Searle’s middle grade adventure, THE LOST PLANET.

spacespaceThere will always be an interest in space, and I hope, many more books on the topic to come!

How many in space?

I’m a big space fan.  I’ll read anything about space, NASA, or astronauts and I love a good space movie anytime.  So it made me wonder, how many people are in space right now?

freeflyer_nasa_bigOf course, there are always websites to answer these burning questions.  A site called “How Many People Are In Space Right Now?” told me that, today, November 9th, 2009…..there are 6 people in space, all on the International Space Station.

Just where is the International Space Station when you look up into the night sky?  You’ll have to be aware of when it passes over your sector of the sky, so to keep track of its progress, you can follow on Twitter at Twisst.  They notify you when the Space Station will be in your coordinates so that you have your telescope ready!

You can also follow the International Space Station on the NASA website where they list who’s on it right now, what they’re doing (science etc.) and you can also figure out what they might be looking at right now from their vantage point.  NASA has compiled images  of the world taken from the space station so that you can imagine what they see.  As I write this, it is passing over the Cape Verde Islands.

We also have a variety of books on the International Space Station if you’re interested in learning more.  Just pop into the library and we can get you started. It’s a small world!

Do you read them?

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This weekend, I finished a fabulous book by writer Chris Jones called “Too Far From Home : A Story of Life and Death in Space”.  It tells the tale of astronauts left up on the International Space Station after the Columbia explosion and all that transpired before and after that event.  I always enjoy reading books about space and this one didn’t fail to impress me.  Not only was there fascinating insight into the NASA space program and the International Space Station itself, but Jones really got into the lives of the astronauts involved.

Part way through the book, I flipped to the back cover to read about the author, something which I do with each book I open.  When we catalog a book, often we need to read about the author to find out where they are from. In our library, we add little maple leaf stickers to the sides of the books that are written by Canadian authors so that they are easily identified.  But usually, I’ll read all the details about the author as I find sometimes, you can gain real insight into why a person has written this book.  Many times, you’ll look at an author differently once you find out about their lives, and in this case, I was quite surprised.

Chris Jones is a Canadian author, and even more surprising, he lives just a few kilometers away in Ottawa, Canada.  Now, I found this surprising because I had just assumed that a book about the American Space Program would be written by an American author, but of course, it really doesn’t mean it had to be.  Write what you know, is the old adage given to authors, and Jones knows about space, so it doesn’t matter what part of the planet he is from.

Often, when I go into schools to talk to children about the various reading programs we hold throughout the year, I’ll tell them to read about the author at the back of the book. I’m sure that this is something not many people think to do, but really, the little blurbs that are written (I presume, by the authors themselves) are usually quite entertaining and full of wonderful information.  Sometimes, they pertain to the book itself as a book about dogs might include a note from the author about his or her own dogs at home.  Or sometimes, they are just a fascinating little piece of information, like children’s author Jon Scieszka who mentioned in one book flap that his surname rhymes with “fresca”, which I thought was useful as well as funny.

Before the last page, Jones included a few pages of acknowledgments, which I usually don’t read as I find them too much just a list of names, but this was just as informative as the book itself.  He told the tale of writing this book, along with the fact that his wife is a librarian at a branch of the Ottawa Public Library and she and her co-workers provided him with a variety of books to read in preparation for writing this book.  (Jones also stated that he wrote the last few pages of the book by the bedside of his very pregnant wife in the maternity ward at Ottawa’s General Hospital. I wonder if he flew down the street to the Alta Vista branch of the library to pick up something to read while waiting……..)

Do you read the book flap notes about an author when you read books?  You might find something just as interesting there as in the book itself.  Try it….