This book is definitely more interesting than I've expected. I feel that I've learnt a few things about rocket science and its history. I've never heard of the Wan Hu story about an officer in Ming Dynasty trying to be the first astronaut ! But after some googling, it seems that this fancy story was probably made up by the westerners as it couldn't be found in any Chinese literature :-) Later in the book, I've been very amused by many plausible or crazy ideas ! I don't realize that the idea of space elevator (stairway to the sky!) has been considered especially after the nanotubes came to reality (p.148-153).
On p.79 (lines 10-12), the author said: "...the space industry may now be where the Internet was in 1995, ready to soar". I just don't believe it. In contrast to the explosive growth in the internet space, I somehow remember the demise of "Concorde" after ~27 years of operation. The author himself has pointed out the crucial reason (p.214, lines 12-15): "...information technology has gained by exponential progress in miniaturizing the components ... Space travel, on the other hand, has to deal with large objects like people and stubborn laws of physics".
I've learnt from p.142 (lines 13-15) that "astronaut", "cosmonaut" and "taikonaut" have the same meaning but just used specifically for US, Russian and Chinese spacefarers. In this book, the author has expressed his or American uneasiness towards Chinese advancement in space travel and exploration. Typically, it appears even-tempered and not too personal, such as "None of this makes officials in the United States very happy. Suspicions of Chinese motives in space run deep in American political circles" in p.144 (lines 4-6). But in "Note 19" of Chapter 6 (appearing on p.276), we probably see a glimpse of his real dissatisfaction: "China has progressed rapidly in science and technology because of a buoyant economy and strong investment. But a less noble reason is a shameless willingness to plagiarize intellectual property and to reverse engineer cutting-edge technologies. They have done this with fighter aircraft and supercomputers and they are now doing it with space technology."
Before I read this book, I had thought that the "future and beyond" portions would be very far-fetched. But it turns out that it's nothing as far-fetched and fanciful as "Interstellar". The author has informed us about the extension of present technologies and extrapolation to some future possibilities. The author is actually realistic: "most physicists think it's unlikely we'll ever be able to create and interrogate the quantum entangled state of more than a few thousand atoms. So transporters aren't even on the far horizon." (last line of p.231 to first 2 lines on p.232). Even when he discusses matter-antimatter engines, he'd tell us "At the moment, it would cost $100 billion just to create one milligram of antimatter" (lines 6-7 of p.222). Nevertheless, I have enjoyed learning about "solar sail" (driven by radiation from the Sun), "magnetic sail" (driven by the solar wind) and even laser/microwave beams to accelerate sails in the space.
Overall, this book provides a lot of valuable and interesting information regarding space travel in the past, at present and in the future. I've found it very worthwhile taking time to read this book and I've also learnt quite a bit. Almost like an eye-opener for me !...Continua