Exploration, Space, and the Third Great Age of Discovery

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Additional Formats
  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101190296
  • 464 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


A brilliant new account of the Voyager space program-its history, scientific impact, and cultural legacy

Launched in 1977, the two unmanned Voyager spacecraft have completed their Grand Tour to the four outer planets, and they are now on course to become the first man-made objects to exit our solar system. To many, this remarkable achievement is the culmination of a golden age of American planetary exploration, begun in the wake of the 1957 Sputnik launch. More than this, Voyager may be one of the purest expressions of exploration in human history.

For more than five hundred years the West has been powered by the impulse to explore, to push into a wider world. In this highly original book, Stephen Pyne recasts Voyager in the tradition of Magellan, Columbus, Cook, Lewis and Clark, and other landmark explorers. The Renaissance and Enlightenment-the First and Second Ages of Discovery- sent humans across continents and oceans to find new worlds. In the Third Age, expeditions have penetrated the Antarctic ice, reached the floors of the oceans, and traveled to the planets by new means, most spectacularly via semi-autonomous robot. Voyager probes how the themes of motive and reward are stunningly parallel through all three ages. Voyager, which gave us the first breathtaking images of Jupiter and Saturn, changed our sense of our own place in the universe.


“A challenging but immensely rewarding read.”
-Kirkus (starred)

“Pyne’s book isn’t just an overview of the Voyager program; it’s a sweeping history of what Pyne calls the “third age of discovery,” beginning with the first sputterings of Sputnik and reaching all the way to our recent space shuttle disasters. Along the way, we’re treated to a dense but intriguing sweep of the eras of exploration past.”

“For space geeks, it’s a sweet read; for everyone else, it’s an eye opener.”

“Today both Voyagers are still in operation and are passing beyond the edge of the solar system, serving as distant ambassadors for humankind. In this book, Pyne puts that quest in grand perspective.”
-Science News

“The Voyager story itself is an amazing one, and Mr. Pyne tells it skillfully…Mr. Pyne deftly shows how the development of rocketry, of orbital science and of computer technology all came together just in time to take advantage of a once- every-176-years planetary alignment that would allow a spacecraft to make close passes of outer planets- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune-all in one long trip.”
-The Wall Street Journal “Even the most passionate aficionado, who devoured every digital bit sent back by the Voyagers, will find this overview enriching.”
-The Washington Post

“Pyne manages to set alight the story of the Voyagers as few space writers have ever done. In a marvelous twist on the usually self-important chronicles of space missions, he places the Voyagers in their historical and sociological context.”
-Dallas Morning News

“This is not just a history of the remarkable Voyager programme. Instead, it is an attempt to analyse it as part of the broad sweep of exploration stretching back to the likes of Christopher Columbus, focusing more on the politics and culture behind these ventures than on their scientific returns.”
-New Scientist

“The Voyager spacecraft have not only clocked up a far better understanding of the outer planets, they also illustrate mankind’s third great age of discovery, according to Stephen Pyne in a fascinating new book.”
-The Economist

“If NASA’s historic achievement in manned spaceflight is a source of wonder and pride for all Americans, the agency’s epic triumphs with satellites should be just as widely known and celebrated. Stephen Pyne’s masterful Voyager show us just how the U.S. continues to command the forefront of a third age of discovery in exploring our beautiful and astonishing universe.”
-Craig Nelson, author of the New York Times bestselling Rocket Men

Praise for How the Canyon Became Grand

“This extraordinary book puts the national landmark in the context of nothing less than the intellectual history of western civilization-in 200 pages.”
-Newsday “Unique and revealing…offers great grist for discussion, perhaps as deep as the Grand Canyon itself.”
-USA Today

Praise for Year of the Fires

“This fusion of action and history firmly lands Year of the Fires in the realm of such literary disaster tales as The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air.”
-Chicago Tribune

“Readers…of this unusual book will find themselves in a world seldom visited by historians, let alone to the general public…Year of the Fires is a pleasure to read.”
-The New York Times Book Review

“Powerful and absorbing.”
-Austin American-Statesman