Marianne J. Dyson

Space and Astronomy: Decade by Decade

cover of Space & Astronomy
Available as e-book!
Space and Astronomy is a historical reference book that reveals how astronomers unravel the mysteries of what makes the Sun shine, how stars collapse into black holes, and how the universe expands. It's the story of dreamers who designed rockets to bring back knowledge of other worlds and other galaxies. This new title in the Twentieth-Century Science set published by Facts On File describes the progress of astronomy and the development of spaceflight from 1901 to 2000. Read press release (1.1 MB doc file).

Based on my research and personal experience as a flight controller for NASA, I created a list of the First Women Flight Controllers.

Check out Space and Astronomy at Freeman Memorial Library in Clear Lake, Texas: 520.904 Dys.


This book is a very readable, insightful history of the development of astronomy and space through the course of the twentieth century, a century in which our knowledge of the universe changed rapidly, and our ability to explore space moved from the Wright Brothers' hops to the voyages to the moon. Dyson, a former spaceflight controller at the NASA Johnson Space Center, chronicles this development, showing how we got where we are and who did it, in an interesting format, with diagrams and pictures to illustrate the key points. She profiles a "scientist of the decade" for each decade between 1900 and the millennium, and puts everything together into a coherent story of the great adventure of the twentieth century: the human search outward into the universe, and its growing understanding of our home planet and our place in the solar system and in the universe. --Geoffrey A. Landis "author and scientist" (, August, 2008).

"'Space and Astronomy' is nothing less than a very readable, very informative, and very enjoyable history of what has been accomplished in studies of space and astronomy in the 20th century. That's an enormous subject, but Dyson deftly breaks it up into easily understandable bites."--Ben Bova, Naples Daily News (August 18, 2007). Read full review at

"Space is extremely well detailed, the writing remains readable from start to finish, and an excellent index provides near-encyclopedic access. A fine history." --Jeffrey A. French, formerly at Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library, Willowick, OH (School Library Journal, March 1, 2008).

Why did I write this book?

Space is my passion. A child of Apollo, I was inspired and motivated to study math and science in the hope that one day, women might be included in the space program. I was the first woman in my family to graduate from college, earning a degree (cum laude) in physics. While in graduate school in astronomy, I applied to NASA and was fortunate to become one of the first ten women flight controllers. I worked as a Flight Activities Officer in Mission Control for the early space shuttle program. I left NASA to raise my children and began sharing my passion for space through writing and speaking. My first book won the Golden Kite for nonfiction, and my third won the American Institute of Physics science writing award.

Through SCBWI, I met other writers who shared my love of science. One of them contacted me about helping him with a space and astronomy book for Facts On File. I had just finished an assignment as a science consultant (on Space University) with Scholastic, and this opportunity sounded like a good fit with my background. I started as a coauthor, but it quickly became apparent that the research job was much larger than either of us had anticipated, and would require my full-time attention. After a change in schedule and a renegotiated contract, I became the sole author of Space and Astronomy.

It was the most difficult book I have written to date. Time and again I found myself reading into the wee hours of the night to satisfy my curiosity about some historical figure or to secure a deeper understanding of a complicated concept that I needed to explain in simple terms. Oftentimes the data I found was not in a useful format. One example was my attempt to sketch the Martian oppositions between 1894 and 1909. I thought this data would be readily available in an almanac, and expected it would be in the form of a nice orbital chart with the Sun at the center. Instead it came to me in columns of distances and phase angles of the Earth and Sun and the longitudes of Earth and Mars. Combining this with historical records of Mars observations, and with the aid of an astronomer at Lowell Observatory, I drafted the first figure of the book. Every chapter offered new and different challenges. I spent weeks tracking down birth and death dates (December 30, 1906 on the old Russian calendar is January 12, 1907 in the new calendar), questioning astronomers about their papers (lambda is the variable used for dark energy), and reading reading reading biographies and historical texts and technical journal articles.

The task of condensing one hundred years and tens of thousands of words of notes down to only the most significant events seemed impossible. It became the "never-ending book." Everything else in my life was postponed until "after I get this book done." In October of the first year, I thought I'd be mostly done by February. In February, I thought August was a good bet. In August, I thought I'd be done in October. In October, I thought surely by December I'd be finished. In December, it seemed February was likely. By February I knew it would never be "done."

Though I submitted the final draft at the end of March 2006 (and then reviewed galleys in the winter of 2006 and 2007), my head was so full of things I yearned to know more about, I realized that while this book may be history, the fields of space and astronomy are very much unfinished. Astronomers still don't know what 95 percent of the universe is made of! No woman has yet walked on the Moon, and no one at all on Mars. Too old now to be an astronaut myself, perhaps by my writing and speaking about astronomy and space, some other young girl will be motivated to study her math and science and discover a gate to another universe or leave her footprints on Titan. I look forward to writing about her accomplishments in a 21st century version of Space and Astronomy.

Excerpt from the Introduction

"For thousands of years, humans have scanned the sky and charted the movement of celestial bodies. The daily and seasonal patterns of the Sun, Moon, and stars guided sailors home, dictated the timing of planting and harvesting, and became an inspiration for festivals, celebrations, and holidays. The appearance of novae, comets, and storms of "shooting stars" lighting up the predawn hours were interpreted as lucky signs, dire omens, or special messages from the gods. These practical and spiritual connections of astronomy with human activity motivated and inspired improvements in observations and technology, which led to a deeper interest in exploring what lies beyond the outskirts of this galaxy and the next."

Contents (with Scientist of the Decade in parentheses):

1901-1910: Development of a New Astronomy (Percival Lowell)
1911-1920: Giant Stars and General Relativity (Henry Norris Russell)
1921-1930: The Expanding Universe (Edwin Hubble)
1931-1940: Understanding What Makes Stars Shine and Rockets Fly (Robert Goddard)
1941-1950: From War to Space (Wernher von Braun)
1951-1960: The Dawn of the Space Age (Sergei Pavolovich Korolev)
1961-1970: Putting Humans on the Moon (Robert Gilruth)
1971-1980: From the Moon to Jupiter (Carl Sagan)
1981-1990: Laboratories in Space (Vera Rubin)
1991-2000: Space Telescopes and Stations (Geoffrey Marcy)

Bruce Medalists
Further Reading

List of Figures (See sample at end.)

Chapter 1
Using Lunar Spectrum and Velocity Shift to Find Composition of Planetary Atmospheres
Martian Oppositions 1894-1909
Reflecting v. Refracting Telescopes

Chapter 2
The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram
Period Luminosity Relation for Variable Stars
Curved Space

Chapter 3
Hubble Classification of Galaxies
Hubble's Law
Expanding Universe
The First Liquid-Fueled Rocket

Chapter 4
CNO (Carbon-Nitrogen-Oxygen) Cycle
Reactions of the Proton-Proton Chain

Chapter 5
V-2/A4 Rocket
German Rocket Team Locations
Steady State Theory

Chapter 6
Spiral Arms of the Milky Way
Hoyle's Cosmological Framework
Comparison of First Satellite Launchers
Van Allen Belts
Mercury and Vostok Capsules

Chapter 7
Apollo Lunar Landing Options
Voskhod with Airlock
Effects of Earth's Atmosphere on Spectra
Pulsar Model

Chapter 8
Olympus Mons Compared with Earth?s Largest Mountains
Pioneer Plaque
Gravitational Lens/Double Quasar

Chapter 9
Shuttle Flight Sequence
Gravity Assist of Voyager 2
Galaxy Rotation

Chapter 10
Hubble Servicing
Doppler Shift Method
How Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Works
Cosmic Distance Measuring Methods*

* Book figures are in black white. This figure was colorized by the artist, Bobbi McCutcheon, for the web. For reprint rights, contact Facts On File, 1-800-322-8755.
Cosmic Distance Measuring Methods caption: During the 20th century, astronomers went from simple parallax to many new ways to measure the distance to stars and galaxies.


Please correct and/or update the following (download pdf of updates):
  • Page xv, Marilyn Hopman should be Marilynn with two n's.
  • Page 75, CNO CYCLE diagram, 4th row, cross out 2 protons and 2 neutrons under Helium 4.
  • Page 91, insert “in the U.S.” after “first rocket-powered aircraft flown”
  • Page 98, change R-10 to R-1.
  • Page 108, Jodrell Bank Observatory in Britain (not Australia)
  • Page 111, add death year to Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
  • Page 128, Luna 2, replace “” with “it was first to impact the surface of the moon.”
  • Page 129, after “first Mercury test flight” delete “with two rhesus monkeys”
  • Page 130, add death years to Scott Carpenter (1925-2013) and Walter Shirra (1923-2007).
  • Page 137, add death year to Neil Armstrong (1930-2012).
  • Page 144, add death year to John Houbolt (1919-2014)
  • Page 152, the English units for Apollo 5 payload capacity are off by a factor of ten. Please change 806,432 pounds to 80,643.2 pounds. Kilograms are correct. In the next paragraph, insert "(a lunar flyby)" after Zond, 1, 2, and 3. (Otherwise, it seems that Zond 3 failed on a mission to Venus or Mars. It was a successful lunar flyby, discussed on page 149.)
  • Page 168, add death year to Edgar Mitchell (1930-2016)
  • Page 195, change, "They used the robotic arm to deploy two commercial satellites," to " They tested the robotic arm, and deployed two commercial satellites."
  • Page 198, "puddy" should be "putty." (Word did underline this, but it underlined so many technical words I got in the bad habit of ignoring it!)
  • Page 207, add a hyphen after Sunyaev's date (1943- ). He did indeed live longer than one year!
  • Page 238, delete the last two sentences. Add "After violating sexual harassment policies, Marcy resigned from UC Berkeley in 2015."
Please send any corrections or updates you find to me. These will be included in future reprints. Thank you!

More Information

This book is one volume of Facts On File's 20th Century Science set. To order the e-book, call 1-800-322-8755.

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Resource Links

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