Photo Gallery of Space Places

SPACE PLACES. By Roger Ressmeyer, San Francisco: Collins, 208 pp., $45 `SPACE PLACES'' is a fascinating collection of color photographs, taken over a 20-year period, that capture the gleam and granite of the observatories, launch sites, and laboratories that help bring us grand views of the universe. We're briefly introduced to astronomers around the world - amateur as well as professional - who search for new comets or track the death throes of distant stars.

Once the initial impact of color and scale subsides, however, photojournalist Roger Ressmeyer's book becomes clinical. With few exceptions, the center of interest is a thing: a rocket, a radiotelescope dish, an observatory. The shapes are often arresting, the lighting interesting - as when he takes a time exposure of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The moonlit scene takes on an almost daylight quality. He frequently ``paints'' his interior scenes with light as the photo is being taken. But much of the work is sterile.

Science requires tools; but it is a uniquely human activity.

Ressmeyer captures the excitement of discovery in one photo of astronomers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who are huddled in discussion over data from Voyager 2's Neptune flyby. The closest Ressmeyer comes to showing human warmth is in a photograph of a General Dzhanibekov at the Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City in the Soviet Union. The general is eating lunch at home with his wife and daughter, who is celebrating her 13th birthday.

But these glimpses are too few. The book would take on added interest if Ressmeyer had chronicled a day in the life of a researcher. Don't just show us space places, Mr. Ressmeyer; tell us space stories visually.

That, however, is an observation of one curmudgeonly adult. Leaf through the book with a wide-eyed 6 1/2-year-old, and the conversation quickly pivots on the question: ``Wow, what's that?'' Which, after all, is what prompted humans to look skyward in the first place.

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