The Space Review
Waiting for Launch ebook
 

 
book cover

Review: Destination Mars


Bookmark and Share

Destination Mars: New Explorations of the Red Planet
by Rod Pyle
Prometheus Books, 2012
softcover, 348 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-61614-589-7
US$19

In less than a week, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission will arrive at Mars, landing on the surface a rover named Curiosity. That much is assured, but whether the rover lands in one piece, ready to climb the central peak of Gale Crater to study the geological history and possible habitability of Mars, or scattered in pieces on the crater floor, will create moments of high drama at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and anywhere else people are following the mission.

MSL, of course, is the latest in a long line of Mars missions stretching back half a century, when the United States and the Soviet Union started flinging spacecraft at the Red Planet as one front of the Cold War-fueled space race between the two nations. In Destination Mars, Rod Pyle covers that history of spacecraft exploration of Mars, examining both the spacecraft and the people who made them possible.

Interviews help the book stand out from other books about Mars exploration by providing first-hand accounts of the work on those missions, as well as what drew people into the subject in the first place.

Pyle provides a chronological progression of missions in the book, starting with Mariner 4’s flyby of Mars in 1965 that shattered earlier, more hospitable visions of the Red Planet, and working his way through to MSL. The emphasis is primarily on American missions to Mars, an understandable choice since most of the successful Mars missions have been by NASA. ESA’s Mars Express, perhaps the most successful non-NASA Mars mission, does get a short chapter, while Soviet/Russian failures are only briefly mentioned in the text.

He leavens the discussion of the various missions with chapters interviewing some of the key engineers and scientists involved in these missions. These chapters help the book stand out from other books about Mars exploration by providing first-hand accounts of the work on those missions, as well as what drew people into the subject in the first place. These chapters include some interesting, little-known vignettes: Robert Brooks, for example, describes how they nearly lost Mars Global Surveyor when a computer glitch caused the spacecraft to perform a course correction maneuver twice while lowering its orbit around the planet. Only some hard work by the spacecraft team (and “lax speed-limit enforcement” on local freeways as the spacecraft team raced to JPL in the early morning hours) saved the mission.

The book does touch upon the future of Mars exploration after Curiosity, but some elements of that section have been overtaken by more recent events. The book refers to US cooperation on ESA’s ExoMars mission, yet earlier this year NASA announced it was terminating its agreement to work with ESA on that mission, sending the Europeans scrambling to find new ways to carry out the planned orbiter and lander missions. Indeed, the future of NASA’s Mars exploration programs after Curiosity and the 2013 MAVEN orbiter remain uncertain, as the agency effectively reboots its exploration plans. As that future—both of long-term exploration and the short-term fate of Curiosity—unfolds, Destination Mars offers a good review of the history of spacecraft exploration of Mars up to now for those interested in learning more about the missions and the people who made them possible.


Home

Subscribe

Enter your email address below to be notified when new articles are published:


ISPCS 2014