Sunday, January 21, 2007
ROVING MARS (THE BOOK)
Steve Squyres book, Roving Mars, is exciting, interesting, and important. It is a page-turner.
Describing the decades long struggle to place scientific experiments on the surface of Mars, and the day-by-day, sometimes second-by-second, thrill of waiting for results to be radioed directly back, live from the surface, he takes us with us, almost in real time, to the experience of probing Mars.
The challenges were scientific, managerial, technical and even psychological (ups and downs as budgets, priorities, technical problems, and deadlines threatened to scuttle the project or suddenly inject into it new life and bigger opportunities).
Squyers, a professor at Cornell University, was the principal scientist for the two robots, Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars years ago and are still returning data.
The most important result of the investigation is solid evidence that water once flowed on Mars. In addition, there are pictures and chemical analyses of the Martian landscape and its soil and rocks.
The years-long struggle he describes points out a number of interesting ideas, issues and questions. Most obvious is the clear fact that no matter how sophisticated the science you wish to do on Mars may be, you can't do it unless you can get there. So the fundamental first step is to develop the engineering technology to build the rockets to get there, the landing system to place stuff safely on the planet surface, and equipment that will work when it arrives, having survived the launch, the journey, the landing, and the Martian environment.
Also interesting is the multifarious role of NASA which itself bears the lead role in often conficting missions and services. NASA:
- Builds and runs the rockets
- Finances the science
- Supports manned missions
- Supports unmanned missions
- Runs the trips
Rocket science is different from planetary science; science is different from engineering; and the science and engineering (and even the politics) of manned flight is different from that of unmanned flight.
NASA has to worry about
- Management (including budgets, schedules and deadlines that are mandated by planetary science as well as the usual pressures)
For that matter, politics itself has many forms: there are issues of public, congressional, and presidential politics, of course, but there's also internal politics in NASA and internal politics in the world of science.
NASA has a big job!Roving Mars is a great introduction to both the scientific world of planetary exploration and the technical, practical and political adventure of exploring another world.
Product Details (From Amazon.com)
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Hyperion; Hardcover (August 3, 2005) Reprint edition (May 9, 2006)
Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6.5 x 1 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.27 pounds
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #147,221 in Books
In-Print Editions: Hardcover, Paperback