Book Review: Roving Mars

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July 7, 2014 by Beth - I SNIFF BOOKS blog

roving mars coverFrom live streaming press conferences and other online events, I’ve heard Steve Squyres give science updates from the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.  He speaks eloquently and his voice is full of enthusiasm, excitement, and wonder.  I’m happy to report that he conveys these same sentiments in his writing.

Squyres writes an incredible behind-the-scenes look at what it took to land the rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars.  Others may find some of the more finer, technical details dry but I found them enthralling.  I liked learning about the AOs (Annoucement of Opportunity), the subsequent team-building and proposal process, the discussion about the scientific instruments and flight hardware, the software and hardware testing, and all the other science and engineering issues that arose during rover building and testing.

Squyres writes for the layman, but admittedly, the book is aimed a bit more for us space exploration geeks 😉  But even if you are new to learning about Mars surface exploration and are not familiar with a lot of the lingo, Squyres still writes a highly readable and enjoyable book.  Don’t know what a spectrometer is or why it’s an important instrument on a rover (or orbiter)?  Or don’t know a lot about geology?  No problem! Squyers seamlessly includes explanations (up to a paragraph in length) that are informative and easy to understand.  Plus there is a handy glossary of terms and acronyms in case you forget what something is — very helpful since the peeps at NASA ♥ acronyms.

Truly a remarkable account and a must-read for anyone who wants to know the not-so-sexy details about what it takes to build two Mars Exploration Rovers, fly them to Mars, and get them off their landers and onto the surface of Mars!  And then, the SEXY Mars stuff happens!  Squyres gives us the low down for all the  significant exploration activities (and problems) that Spirit and Opportunity experience.  I was sad for the book to end, I truly enjoyed it, but oh how Squyres ended it, sigh, magnificent.

But the story really hasn’t ended.  Spirit and Opportunity are major rockstars — the initial mission length for each rover was projected at 90 days.  Opportunity is still going strong (10 years!!!) and Spirit’s mission concluded on May 24, 2011 when repeated efforts to regain communication ended (a couple years prior to this Spirit had gotten stuck but was still doing science from a stationary location).  The rovers’ long lives are a testament to the amazing and talented people who had a role in planning and assembling the rovers as well as operating them on Mars.

Roving Mars by Steve Squyers.  Published by Hyperion Books in August 2005.  Narrative is 378 pages (total page count is 434) with 32 pages of color photos contained in two inserts.  ISBN   978-1401301491.

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