With so much focus on the Apollo missions to the Moon and later with the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, sending unmanned flights to Mars seems to have been short-changed in comparison over the years. Even recent missions have been done on a cheaper budget than the biggest mega-film budget, although a mission landing in 2012 costing some $2.5 billion looks like this will be balanced somewhat. Considering the failures of the earlier Mars missions, more so with the Russians and only a little less so with the Americans, the recent ones have been more successful, often exceeding their expected missions duration. Reading this book, a lot of the problems have tended to be human and have been learnt from. When you consider the dusty hurricanes that encase the red planet from time to time, you would have thought that would be the least of their worries.
With this book, ‘Destination Mars: New Explorations Of The Red Planet’ by Rod Pyle, not only do you get to learn about our nearest neighbouring planet but about the American missions there. There is less detail about the Russian missions but mostly because they don’t talk about such things.
As the work on these Mars missions was done by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Rod Pyle interviews the various project leaders about their work and roles giving some interesting insight as to what went on.
One startling revelation is that whereas with the Apollo missions, technology advancement moved from it to be shared with the rest of the world, with the Mars missions the reverse has happened and it is our current tech that is sought and being used out there. Hence, all digital cameras have higher resolution and transmission to Earth carries far more than it ever did before and bears some relation to what many of us use on our blue planet.
Things I learnt. Dirt on Mars is called regolith and rock is lith.
If you ever wondered how we see the correct colours of what Mars looks like, the photo of Viking 2 shows a colour chart on it to guide us on Earth.
We all know by now about the discovery of water on Mars and even the perchlorate nutrient but as the water so far discovered is pure, I would hazard a decent guess that it’s never had life in it or it did, would definitely be deep core. Considering the difficulties in getting a decent drill to Mars, something which is being done with the upcoming mission, we might find different results. The amount of water available is about a third of the size of Greenland so far.
It’s interesting how NASA put a memo out not to name places on Mars after copyrighted characters in case they were sued as they missed a potential money-maker where said owners could pay to have places named that way. You would think companies would be lining up to do such things.
Speaking of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, did you know that director Jim Cameron was a contributor to the rover’s camera functions? Me neither, although in some respects I can see having an eye for getting the best camera shots doesn’t seem like a bad idea. These kinds of projects need cross-field experts rather than available people in a company.
If you want a book that can brief you on all you need to know about Mars and the missions sent there, then this book is for you. As an added bonus, it also gives an insight into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and how it does its work for NASA as its key contractor. Something Rod Pyle singles at the end that should be remembered by all is that NASA’s funds are being curtailed somewhat for more space mission. Although I’m sure that there is room for a commercial market out there, one must never forget that most of the significant technology advances you take for granted these days, stems from their advances and curtailing extra-terrestrial exploration could have serious repercussions for that. Read and explore.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 348 page with 24 page colour photographs insert indexed large paperback. Price: $19.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-589-7)
check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com