Book Review: Roving Mars

Somewhere in the midst of exhaustive preparation, astounding scientific discoveries, and a constantly shifting schedule in order to stay on Mars’ time, Steve Squyres, the ebullient scientific leader of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program, found time to write an intriguing, behind-the-scenes book about his adventures with NASA’s two endearing rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet is a highly readable, personal account of the perseverance and sacrifices it takes to fly a NASA planetary mission. Squyres writes with clarity, eloquence and passion, sharing the gamut of emotions he has experienced in heading up a project of this magnitude.

Roving Mars is divided into three sections, with the first two parts providing an in-depth overview of the MER project from its initial formation in the imaginations of Squyres and his colleagues, through the various designs and configurations that the project endured, to the actual development, testing and launch of the two rovers. With the project plagued initially by politics and bad luck, and then with technical problems with the parachute, airbags and essential scientific equipment, Squyres reveals that MER ran the risk of being canceled almost right until launch. The author tells the stories of the scientific team and the engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory whose tireless dedication and cooperation have made the mission possible. “It’s a strange, heady mix,” writes Squyres, “with NASA-style cool under laid by get-it-done passion, and sometimes, a whiff of desperation.”

Part 3, entitled “Flight” is a real-time diary of events after the rovers launched that follows Spirit and Opportunity into their current explorations on Mars. Squyres’ detailed and vivid descriptions allow the reader to re-live the excitement and drama of events such as the landings of the two rovers and Spirit’s almost fatal computer failure, and provide an inside look at what occurred in mission control, and in Squyres’ mind, in those crucial moments.

With the rovers still going strong after more than a year and a half on Mars, Squyres includes his hopes for the rovers’ future as well as the future of human space exploration. “Roving Mars” includes 32 pages of color photos and illustrations. It is an intriguing and comprehensive account of the mission that has captivated the imaginations of millions.

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Review by Nancy Atkinson.