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Book Review: Red Rover – Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity

Red Rover – Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity by Roger Wiens; Basic Books; New York, New York; $25.99; 2013.

This is a great read, and adds to the ambience and high-saluting given to NASA’s Curiosity rover that landed a year ago this month on the red planet.

Author Roger Wiens is the principal investigator for the ChemCam laser instrument on the rover and a stellar trouper of a number of past robotic NASA missions.

So often in the rattle of rover wheels and daring missions “out there”, the people and passion behind space exploration “down here” can be lost. As the book’s full title suggests this is the “inside” look at robotic space exploration.

What I found particularly fascinating is Wiens’ coverage of the NASA Genesis probe. It unfortunately plowed into Utah desert at 200 miles per hour, sans parachute, loaded with its precious cargo of solar wind particles.

“I wonder whether my childhood model rocketry hobby prepared me for what took place that day,” he writes. After working 14 years on the Genesis capsule, “it was probably the best-staged disaster since Evil Knievel had tried to jump a rocket-powered motorcycle over the Snake River Gorge,” Wiens recalls.

Scientists are still picking through the post-crash samples snagged by Genesis, on-going work that is revealing secrets about the Sun and our solar system.

A good bulk of the book is dedicated to Mars exploration – and the team-building needed to achieve scientific truth-seeking as well as battle bureaucratic sluggishness.

The author’s role at Los Alamos in working on the laser-blasting ChemCam instrument onboard Curiosity is detailed, a device that will help us decipher whether rocks and soils on Mars have been altered by water and contain chemicals necessary for life.

Like so many, that seven minutes of terror as the huge rover made its way to its landing zone last August, remains a terror-gripping unforgettable event – made all the more so given the perspective by Wiens.

You’ll find this book a most enjoyable read. Furthermore, as Curiosity chalks up more achievement at Mars, the reader can better appreciate why Mars continues to tug at our collective curiosity about the past and present of the captivating planet.

For more information on this book, go to:

http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465055982

By Leonard David

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