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An inside account of the Curiosity rover's quest to determine whether life is possible on Mars.
In its eerie likeness to Earth, Mars has long captured our imaginations - both as a destination for humankind and as a possible home to extraterrestrial life. It is our twenty-first century New World; its explorers robots, shipped 350 million miles from Earth to uncover the distant planet's secrets.
Its most recent scout is Curiosity - a one-ton, Jeep-sized nuclear-powered space laboratory - which is now roving the Martian surface to determine whether the red planet has ever been physically capable of supporting life. In Red Rover, geochemist Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for the ChemCam laser instrument on the rover and veteran of numerous robotic NASA missions, tells the unlikely story of his involvement in sending sophisticated hardware into space, culminating in the Curiosity rover's amazing journey to Mars.
In so doing, Wiens paints the portrait of one of the most exciting scientific stories of our time: the new era of robotic space exploration. Starting with NASA's introduction of the Discovery Program in 1992, scrappier, more nimble missions became the order of the day, as manned missions were confined to Earth's orbit, and behemoth projects went extinct. This strategic shift presented huge scientific opportunities, but tight budgets meant that success depended more than ever on creative engineering and human ingenuity. Beginning with the Genesis mission that launched his career, Wiens describes the competitive, DIY spirit of these robotic enterprises, from conception to construction, from launch to heart-stopping crashes and smooth landings.
An inspiring account of the real-life challenges of space exploration, Red Rover vividly narrates what goes into answering the question: is there life elsewhere in the universe?
|Format: DRM Protected ePub|
Vendor: Basic Books
Publication Date: 2013
This summer we will be one step closer to finding the answer. On August 5th, Curiositya one-ton, Mini Cooper-sized nuclear-powered roveris scheduled to land on Mars, with the primary mission of determining whether the red planet has ever been physically capable of supporting life. In Getting to Mars, Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument on the roverthe main tool for measuring Mars’s past habitabilitywill tell the unlikely story of the development of this payload and rover now blasting towards a planet 354 million miles from Earth.
ChemCam (short for Chemistry and Camera) is an instrument onboard the Curiosity designed to vaporize and measure the chemical makeup of Martian rocks. Different elements give off uniquely colored light when zapped with a laser; the light is then read by the instrument’s spectrometer and identified. The idea is to use ChemCam to detect life-supporting elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen to evaluate whether conditions on Mars have ever been favorable for microbial life.
This is not only an inside story about sending fantastic lasers to Mars, however. It’s the story of a new era in space exploration. Starting with NASA’s introduction of the Discovery Program in 1992, smaller, scrappier, more nimble missions won out as behemoth manned projects went extinct. This strategic shift presented huge opportunitiesbut also presented huge risks for shutdown and failure. And as Wiens recounts, his project came close to being closed down on numerous occasions. Getting to Mars is the inspiring account of how Wiens and his team overcame incredible challengeslogistical, financial, and politicalto successfully launch a rover in an effort to answer the eternal question: is there life on Mars?