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There?s never been a better time to be an armchair astronaut. forget this planet. The economy is terrible,
global warming is inevitable, and there are at least eight major wars happening right now. That?s why Kessler left home and moved to Mars. Well, not all the way to Mars. The closest spot on earth you can get without a rocket. in the summer of 2008, he lived a space dream, spending three months in mission control of The Phoenix expedition with 130 top NASA scientists and ...
There’s never been a better time to be an armchair astronaut. forget this planet. The economy is terrible,
global warming is inevitable, and there are at least eight major wars happening right now. That’s why Kessler left home and moved to Mars. Well, not all the way to Mars. The closest spot on earth you can get without a rocket. in the summer of 2008, he lived a space dream, spending three months in mission control of The Phoenix expedition with 130 top NASA scientists and engineers as they explored Mars. This story is a human drama about modern-day Magellans battling NASA politics—you haven’t lived until you’ve seen this miracle of birth from the inside—and the bizarre world of daily life in mission control. Kessler was the first outsider ever granted unfettered access to such an event, giving us a true Mars exclusive.
The Phoenix Mars mission was the first man-made probe ever sent to the Martian arctic. They planned to find out how climate change can turn a warm wet planet (read: Earth) into a cold barren desert (read: Mars).
That might seem like a trivial pursuit, but it’s probably the most impressive feat we humans can achieve. It takes nearly the entirety of human knowledge to do it. This is only the sixth landing on Mars. Along the way, Phoenix discovered a giant frozen ocean trapped beneath the north pole of Mars, exotic food for aliens and liquid water. This is not science fiction. It’s fact. Not bad for a summer holiday.
An inside look at a Mars mission.
Kessler, who co-produced a Discovery Channel feature on the quest for life on Mars, was chosen to chronicle the 2008 Phoenix lander's 90 days around the red planet's north pole, with daily access to the earth-side scientists running the experiments. The mission was to search for evidence of water and organic chemistry, two prerequisites for determining whether life exists (or ever did) on Mars. The author credits the idea to mission leader Peter Smith, who thought a popular account of the discoveries and the scientists behind them would help inspire a new generation to enter space science. The book may instead serve to weed out those with insufficient passion for the enterprise, portraying as it does all the bureaucratic tangles, internal squabbles and technical glitches of the mission—not to mention trying to adjust to the Martian clock, with days 40 minutes longer than our own creating something like a perpetual jet lag. Another ongoing problem was the media's yearning for spectacular breakthroughs, which led to distorted coverage and predisposed many of the scientists to be suspicious of Kessler. Still, the author provides some fascinating glimpses of the real work of a space mission: planning activities for the lander, dealing with peremptory orders from NASA and JPL, interpreting the sometimes ambiguous data and occasionally letting one's hair down for a party. The mission spent several weeks trying to satisfy NASA's peremptory call for an ice sample, when both the robot arm and the onboard analytical equipment were acting up. At another point, two researchers feuded violently when one claimed to have detected liquid water on the surface—which, according to theory, should be impossible. (The discovery eventually held up, and was published.) Unfortunately, Kessler projects a needy, insecure persona, fretting over being excluded from meetings and reacting jealously when another journalist was allowed into the project. This gets old quickly, as does some of the jargon that creeps in.
Fascinating subject, less-than-stellar treatment—though die-hard space fans will find enough to keep the pages turning.
Author's Note vii
Part I The Phoenix of Tucson 1
Chapter 1 First-Day Jitters 9
Chapter 2 The Clod 31
Chapter 3 Control Room 41
Chapter 4 Cloddy with a Chance of Sprinkles 49
Chapter 5 Red Haze 60
Chapter 6 Special Mars Pill 74
Chapter 7 Wonderland 84
Chapter 8 The Lost Day 97
Chapter 9 Missing Pieces 108
Part II Red Planet Blues 119
Chapter 10 I, for One, Welcome our NASA Overlords 127
Chapter 11 Arm Up. Stand Down 145
Chapter 12 All the Landers, Independent 153
Chapter 13 Down and Out in the SOC 160
Chapter 14 In a Scrape 168
Chapter 15 Powers of Ten 174
Chapter 16 Nilton's Nodules 179
Chapter 17 An Enemy Among Us 191
Chapter 18 Nilton's Nodules (Round II) 196
Chapter 19 Feel My Rasp 204
Chapter 20 Martian Colds 208
Chapter 21 There is No Try 213
Chapter 22 Don't Be a Rasp Hole 218
Chapter 23 Ice Delivery, Take Two 226
Chapter 24 Mars Man Forever 229
Chapter 25 The Third Time 233
Chapter 26 Press Conference 237
Part III It's Dry Freeze 241
Chapter 27 Tinfoil Hats 245
Chapter 28 Oy Covault 249
Chapter 29 Full Release 253
Chapter 30 Shove the Regolith Back in the Lander 262
Chapter 31 That's the Planet I Saw on TV 273
Chapter 32 Forty Minutes Back 278
Chapter 33 Scooped 281
Chapter 34 Two Days Forward, One Sol Back 292
Chapter 35 Paralyzed Ops 302
Chapter 36 The Dude Abides 311
Chapter 37 Stiff Joints 319
Chapter 38 Salty Liquid Water Tears 322
Chapter 39 Sol Searching 325
Posted September 29, 2011
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