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

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by Roger Wiens
     
 

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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,

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Overview


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 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?

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Konstantin Kakaes
[Wiens's] inside narration of how things go wrong at NASA is the great strength of this book. It is rich with details of how both the ChemCam team in particular and the Curiosity rover in general overcame engineering challenges such as faulty lenses and awkward temperature distributions.
Publishers Weekly
This entertaining insider account of Wiens’s work on two groundbreaking robotic space explorers—the Genesis and Curiosity rovers—captures all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of modern space science. An early fascination with all things intergalactic led Wiens from a childhood of model rockets to a career at NASA after the Challenger disaster. Under the leadership of administrator Dan Goldin, the rattled agency focused its efforts on discovery missions: small, specialized, and relatively cheap robotic programs. Wiens’s Genesis project—a probe that would collect samples of solar wind and return them to Earth—made the cut and launched in 2001 after years of planning. Despite an unexpected crash landing, Genesis vindicated itself by delivering valuable data intact. Wiens’s next pitch persuaded NASA to add the ChemCam, a device that uses a laser to burn minerals to reveal their composition, to a Mars rover, but everything from forest fires and funding issues to lab closures and the loss of the Columbia in 2003 kept ChemCam Earthbound until Curiosity launched in 2011. Wiens brings his work to life, candidly addressing the inevitable technological and bureaucratic obstacles and failures that compose the frustrating prelude to scientific victory. 16 b&w images. Agent: Felicia Eth, Felicia Eth Literary Representation. (Mar. 12)
From the Publisher

Washington Post
“[Wiens] is a good guide through the process of building a space probe.... His inside narration of how things go wrong at NASA is the great strength of this book. It is rich with details of how both the ChemCam team in particular and the Curiosity rover in general overcame engineering challenges such as faulty lenses and awkward temperature distributions.”

BBC Sky At Night
“This engaging new book by Roger Wiens whose team built Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument, gives a unique insider’s view… Wiens’s accessible and conversational writing is a major strength of Red Rover, providing a thoroughly human perspective on a complex technological subject.”

Booklist
“An engaging history of robotic space exploration.... A remarkable memoir and testament to the ingenuity of the space program’s many scientists who build the tools needed to explore our solar system.”

Scientific American
“Wiens offers a backstage tour of the delights and disappointments of working on missions."

Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly
“Wiens’s writing is clear and engaging.... A unique contribution.... This book reinforces a vision of outer space as emblematic of technological progress, but also nicely encapsulates the external, messy factors that influence, hinder, and help the development of a robotic explorer.”

Publishers Weekly
“This entertaining insider account of Wiens’s work on two groundbreaking robotic space explorers — the Genesis and Curiosity Rover — captures all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of modern space science.... Wiens brings his work to life, candidly addressing the inevitable technological and bureaucratic obstacles and failures that compose the frustrating prelude to scientific victory.”

Kirkus Reviews
“The author provides fascinating insight into the struggle to solve scientific problems despite technical constraints and equipment failures.... A winning memoir of great achievement.”

Steve Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University, and author of Roving Mars
“We live in a new golden age of exploration, as robotic spacecraft fan out across the solar system, extending the human experience to other planets. With Red Rover, Roger Wiens provides a delightful, candid, and highly personal insider’s view of this great endeavor.”

Jim Bell, Professor of Planetary Science, Arizona State University, President of the Planetary Society, and author of Postcards from Mars
“Roger Wiens has crafted a delightful and very personal history of planetary exploration that takes us from his boyhood fascination with the Apollo Moon missions to his leading role as a key scientist on the latest Mars rover. His journey from a small prairie town to the laser labs of Los Alamos reminds us that passion, imagination, and perseverance are what propel us to explore the frontiers of space.”

John L. Phillips, retired NASA astronaut, and former NASA Chair Professor, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
Red Rover offers an enticing personal look at the exaltations and disappointments of unmanned space exploration. Roger Wiens vividly portrays the genius and perseverance of the dedicated scientists and engineers who have made robotic exploration of the solar system a reality.”

Laurie Leshin, Dean, School of Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“In Red Rover, Roger Wiens gets you up close and personal with the highs and lows, the triumphs and disappointments that come with pushing the scientific envelope, and the great persistence required to succeed. A great read for anyone interested in exploring the frontiers of space.”

Library Journal
Wiens is a geochemist who has worked on various NASA robotic missions, most notably as "principal investigator" for the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity rover now at work on Mars. In this book, he describes in great detail the many ups and downs of piecing together the machinery for a new space project at a time when NASA's budget was tightly constrained. One crisis follows another with dizzying speed, but each technical problem was solved just in time, and political obstacles were likewise overcome. Much of the narrative is densely packed with engineering jargon likely to be a challenge for many readers. The scientific objectives and results of the various project missions—the Genesis project, for example, which aimed to sample the contents of solar wind to see whether it contained much less of the rare isotopes of oxygen than do the planets—are rather lightly covered. VERDICT Outside of the most dedicated and knowledgeable fans of space technology, this book will be of limited interest to readers.—Jack W. Weigel, formerly with Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir by one of the builders of the ChemCam laser instrument now on board the Mars exploration vehicle Curiosity. Now the principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument, Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wiens describes its current operation and the development of the program. He has worked on NASA's robotic exploration program since its inception, and he helped design the instruments taken aloft as part of the Genesis program to capture particles in the solar wind and return them to Earth, which began in 1990 and ended successfully in 2004. Wiens began work on Mars exploration and laser instruments in 1997. Both programs, unlike the shuttle and moon-shot efforts, involved scientist-led small groups. They bid competitively to place their experimental instruments on space-exploration vehicles and landing modules and dealt with cost pressures that dictated building equipment from off-the-shelf components. Improvisation was the rule. To offset the budget constraints that delayed and threatened to undermine the efforts, it became an international program, enlisting support from French researchers. Even so, ChemCam was nearly eliminated to save funds. Wiens explains the ultimate scientific success of the earlier Genesis program, which established that solar oxygen is not composed of the same isotope that predominates in the Earth's atmosphere. The author provides fascinating insight into the struggle to solve scientific problems despite technical constraints and equipment failures. Their success also depended on their ability to creatively deal with ongoing bureaucratic and budgetary hassles. A winning memoir of great achievement.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465055982
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
03/12/2013
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
648,196
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly
“This entertaining insider account of Wiens’s work on two groundbreaking robotic space explorers—the Genesis and Curiosity Rover—captures all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of modern space science . . . Wiens brings his work to life, candidly addressing the inevitable technological and bureaucratic obstacles and failures that compose the frustrating prelude to scientific victory.”

Kirkus Reviews
“The author provides fascinating insight into the struggle to solve scientific problems despite technical constraints and equipment failures….A winning memoir of great achievement.”

Steve Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University, and author of Roving Mars
“We live in a new golden age of exploration, as robotic spacecraft fan out across the solar system, extending the human experience to other planets. With Red Rover, Roger Wiens provides a delightful, candid, and highly personal insider’s view of this great endeavor.”

Jim Bell, Professor of Planetary Science, Arizona State University, President of the Planetary Society, and author of Postcards from Mars
“Roger Wiens has crafted a delightful and very personal history of planetary exploration that takes us from his boyhood fascination with the Apollo Moon missions to his leading role as a key scientist on the latest Mars rover. His journey from a small prairie town to the laser labs of Los Alamos reminds us that passion, imagination, and perseverance are what propel us to explore the frontiers of space.”

John L. Phillips, retired NASA astronaut, and former NASA Chair Professor, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
Red Rover offers an enticing personal look at the exaltations and disappointments of unmanned space exploration. Roger Wiens vividly portrays the genius and perseverance of the dedicated scientists and engineers who have made robotic exploration of the solar system a reality.”

Laurie Leshin, Dean, School of Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“In Red Rover, Roger Wiens gets you up close and personal with the highs and lows, the triumphs and disappointments that come with pushing the scientific envelope, and the great persistence required to succeed. A great read for anyone interested in exploring the frontiers of space.”

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