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Authors: Rod Pyle

Destination Mars

BOOK: Destination Mars
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Published 2012 by Prometheus Books

Destination Mars: New Explorations of the Red Planet.
Copyright © 2012 by Rod Pyle. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Trademarks: In an effort to acknowledge trademarked names of products mentioned in this work, we have placed ® or ™ after the product name in the first instance of its use in each chapter. Subsequent mentions of the name within a given chapter appear without the symbol.

Cover image © 2012 Media Bakery, Inc.

Cover design by Nicole Sommer-Lecht

Inquiries should be addressed to

Prometheus Books

59 John Glenn Drive

Amherst, New York 14228–2119

VOICE: 716–691–0133

FAX: 716–691–0137


16 15 14 13 12    5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging–in–Publication Data

Pyle, Rod.

Destination Mars : new explorations of the Red Planet / by Rod Pyle.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978–1–61614–589–7 (pbk. : alk. paper)

ISBN 978–1–61614–590–3 (ebook)

1. Mars (Planet)—Exploration. 2. Mars (Planet)—Surface. 3. Artificial satellites—Mars (Planet). 4. Space flight to Mars—Planning. I. Title.

TL799.M3P95 2012



Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

Foreword by Robert Manning


1. The First Martian

2. MARS 101

3. In the Beginning: A Shining Red Eye

4. The End of an Empire: Mariner 4

5. Dr. Robert Leighton: The Eyes of Mariner 4

6. Continuing Travels to Dark and Scary Places: Mariners 6 and 7

7. Dr. Bruce Murray: It's All about the Image

8. Aeolian Armageddon: Mariner 9

9. Dr. Laurence Soderblom: The Eyes of Mariner 9

10. Viking's Search for Life: Where Are the Microbes?

11. Dr. Norman Horowitz: Looking for Life

12. Return to Mars: Mars Global Surveyor

13. Robert Brooks: It Takes a Team, Mars Global Surveyor

14. Roving Mars: Sojourner, the Pathfinder

15. Robert Manning, Mars Pathfinder: Bouncing to Mars

16. Mars Express: On the Fast Track

17. A Laugh in the Darkness: The Great Galactic Ghoul

18. 2001: A Mars Odyssey

19. Dr. Jeffrey Plaut: Follow the Water

20. Twins of Mars: Spirit and Opportunity

21. Dr. Steve Squyres and the Mars Exploration Rovers: Dreams of Ice and Sand

22. Mars in HD: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

23. Dr. Richard Zurek, MRO: I Can See Clearly Now…

24. Twins of Mars: Spirit and Opportunity, Part 2

25. From the Ashes, Like a Phoenix

26. Peter Smith: Polar Explorer

27. Mars Science Laboratory: Bigger Is Better

28. Dr. Joy Crisp, Mars Science Laboratory: Dig This

29. JPL 2020: The Once and Future Mars

30. Mars on Earth

31. The New Martians

32. The Road Ahead

Photo Insert


Bibliography of Print Sources

Bibliography of Internet Sources


he act of exploration is not what I thought it was.

I have a hard time reconciling my childhood memories of the birth of space exploration with the reality that I have experienced as a professional in the field of robotic space exploration.

I just barely remember the drama of John Glenn's heat shield in February 1962. I was too young to remember the play-by-play, but I followed the events closely a year or two later in grade school as my teacher read aloud a
National Geographic
story. John Glenn had just completed an American first: he had orbited Earth three times in his tiny Mercury spacecraft. As the last orbit approached, the nervous ground-control team calmly informed him that the light on the console showed a heat-shield malfunction, which probably meant that the shield would not stay in place when he reentered Earth's atmosphere after his third orbit. No worries though. They also professionally suggested that to ensure that the heat shield remained in place, he should not jettison the retro-rockets that where strapped around the heat shield in a three-arm hug. The retro-rocket straps should prevent the heat shield from slipping off during the extreme heating of entry. Easy to say, harder to hear when in orbit!

I remember thinking about those three little straps and the light on the console that said something was wrong. I could see the
straps melting away and finally releasing the retro-rocket pack that was centered on the shield. How did they know that it would work? How could he trust their opinion? What if the retro-rocket pack slipped off sideways and took the barely attached heat shield with it? The controllers were very smart, I told myself. They must have used some advanced math to show that there was no concern. They must have confidently assessed the situation and known that John Glenn would make it home only if he did not jettison the retro-rocket pack too soon.

OK. Now I know better. Yes, they were very smart. These people were focused and fearless; brilliant people who gave up a life of invention, entrepreneurship, and certainly far better pay to do something that no one else did. I really cannot say that they were selfless. In fact, they were selfish in a particular way. They wanted to be
people doing this. Not someone else. THEM. Pushing the envelope. Calmly feigning confidence as they told Glenn that the retro-rockets would hold on to the heat shield. Terrified, they nonetheless felt that their guess was the best guess. The best guess from anywhere on Earth. And the best guess was
right and was the way to success. They wanted to be the ones who were right. Being right was worth the low government pay. But the truth is that they did not know. They
not know. They were human, and humans know only so much.

So what do I know now? I know that space exploration is as exciting and as hard as anything humans have ever done. I think I sensed that in 1963 when I learned of this story and others that were playing out on black-and-white television screens across the country, including my family's TV. What I know now and what I have come to know for a long time is that space exploration is a deeply human endeavor.

But the people who envision doing science on another world, the people who invent these machines and instruments, the people in the back rooms with the white shirts and black ties are not “rocket scientists.” They are simply people much like you.
They are optimistic, can-do, hopeful, bright, and sometimes quite lucky. But they are definitely human.

In the latter two-thirds of my career, I have been a Mars explorer. I have learned about both the amazing things people can do as well as our own limits as human beings. Perhaps that is what I did not know when I was a young newcomer to space exploration. I did not know about the moving boundary between what is possible and what is not. I did not know that every new idea, every new experience, every new mission was another layer that builds a foundation and pushes that boundary further and further aloft.

I have been very lucky to have witnessed and participated the in the drama of Mars exploration for the past twenty years. I have witnessed the veil of the known being parted with each new mission. Whether it is a scientific discovery of vast water deposits just under the Martian surface or a new engineering insight that tells us about better ways to land on Mars, these insights have built a remarkable era of discovery. Mars is not the mystery it once was, but it has evolved into a living place with dramatic vistas and secrets just below the surface. The missions and layers of discovery you will read about are real, made true by people who are driven by a deep curiosity and who are unafraid to go.

Perhaps we
like John Glenn and the explorers of my childhood after all.

Robert Manning
Mars Science Laboratory Project Chief Engineer
November 2011
Pasadena, CA

here are many people to thank for their contributions to this book, and I hope that I have recalled you all.

First, I want to thank the excellent team at Prometheus Books. Linda Greenspan Regan, Steven L. Mitchell, Jade Zora Ballard, Ian Birnbaum, and Jennifer Tordy were all magnificently helpful and supportive. Meghan Quinn handled publicity with mastery. Catherine Roberts-Abel shepherded the book through its many versions, and Laura Shelley provided expert indexing (and, as it turned out, additional proofreading) services.

John Willig, of Literary Services Inc. and my agent, made the book a reality and was wonderfully and unendingly optimistic and supportive throughout. Alex Aghajanian, lifelong friend and attorney, lent his services as always.

The folks at Jet Propulsion Laboratory deserve a major tip of the hat. Rob Manning was supportive and encouraging, and carved out some of his very limited spare time to contribute both a chapter and the foreword for the book—and all this in the midst of readying the Mars Science Laboratory for launch. Guy Webster and Elena Mejia provided access to some of the top minds in Mars exploration today for interviews. And, of course, the people who labor countless hours behind the scenes to provide terabytes of data on the US Mars program online deserve recognition—it is, in my opinion, the finest data repository of its kind anywhere.

Robert Brooks, also of JPL, is a friend of many years and spent
a number of hours with me, guiding me through the sometimes-Byzantine history of Mars exploration at NASA, as well as contributing to this book.

Loma Karklins at the Caltech archives was unstintingly helpful in finding somewhat obscure material from that institution's glorious past. Without her assistance, most of the interview material prior to Mars Pathfinder would be absent.

Chip Calhoun from the American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives, also contributed to the archival efforts. He and the rest of the institute staff gave many hours of assistance retrieving material that is available nowhere else.

Many top researchers and planetary scientists gave me their limited and valuable time for interviews. In no particular order, they are:

Dr. Peter Smith of the University of Arizona

Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell Universit

Dr. Joy Crisp of JPL

Dr. Richard Zurek of JPL

Dr. Chris McKay of NASA Ames Research Center

Dr. Laurence Soderblom of JPL

Dr. Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society and Pioneer Astronautics

Dr. Jeffrey Plaut of JPL

Dr. Bruce Murray of Caltech

And, posthumously:

Dr. Robert Leighton of Caltech

Dr. Norman Horowitz of Caltech

Gloria Lum provided expert grammar checking and creative input for the text, as she always has for my books, as well as unselfish support all around. Emil Petrinic gave the manuscript a
thorough fact-checking, as did Bob Brooks, Dr. Jack Giuliano, and Robert Manning. True friends all. Jason Clark spent countless hours transcribing interviews late into the night.

Ken Kramer, friend of thirty-five years and a professionally trained psychotherapist, doubtless utilized some of his education in our many late-night chat sessions during the authoring process. Likewise Rodman Gregg, film producer, and Scott Forbes, entertainment professional. My son, Connor Pyle, gave up many evenings with his dad so that I could indulge myself in the magnificent mystery of writing about something I love. Leonard David, space journalist par excellence, lent support and the occasional answer to the unanswerable. Likewise Andy Chaikin, author of some of the best space-history books of all time. Jeanie and Joe Engle of NASA receive the same credit.

And to the folks who agreed to read galley copies of the book: Dr. Steven Dick, formerly NASA's chief historian; Roger Launius, senior curator at the Smithsonian Institution; Steven Fentress of the Strasenburgh Planetarium; Tony Cook of the Griffith Observatory; Leonard David, a premiere space journalist; and Piers Bizony, bestselling space author.

Book writing is a solitary yet collaborative experience, and without the advice, assistance, and support of these people, such efforts would not be possible. My heartfelt thanks to you all.

BOOK: Destination Mars
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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