cover image Destination Mars: New Explorations of the Red Planet

Destination Mars: New Explorations of the Red Planet

Rod Pyle, foreword by Robert Manning. Prometheus, $19 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61614-589-7

As Pyle (Destination Moon) points out, Mars is a “planet of dreams,” provoking fantasies about aliens and busy canals. Advances in technology over the past 50 years, however, have given us a more accurate if equally vivid insight into the red planet. Pyle’s time line of Mars exploration introduces both the missions and the scientists and engineers behind them, such as musician-turned-planetary geologist Jeffrey Plaut and Rob Manning, Pathfinder’s chief engineer and online NASA star. The tour begins with the space probe Mariner 4, which in 1965 captured the first closeup images of “a dry, barren place festooned with craters.” Pyle goes on to describe how later flybys revealed old volcanoes, evidence of wind erosion, and most surprising, gullies, streambeds, and canyons—signs that there had once been moving water on Mars. Succeeding missions sampled soil and delivered more revealing pictures of Mars’s surface. Later robot explorers like Spirit, Opportunity, and Phoenix carried more advanced onboard labs to search for water and evidence of microbial life. As the souped-up Curiosity rover preps for landing later this year, with the capacity to take 3D photos and HD video, Pyle gives readers a workmanlike, enlightening crash course in Mars research and exploration. Photos. Agent: John Willig, Literary Services Inc.(Apr.)