cover image The Mission: A True Story

The Mission: A True Story

David W. Brown. Custom House, $29.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-265442-7

Journalist Brown (Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry) brings to vivid life the 17-year effort to put together a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. At the heart of the quest is Robert Pappalardo, a plucky planetary scientist whose expertise was in “icy moons” (and who studied under Carl Sagan at Cornell). Dissatisfied with his life as a professor and at the request of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in 2006 Pappalardo “packed his life and his cat and pointed his car westerly” to California to build a program to find life on Europa. There, he “oversaw all decisions affecting the project science” and in 2014 met with the administrator of NASA, to whom he “made the science case for Europa.” Meanwhile, NASA was focused on sending robots to Mars, White House support for space exploration waffled from one administration to the next, and rival planetary scientists fought to fund their own projects. Not until 2015 was the Europa Clipper mission greenlighted by NASA. (Its launch date is still undetermined.) Brown skillfully braids biography, science, obsession, and accounts of bureaucracy-wrangling into this mesmerizing tale of “good, bare-fisted science.” Salted with pop culture references and humor, Brown’s fascinating outing will entertain anyone curious about space exploration. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Jan.)