cover image Voyage to Mars: NASA's Search for Life Beyond Earth

Voyage to Mars: NASA's Search for Life Beyond Earth

Laurence Bergreen, Lawrence Bergreen. Riverhead Books, $27.95 (355pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-166-5

This volume would seem to have all the right ingredients: Bergreen's considerable biographical skills (Louis Armstrong, Capone, James Agee, etc.) applied to the epic tale of NASA's search for life on other worldsDMars in particularDthrough the eyes of its participants. Unfortunately, the result is flawed by Bergreen's axe-grinding, overstatement and apparent misunderstanding of science in theory and practice, especially with respect to the tug-of-war over the purported Martian fossils in a meteorite collected in Antarctica. Bergreen doesn't fairly present the evidence on both sides of the question. He characterizes those who dispute the initial conclusions (that the meteorite was a probable indication of life on Mars)Das a handful of old-guard scientists who have swayed the media to their side. In many places, the book is a paean to the uncommon work and dedication of Bergreen's protagonist, NASA scientist Jim Garvin, extending the adulation to Garvin's late thesis advisor Tim Mutch. Bergreen overstates the significance of Mutch's 1976 book, The Geology of Mars. ""Geology claimed a gigantic new turf: the solar system,"" he writes, as if unaware that Eugene Shoemaker founded astrogeology two decades earlier. Shoemaker, a towering figure in planetary science, is never mentioned. Frequent errors that a scientifically astute reader would catch (such as attributing the molten state of the early Earth to radioactivity instead of the kinetic energy of colliding planetesimals) detract further from the book's credibility. (Nov. 1)