cover image Interplanetary Robots: True Stories of Space Exploration

Interplanetary Robots: True Stories of Space Exploration

Rod Pyle. Prometheus, $18 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-63388-502-8

Pyle (Amazing Stories of the Space Age), a media consultant for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, misfires in this disappointing survey of unmanned space missions. Pyle begins in 2012, as the Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on Mars, then backtracks to cover the entire history of what he’s dubbed “interplanetary robots,” beginning with the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race in the 1950s. Pyle proceeds to cover familiar developments, such as the launching of Sputnik, the fulfillment of President Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon, and the Voyager missions. In “Flash Forwards,” Pyle speculates about possible future technology, including “purpose-built spacecraft” for exploring nearby stars and a submarine for delving into hydrocarbon lakes on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Despite Pyle’s undeniably strong credentials, the authority of his text is undermined by some questionable statements, including about the surprising discovery of what appeared to be surviving Earth bacteria on equipment left on the moon for years; only in a footnote does he mention that the bacteria may have resulted from nonsterile conditions after the equipment’s return to Earth. Strained and flowery prose (satellite dishes are described as “poking high into the arid skies like withered daisies seeking a bit more sunlight”) provides another minus in this missed opportunity. (Jan.)