The Scientific Exploration of Mars
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'The comparison of the first drawings done by Huygens in the XVIIth century with the imagery of the XXIst century is extraordinary … very well documented …' l'Astronomie
'Taylor … proves to be an engaging and amusing guide, discussing the scientific outcomes of missions such as the Mars Exploration Rovers with as equally a light touch as he describes the political wrangling which brought the mission into being. The Scientific Exploration of Mars is something between a reference book and popular science writing; detailed enough to tell you all the necessary facts, yet entertaining and insightful enough to make you want to read from cover to cover. For those interested in finding out how we came to know what we do about Mars, this is a fine place to start.' Euan Monaghan, Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, The Open University
'This is a brilliant book. Professor Fred Taylor of Oxford University … has chronicled our exploration of the red planet in erudite and accessible fashion. … This is a terrific book for any students of the red planet …' Astronomy Now
'Highly recommended both to the specialist Mars researcher and the casual reader.' The Observatory
'Written for a broad audience of interested scientists, amateur astronomers and general readers, the volume steers a judicious course that carefully combines scientific insight and accessibility. Where it is at its strongest is in the identification and explanation of the key scientific objectives that have driven the exploration of Mars by spacecraft, as well as in the authoritative assessment of the extent to which such objectives have been achieved with regard to our understanding of the Martian surface, atmosphere, climate and potential to support life, either now or in the past … this volume is beautifully produced and engagingly written. It may be read with profit by all interested in the ongoing study of Mars.' Bill Leatherbarrow, Journal of the British Astronomical Association
What do we know about Mars? Is there evidence of life there? Will humans ever travel there? Written by a scientist intimately involved with missions to Mars, this unique book describes the past, present and future of Mars exploration. It will appeal to anyone interested in this fascinating planet.See all Product Description
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But near the dawn of the new millennium this began to change as probe after probe peeled back the mysteries of Mars. NASA’s official strategy, “Follow the Water,” yielded enormously significant results. Since then satellite have imaged gullies on Martian cliffs and crater walls, suggesting that liquid water has seeped onto the surface in the geologically recent past. This was confirmed by Mars Odyssey 2001, a recent NASA orbiter, which found that hydrogen-rich regions are located in areas known to be very cold and where ice should be stable. This relationship between high hydrogen content with regions of predicted ice stability led scientists to conclude that the hydrogen is, in fact, in the form of ice. The ice-rich layer may be about two feet beneath the surface at 60 degrees south latitude, and gets to within about one foot of the surface at 75 degrees south latitude. Only time and more research will tell if these findings will prove out. If they do, then human opportunities for colonization of Mars expand exponentially. With water, either in its liquid or solid form, humans can make many other necessary compounds necessary to live and work on Mars.
"The Scientific Exploration of Mars" by Frederic W. Taylor is a welcome addition to the literature on the Red Planet. It is part history, part statement of the scientific balance sheet, and part personal memoir of the place of Mars in modern science by a well-respected space scientist. Taylor provides a sophisticated, but accessible account of what we know about the red planet, along with some discussion of how we know it. He also offers insight on occasion into how some of this science was accomplished. He is at his best in descriptions of the origin and evolution of the planet, the nature of its changing climate; the nature of the volcanism, impacts, and water; and the search for life.
Where this book fails is concerning the history of Mars exploration. Frederic Taylor is a fine scientist but a poor historian. The basic chronology is correct, B follows A and the like, the core questions of why and so what are elusive. This is very much history written by a non-historian. One will look long and hard for human actors in this story. Discussions of planning, politics, budgets, decision-making, setbacks, personalities, and coups are conspicuous for their absence.
One example of this problem in reciting this history will suffice. In 1967 the space science community learned a hard lesson concerning planetary science when because of political infighting it lost a Mars lander. In that instance, based on recommendations from planetary scientists, NASA’s Office of Space Science had formulated a $2 billion program (in 1960s dollars) to search for life on Mars known at that time as Voyager (not to be confused with Voyagers 1 and 2 that went to the outer planets a decade later). At the same time Homer Newell, leading the NASA science program, canceled plans for missions to other planets to make possible this expensive Mars mission. While a few scientists supported the Voyager mission, many thought it too risky and expensive. A public dispute spilled into the Capitol before the general public.
In the summer of 1967, because of conflicting testimony from scientists and a general shortage of funds due to the cost of the Vietnam War and the needs of the Great Society, infighting among space scientists prompted presidential and congressional questioning and eventually forced NASA to cancel the Voyager project.
In the fall of 1967, frustrated by the Congressional action and irritated at this strife, NASA Administrator James E. Webb stopped all work on new planetary missions until the scientists could agree on a planetary program. Thereafter, the scientific community went to work hammered out a mutually acceptable planetary program for the 1970s. Retrenched and restructured, a program emerged that led to a succession of stunning missions throughout the 1970s, even as budgetary pressures and reduced political support remained.
The space science community learned a hard lesson in practical politics from the Voyager fiasco. Most important, it learned to resolve differences in internal discussions, not in public complaints to the media or in testimony before Congress. It also learned that while strong support from scientists could not necessarily guarantee political support for a mission, lack of agreement among the space science community would certainly ensure a program’s demise.
I have just told you more about the Voyager program, a turning point in both the planetary science program in the United States and the efforts to understanding the red planet, than is contained in Taylor’s study. His discussion is confined to a single paragraph, with not one whiff of the political controversy surrounding it. The Scientific Exploration of Mars views history as an ever upward and outward march of progress.
We see this same approach in other episodes in this book, not the least of which is Taylor’s discussion in the last section of a possible human exploration of Mars in the near future. There are discussions of planning exercises and the like, but no effort to answer the core question, why a human expedition to Mars or a closely related one, why should the public expend precious treasure on such an expedition? Here, Taylor might have pondered such questions as the nature of the human/robot debate in space exploration, as well as any number of others that are germane to the issue of human expeditions to Mars. Instead, he falls back on clichéd phraseology extolling the virtues of such an exploration, and the sometime zany ideas of Robert Zubrin as offered in "The Case for Mars" (1996).
As a work of Mars planetology written for a general audience this book is quite satisfactory. As a work of history it is sadly lacking.