nonfiction nuggets…and you thought Timex took a licking and kept on ticking

the mighty mars rovers cover imageThe Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity, by Elizabeth Rusch

In the year 2000, astronomer Steve Squyres received a life-changing phone call. 

The folks at NASA wanted him to build a couple of robots.  These robots would be heading to a distant frontier, about 60 million miles away, where they would encounter extreme weather, uncertain terrain, vast quantities of dust, and no handy repair shops in the neighborhood.  They would careen through space, landing at their destination with a jarring series of bounces.  They needed to be controlled remotely to do everything from running computer software, to taking photographs, digging up rocks, and following traffic directions…on Mars. 

Nothing remotely like this had ever been done successfully, despite attempts by talented scientists around theA VISUALISATION OF MARS CREATED FROM SPACECRAFT IMAGERY. globe.

In a dream-come-true scenario, Steve set to work on a project he had yearned for, assembling a team of scientists to build the Mars Rovers in just three years, a breathlessly short amount of time.  Designing, building, testing, revising, the team worked furiously, right up to the launching of these two rigs.  Then, all they could do was wait.

Would they survive the solar flares they were passing through?  Would they burn up as they passed through Mars’ atmosphere?  Crash to pieces on impact? Respond to computer signals appropriately? Navigate deadly obstacles safely?

creating the mars roverAs it turns out, these Rovers performed far beyond expectations.  Read about the exciting days of inventing and building these amazing machines, the nerve-wracking job of managing them from interplanetary distances, and the intriguing discoveries these robots have made on our red, dusty, neighbor in space, in this excellent book by Elizabeth Rusch.

Although there is a hefty amount of technical information here, Rusch has parcelled it out, easing kids into scientific understanding while maintaining the very personal, human story of Steve Squyres, so that it is not overwhelming.  Gobs of photos, sidebars, and graphics make the page lay-outs a bit less intimidating as well.  

Even though I am not a particularly space-inquisitive person, I found this book fascinating.  A fun connection also came up when I discovered that an old acquaintance had helped design a funky rock-vaporising laser for the third rover, Curiosity, which just landed on Mars in August of 2012.  This book ends with a peek at that machine, which had not yet been launched when the book was published.

Great look at the lives of scientists and the new information coming from Mars, for ages 10 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link:   The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Scientists in the Field Series)

You can watch videos of the incredible landings of both the first rover, Spirit, and the newest rover, Curiosity,

The newest rover, Curiosity.

The newest rover, Curiosity.

which was so much bigger and heavier it required a completely different landing method.  As someone who can hardly upload a photo from my camera, I cannot imagine the thrill of this success for these folks.