Red Rover by Roger Wiens
Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity

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For centuries humankind has fantasized about life on Mars, whether it’s intelligent Martian life invading our planet (immortalized in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds) or humanity colonizing Mars (the late Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles). The Red Planet’s proximity and likeness to Earth make it a magnet for our collective imagination. Yet the question of whether life exists on Mars—or has ever existed there—remains an open one. Science has not caught up to science fiction—at least not yet.

This summer we will be one step closer to finding the answer. On August 5th, Curiosity—a one-ton, Mini Cooper-sized nuclear-powered rover—is scheduled to land on Mars, with the primary mission of determining whether the red planet has ever been physically capable of supporting life. In Getting to Mars, Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument on the rover—the main tool for measuring Mars’s past habitability—will tell the unlikely story of the development of this payload and rover now blasting towards a planet 354 million miles from Earth.

ChemCam (short for Chemistry and Camera) is an instrument onboard the Curiosity designed to vaporize and measure the chemical makeup of Martian rocks. Different elements give off uniquely colored light when zapped with a laser; the light is then read by the instrument’s spectrometer and identified. The idea is to use ChemCam to detect life-supporting elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen to evaluate whether conditions on Mars have ever been favorable for microbial life.

This is not only an inside story about sending fantastic lasers to Mars, however. It’s the story of a new era in space exploration. Starting with NASA’s introduction of the Discovery Program in 1992, smaller, scrappier, more nimble missions won out as behemoth manned projects went extinct. This strategic shift presented huge opportunities—but also presented huge risks for shutdown and failure. And as Wiens recounts, his project came close to being closed down on numerous occasions. Getting to Mars is the inspiring account of how Wiens and his team overcame incredible challenges—logistical, financial, and political—to successfully launch a rover in an effort to answer the eternal question: is there life on Mars?

About Roger Wiens

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Roger Wiens (pronounced "Weens") is the principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity rover and a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Wiens has worked at Caltech and the University of California and was in charge of building three instruments for NASA's Genesis mission. He lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Published March 12, 2013 by Basic Books. 258 pages
Genres: Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Computers & Technology, Education & Reference, Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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A memoir by one of the builders of the ChemCam laser instrument now on board the Mars exploration vehicle Curiosity.

Jan 01 2013 | Read Full Review of Red Rover: Inside the Story o...

Publishers Weekly

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This entertaining insider account of Wiens’s work on two groundbreaking robotic space explorers—the Genesis and Curiosity rovers—captures all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of modern space sci

Jan 07 2013 | Read Full Review of Red Rover: Inside the Story o...

The Space Review

The book, though, is his engaging account of working on those two space missions in particular: he was principal investigator (PI) on three instruments on Genesis, a mission to collect and return samples of the solar wind, and is PI of Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument, which collects spectra of roc...

Mar 11 2013 | Read Full Review of Red Rover: Inside the Story o...

Wiens is a geochemist who has worked on various NASA robotic missions, most notably as "principal investigator" for the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity rover now at work on Mars. In this book, he describes in great detail the many ups and downs of piecing together the machinery for a new spac...

Apr 01 2013 | Read Full Review of Red Rover: Inside the Story o...

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