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on April 2, 2011
I lucked into an advance copy of this book and it's a great read. Kessler's unique access into the weird and wacky world of space, space robots, space politics, and the long Martian day is something anyone who has ever thought about being an astronaut can appreciate (and who hasn't thought about being an astronaut?).

And because the author is a layman, it's accessible for a normal person. A good story peppered with wit, incredible science, and good ol' fashioned space drama. Highly recommended.
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on May 4, 2011
Having been involved in some early testing of instrumentation on the Phoenix lander
and knowing many of the participants personally, I was eager to read this account
of the landed operations, although like the mission itself, early results were
frustrating.

The book contains a number of factual errors (e.g. the Cassini camera was not the
first to use CCDs in space, the person referred to as a chief scientist for NASA
was not the NASA Chief Scientist, etc.) which reinforces the impression that the
author doesnt fully understand everything he writes about (an innocence the author
freely admits).

The color photo section is very poorly thought-out: images seemingly chosen at random
and often shown in an aspect ratio that leaves details invisibly small while leaving
60% of the page as white space.

I found the style a bit jarring - while informality is great, it can be overdone (the
author adds a presumably onomatopoeic 'pew pew pew' at just too many mentions of
the LIDAR). Lots of short sentences and paragraphs. In short, written more like a
blog than a book.

All the above aside, this really is a fascinating story of a mission unfolding, warts
and all. The interactions between scientists, and between scientists, engineers, managers
and the media, and the team's (and the author's) fight against fatigue while working
on Mars time, are shown in a first-hand, close quarters account, full of direct
quotes. I'd consider it essential reading for anyone planning a landed mission
on another world.
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on March 10, 2013
This witty gem is a great read. Kessler takes his reader on a fascinating journey that few people have seen before. His writing style make you feel as though you are experiencing the journey right there beside them, and his humor keeps you chuckling in the process. Despite knowing the outcome, I felt involved and invested in their work, anxious to know how it all played out.
Mission Control seemed like something only in the movies, not ever imagining I could see a glimpse of in real life. Now I feel like I was part of it.
The most fascinating part to me is the drive and dedication of all the people involved in the Phoenix mission. You see how much work really goes into these missions. I now have a much greater appreciation for everything space, and feel inspired to put their amount of enthusiasm into my life.
You don't need much outer-space/science knowledge because Kessler does a fascinating job explaining "rocket science" to a grade school student. It is a must read if you have even the slightest interest in space, robots, or the life of a freelance scientist.
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on May 27, 2015
I bought this book as there is very little out there about the Phoenix Mars mission. A most unusual book, but after 100 pages I liked it. It gives an insight into the stress the people are under to make these NASA missions a success. Peter Smith must be a brave man to allow the book's author inside where the science is made as the pressure brings out the worst and the best of the people.

It would be nice if another book could be written on the building of the Phoenix Mars spacecraft as that process ran in to some rough stuff rehabilitating that lander so it would work. As it turns out the 2001 lander were so weak the landing legs would have ripped away from the lander once the the parachute open. Or the 2001 lander cruse stage and heat shield were so cold as to be frozen to the decent stage.

Yet thru very hard work both the building of the Phoenix Mars spacecraft, and the hard work of the scientist described in this book made everything work. I am very impressed.
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on August 16, 2011
So far no one has had a chance to walk around on Mars, but the scientists and engineers involved with the Phoenix Mars Lander mission lived as if they were there on the red planet during the summer of 2008, and Martian Summer takes its reader along for the ride. Since the length of Martian day is 37 minutes longer than an Earth day special watches were commissioned--it would be great to have one of those Mars adapted timepieces--and blackout curtains were deployed to keep everyone at the warehouse that served as Mission Control on Mars time. "Everyone" included "everyman" author Andrew Kessler, an ordinary, non-genius guy, who has written a mesmerizing behind the scenes account of the kind of passion and nonlinear problem solving that goes into a big, exciting, collaborative science venture. Phoenix was a partnership program under the direction of NASA, but led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona and it was Peter's idea to give Kessler inside access so he could write a book about the mission for the general public. NASA has since canceled the Scout Program that Phoenix was a part of, so for the time being there will be no more citizen accounts of freelance-led missions to Mars or anywhere else. The next NASA mission to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, is scheduled to launch in late 2011.
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on February 20, 2015
I recommend the book. It is an exhaustive (that's good) detailing of the Phoenix Mar Mission. It is also, at time, exhausting in its minutiae. Overall, it is worth the read. Few people understand how near the edge of failure space missions are. This becomes clear in Andrew Kessler's book. I worked in the aerospace industry myself (Apollo Telescope Mount ultraviolet spectroheliograph telescope on Skylab) and didn't realize how near the edge we were, though the company I worked for lost two employees, killed in the accidental ignition of a solid fuel rocket when mounting an Orbital Solar Observatory atop a rocket. Though unmanned, the Phoenix Mars Mission still had its share of frayed nerves awaiting results and dreading the possibility that things could go wrong.
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on May 17, 2011
After glimpsing the photo of the author on the back cover flap, I assumed (naturally) that Martian Summer would be a nerds-eye view of the space program, and in particular, the Phoenix landing. Well, there's plenty of that, but what I didn't expect was all the humor. Andrew Kessler is great with a joke, and finds ways to infuse humor into the process as well as spotlight all the zany antics that naturally occur when the world's best scientific minds are racing against the odds and the clock on Martian time.

It's a breezy read considering the subject matter. The chapters concerning the discovery of water are particularly thrilling and make me hope that Martian Summer will eventually make for an excellent interplanetary beach read. Irregardless, I imagine when civilians are able to finally visit the red planet, Kessler's book will be prominently featured in the gift shop.
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on August 15, 2011
It's great to read a book about space geekery and missions to Mars that isn't being written by an engineer, but rather a writer that thinks space is interesting. You get a chance to follow Kessler as he infiltrates the NASA Phoenix mission that almost never occurred (they refurbished a formerly-trashed Mars lander to make it work on the cheap). You feel like you're right there with him, coming into the secretive techno-world of mission control, not sure what you're trying to write and just hoping that you won't get kicked out your first day on the job.

He eventually reveals both the amazing scheduling and discovery involved in commanding a Mars mission taking place 100 million miles away and some of the challenges the team faces when dealing with NASA politics and tough mission choices. The day-by-day play-by-play can become a bit tiresome, but this is definitely an interesting book to read for the space enthusiast or the budding Mars researcher.
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on June 13, 2011
I too have been part of a team of scientists and engineers baby-sitting a spacecraft. The work at times is long, uneventful and boring...even to us! Yes, the big picture is fascinating and of course the technical wizardry is often jaw-dropping, especially to the layman. Kessler has accomplished something really precious here: a popular book about a space mission that is as realistic as it could possibly be, but without the ennui. Some reviewers have complained that his style is jittery, disjointed, etc. But that's the very thing this kind of material needs. He is able to boil the 3 month story down to its daily fine points without putting us to sleep. If you want 'smooth' expository writing, read a history book. That approach here would be about as exciting as watching regolith stick to the Phoenix robotic arm. This is why non-technical journalists and writers often succeed where their scientific brethren fail (not always, but often)--the ability to see the science for what it is within something bigger. And that something is a human comedy or (not in this case) tragedy. Kessler knows. If you want science for science's sake, read a book on rocket science or astronomy. That's not what this story was supposed to be. Equal parts play-by-play man and color analyst, Kessler brought the Phoenix/Mars ballgame to life perfectly! (Two quick complaints, probably to be blamed on the editors: 1) Book should have included a simple 1 page list of all the acronyms--way too many to juggle; 2) The picture selection did seem random in the extreme and the quality was rather low)
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on April 16, 2011
Mars is far. Kessler's ability to make astrophysics comprehensible to an eighth grade girl and get her to giggle is the geek appeal. Spending a summer inside mission control in Tucson brings home the fact that Mars is truly distant.
A sol is a Martian day. It's a couple hours and some minutes longer than a day on Earth. Hence the plot of sleep deprivation and science stirred together and shaken. Kessler's own experiences with time-shifting and its physiological, emotional and professional impact are documented in a way Hunter Thompson might admire.
Digging for Regolith, the word for Martian dirt, is part of the mission. The objective is to determine whether Mars has water. The execution of these tasks by teams of NASA scientists is about as action packed as watching paint dry on the wall. Kessler keeps the reader turning the page nonetheless with his wacky way of connecting the reader to the science in pursuit of a discovery. Arcade games, household cleaning products, even anti-freeze are ways in which Kessler demystifies the discovery of water on Mars.
In the process of sharing his fly-on-the-wall observations, the scientists become humans and a few heroes; all of them characters you grow to know and care about. It's the best evidence NASA presents for continued funding of the US Space Program.
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