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Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission Hardcover

4.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers will thrill to this slightly offbeat firsthand account of scientific determination and stubborn intellect. Kessler, producer of a Discovery Channel documentary on Mars and the self-professed winner of "the space-nerd lottery," was allowed to shadow the 2009 Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which would make the groundbreaking discovery of water and ice on Mars. A product of NASA's 1990s "faster, cheaper, better" mantra, Phoenix had none of the space program's usual bells and whistles, with a recycled lander and a mission control with a decided "church basement aesthetic." But there was free ice cream. Offered this unique opportunity, Kessler felt some self-doubt and had trouble adjusting to a work schedule set by the long Mars days. But along with his own witty personality, he captures the lively scientists behind the project, from Peter Smith, "world's greatest Martian Photographer," to Matt Robinson, a robot arm expert. Kessler also captures the frustrations and triumphs of a project in which a 15-minute communications lag between Mars and Earth meant anything could go wrong. This behind-the-scenes look delivers a fascinating journey of discovery peppered with humor. (Apr.)
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Review

“An informative and even charming semi-insider account of how such a mission operates, how humans fare on Mars time, and how scientists and administrators behave under extreme stress.” —The Washington Post

“Readers will thrill to this slightly offbeat firsthand account of scientific determination and stubborn intellect. . . . This behind-the-scenes look delivers a fascinating journey of discovery peppered with humor.” —Publishers Weekly

“A candid and precise account of the ups and downs of a space mission. This book shows what it is to participate in a short and intense landed Mars expedition. It gives the feel of the pressure and excitement at mission control, where engineers, managers and scientists work together while trying to satisfy contradictory requirements, showing the human side of science with refreshing honesty.” —Nilton Renno, professor of atmospheric and space sciences, University of Michigan

“It is as if I imagined Holden Caulfield writing about the mission. Martian Summer is a riot.” —Peter Smith, professor, Lunar and Planetory Laboratory, University of Arizona, and principal investigator of the Phoenix Project
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0078XYTQS
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,074,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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