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Voyage to Mars: NASA's Search for Life Beyond Earth Hardcover – October 23, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This volume would seem to have all the right ingredients: Bergreen's considerable biographical skills (Louis Armstrong, Capone, James Agee, etc.) applied to the epic tale of NASA's search for life on other worldsDMars in particularDthrough the eyes of its participants. Unfortunately, the result is flawed by Bergreen's axe-grinding, overstatement and apparent misunderstanding of science in theory and practice, especially with respect to the tug-of-war over the purported Martian fossils in a meteorite collected in Antarctica. Bergreen doesn't fairly present the evidence on both sides of the question. He characterizes those who dispute the initial conclusions (that the meteorite was a probable indication of life on Mars)Das a handful of old-guard scientists who have swayed the media to their side. In many places, the book is a paean to the uncommon work and dedication of Bergreen's protagonist, NASA scientist Jim Garvin, extending the adulation to Garvin's late thesis advisor Tim Mutch. Bergreen overstates the significance of Mutch's 1976 book, The Geology of Mars. "Geology claimed a gigantic new turf: the solar system," he writes, as if unaware that Eugene Shoemaker founded astrogeology two decades earlier. Shoemaker, a towering figure in planetary science, is never mentioned. Frequent errors that a scientifically astute reader would catch (such as attributing the molten state of the early Earth to radioactivity instead of the kinetic energy of colliding planetesimals) detract further from the book's credibility. (Nov. 1)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Difficult to classify, this book is in essence an account of NASA's last three Mars missions: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Climate Orbiter, and Mars Polar Lander. It also includes some retrospective history of the Pathfinder Mission, as it affected the most recent missions. This is a wonderful, rambling, personal journey into the world of NASA and extraplanetary exploration, inviting the reader to join the author as an observer of the planning, the debates in the scientific community, and the execution of the missions. This is also a philosophical journey, speculating on the existence of life beyond Earth. Does life exist on the other planets in our solar system? How and under what conditions can life develop? How do we discover that life? And what does the discovery of life beyond Earth mean to us? A good read, Voyage to Mars cannot replace solid scientific books and histories of the various missions to Mars, but it will be an excellent addition to any library where the clientele is interested in space exploration or life on other plants. Bergreen is the author of several biographies, including As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin.DBetty Galbraith, Owen Science & Engineering Lib., Washington State Univ., Pullman
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (October 23, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157322166X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573221665
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,620,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By John Rummel on March 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Bergreen's book is a very intimate look at how science really works. In successive chapters, he takes us inside four groups of men and women: the team of scientists that worked on the Martian meteorite ALH84001; the Mars Pathfinder/Sojourner team, the team in charge of the Mars Global Surveyor's laser altimeter, and finally, inside Dan Goldin's NASA. What we see is a far cry from the polished interviews on TV, or the neatly written articles in Nature or Science. The truth is that scientists rarely agree on anything other than very broad assumptions, and often not even on those. Instead, scientists, even those working together on the same project, can heatedly disagree with one another's assumptions or interpretations, making it difficult to agree on the best way data should be released to the public.
An example from the MGS laser altimeter team (specifically the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter or MOLA). This instrument shoots blasts of laser light from the orbiting spacecraft to the surface of Mars, and times their return to the sensor. By doing so, an incredibly accurate topographical relief map of Mars can be created. However, Mars has no absolute altitude marker like Earth (sea-level). Therefore, the scientists have to agree on an altitude reference against which all other measurements are compared. The specific reference chosen is critical because it will be used in all subsequent analyses of MOLA data. Any error could potentially be a spoiler for generations of future reserachers. Bergreen was there when they discussed whether they were ready to commit to an altitude reference and start releasing data (many team members argued "yes!") or whether more data and study were needed before the team published such critical information (other team members said "wait!").
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Format: Hardcover
Travelers often opine that the experience of a trip itself, the way stations and characters encountered, rather than the final destination, is the most exciting aspect of a journey. After reading Laurence Bergreen's latest offering, VOYAGE TO MARS: NASA'S SEARCH FOR LIFE BEYOND EARTH (hardcover edition), one may reasonably conclude that the peripatetic author is as fascinated with the personas and psyches of the various individuals he encounters along the way as he is with the ostensible subject of the book: Mars. Indeed, a glance at Bergreen's previous books, works covering the gamut from Al Capone to Louis Armstrong to Irving Berlin, shows that the author is a keen observer and no stranger to character studies; his most recent book is no exception.
Bergreen's tour, which starts on Surtsey, a volcanic island off the Icelandic coast, eventually ends on Mars. Throughout, he manages to weave an interesting narrative, replete with detailed personal observations of the scientists and engineers he encounters along the way, which is interspersed with some fairly decent Mars science written in layspeak. The author recounts the often-rancorous Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) team meetings and the clash of egos between scientists pushing their own competing theories and hypotheses about Mars. He encounters scientists in the nascent astrobiology community, some of who are veterans from the Viking mission to Mars of the mid-1970's, and who have bittersweet memories of the main finding from that mission, namely that Mars was a lifeless world. He smoothly segues into the modern view (based on more recent analyses) that the question of life on Mars, either extant or extinct, may not be a closed issue.
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Format: Hardcover
While Laurence Bergreen's book "Voyage to Mars" does contain some information about Mars space missions, robotic probes, and scientific study of Mars, it is primarily about the scientists, both men and women, who study Mars and design experiments for NASA robotic explorers and how they dedicated their lives to the study and exploration of this planet. Most of the book covers the people involved in Mars research since the Mars Observer failure in 1992.
This book follows the lives (personal and professional) of several NASA scientists who study Mars, whether they're off in some remote location studying geology that's similar to Mars or designing an experiment for a robotic exploration mission. The book includes the many battles that each one fights, whether is with NASA bureaucracy, their personal lives, with each other for experiments to be flown on an upcoming Mars spacecraft, or dealing with each other's conflicting theories on Martian geological history. One of the things that I gleaned from reading this book is that while each of the people maybe specialized in a given area, they all have a board background in planetary sciences and spacecraft design. Also, there seems to be a lot jealously between scientists, especially for those people who worked on the "Life on Mars" Rock. It was also nice to see that a good portion of the people that NASA employs are women.
Since I've known several of the people involved in Mars research who are described in this book for over a decade, I can definitely say that the stories presented are true and I found the personal descriptions of various individuals to be dead on as well as those of NASA facilities.
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