Skip to main content

Destination Mars - Andrew May ****

There's something special about Mars. It's partly the way that it introduced interplanetary travel and SF aliens to so many through fiction such as War of the Worlds, but also it looks so distinctive to the naked eye - and it presents us with our best hope of a new Star Trek-like frontier in our home solar system.

Andrew May makes effective use of the novel/film The Martian to pull us into the story of Mars and expeditions to it. Weir's book is both engaging fiction and superbly researched, making an excellent teaser for what is to come. Throughout Destination Mars, May ensures that we get a balance between the astronomy, the practicalities of such a distant voyage - particularly if people are to be involved - and the stories. So, for example, there are plenty of references to both science fiction and some of the more dramatic occurrences in the many ill-fated attempts to get probes to Mars.

Although the book does cover the planet in an astronomical sense and the many unmanned probes and rovers (with all too many suffering disasters), its prime focus is the most exciting bit - the aim of getting human beings to Mars, and the possibility of setting up a long-term colony there. May does not underplay the difficulties here. This is no over-optimistic brochure for a Mars venture. But he does also look for solutions to the many problems and gives us an upbeat picture of the possibilities.

If I have a criticism, it is that the book comes across as a bit an engineer's vision of the challenge of getting to Mars. May is an astrophysicist by training, but sometimes he gives us a bit too much systematic working through possibilities and probes for me, where perhaps fewer examples explored in more depth, leaving the complete details to an appendix, might have been better. But, having said that, we soon get back to something that's more inspiring.

This isn't an in-depth book - it's part of a series of short 'Hot Science' books - but it seems to have just the right amount of content to capture the imagination and spur the interest of the reader in the dramatic possibilities of a venture to a closest cousin of a planet in the solar system. It would work well for a younger reader with an enthusiasm for space or for adults who look back fondly on the Apollo missions and hope for more real space exploration in the future.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  

Please note, the reviewer is series editor for the series this book forms part of, but this is an unbiassed opinion on the book itself.

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Rockets and Rayguns - Andrew May ****

The Cold War period saw dramatic developments in science and technology, coinciding with the flourishing of the science fiction genre. In Rockets and Rayguns, Andrew May draws on the parallels between reality and fiction, each influencing the other.

Inevitably a major Cold War theme was the threat of nuclear war, and May opens with the bomb. It's fascinating that fiction got there first - nuclear weapons were featured in science fiction when many physicists were still doubting the practicality of using nuclear energy. Of course, it's a lot easier to simply take a concept and dream up a weapon than it is to make it for real - for example, H. G. Wells' prophetic nuclear bombs from his 1914 The World Set Free were nothing like the real thing. And some science fiction devices concepts - notably ray guns and force fields - came to very little in reality. However this doesn't prevent the parallels being of interest.

May gives us a mix of the science - describing how nuclear we…

Galileo Galilei, the Tuscan Artist – Pietro Greco ****

Near the beginning of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he refers to a ‘Tuscan artist’ viewing the Moon through an optic glass. He’s talking about Galileo – one of history’s greatest scientists, but not the most obvious person to slap an ‘artist’ label on. Yet Galileo lived at a time – the Renaissance – when it was fashionable to dabble impartially in both the arts and sciences. Look up ‘Renaissance man’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see Galileo’s picture right there underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s a less well-known side to his life, but it crops up again and again – interspersed among his many scientific achievements – in this excellent new biography by Pietro Greco.

If you’re looking for interesting trivia, you’ll find plenty in this book. Galileo’s father was a musician with scientific leanings, who carried out some of the first experiments on musical acoustics – which Galileo may have assisted with. As a young professor of mathematics, Galileo delivered a couple of lectures on …

The Ultimate Interplanetary Travel Guide - Jim Bell **

Not too long ago, NASA brought out a series of spoof ‘space tourism’ posters for various destinations in the Solar System. For people like me, who have watched NASA depressingly fail to send humans to the other planets for decade after decade, it was just another painful twist of the knife. On the other hand, the posters probably have more appeal for younger and less cynical minds, by presenting familiar astronomical objects in a new and engaging way. There may even be scope for a whole book along these lines – and that’s what Jim Bell has attempted here.

The main thing I learned from it is that my brain is programmed to read either fiction or non-fiction, and can’t handle a 50:50 mix of the two – which is what this book is. It drove me mad –  not least because I could see that the same material, presented as straight non-fiction, could have made a really excellent book. Using the NASA posters as a starting point, he could have enumerated the potential ‘tourist sights’ at each location…