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

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…