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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.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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