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Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from…

Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer (2014)

by Rob Manning

Other authors: William L. Simon (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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I haven't been very good about writing reviews in a timely manner for the past few weeks (months?). This is one of those that I should have reviewed soon after I finished it, and I just...didn't. At least I'm finally getting around to it, I guess.

Anyway, I checked this out via my library's Overdrive service. I have to admit that I didn't really know much about Curiosity before listening to this. I knew that it existed, I knew a few fun things related to it (pictures, it singing itself Happy Birthday, etc.), and I knew that it continues to function well past its 2-year mission. Recent(ish) news about things like the Juno mission and the Philae lander, plus my enjoyment of Andy Weir's The Martian, led to me wanting to read space-related nonfiction, and this book looked like a good one.

Now, let's see if I can remember what topics were covered. The book didn't actually start with Curiosity, but rather with an earlier project Manning worked on, the Sojourner Rover. This allowed him to compare and contrast the thought processes that went into Sojourner with the ones that went into Curiosity, a much larger and heavier rover with a different set of scientific instruments. I found it all fascinating, and Manning did a great job of describing the problems and most of the solutions in a way I was able to understand.

I really liked this book when it was covering the problems that needed to be solved to get a rover safely to Mars and make sure it could function in extreme cold. I also liked a lot of the stuff on Curiosity's (and its instruments') capabilities, as well as the team management stuff. However, I winced a bit during Manning's repeated mentions of budget issues. Even the “cheaper, faster” mission budgets seemed enormous to me.

I tend to be really bad about starting to read nonfiction books and then never finishing them, so it's usually audio or nothing for me. However, audio nonfiction doesn't always work well. Mars Rover Curiosity was doing fine, up until the list of all of Curiosity's scientific instruments. It made for very dry listening, and I imagine I'd have skimmed that part if I had been reading a paper version of the book instead. The narration itself was okay – not terribly exciting, but Bronson Pinchot's voice fit the text well enough that, since I didn't know what Manning sounded like, it was easy to forget that it wasn't Manning himself narrating the book.

All in all, this was an interesting look at the work, planning, testing, and, at times, politics that went into Curiosity.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Dec 19, 2016 |
I've read half a dozen memoirs by NASA engineers who have worked on spaceships and I can't say the genre is full of gold. Nevertheless this one is probably the best of the bunch so far. Manning knows how to communicate the ups and downs of engineering a 10-year long project and keeps it interesting. It's not too technical but captures the amount of work indeed the near impossibility of the task. There are time pressures, money pressures, engineering difficulties, politics, bureaucracy. Making a single rover is so difficult I wonder how we will ever colonize Mars much less the Moon. Something has to change, maybe Elon Musk is on to something with private ventures working fast and cheap with off the shelf and reusable parts. It's a model that threatens NASA's entire existence and mandate. I admire Manning and the engineers who made Curiosity but I can't admire the system they work under. But then maybe I am being naive, time will tell. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Jun 8, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rob Manningprimary authorall editionscalculated
Simon, William L.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pinchot, BronsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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