Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Non-Fiction: Review of Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer by Rob Manning & William Simon

When I'm not in the phone booth, putting on my super hero blogger costume, I work in the business world. My Peter Parker persona is involved with IT operations and budgets, resource management and projects. Ahh, projects. Those finite loops of effort that, in theory, bring about a new means to... something. In the case of the Mars rover Curiosity it was the means to directly drill, extract, and analyze Martian rock over multiple points on the planetary surface. All it took was a ten year, multi-billion dollar effort to put the most sophisticated technology humans have on the red planet. Hats off, now that's a project—and something fascinating to digest the details of in Rob Manning and William Simon's book Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer (2017).

To review the content of Mars Rover Curiosity in detail feels like a spoiler. Its truly best read on the page. What I can say is that Manning and Simon do a good job covering the project, from pre- to post- from multiple perspectives. There is, of course, the technical perspective, which will have nerds doing what nerds do reading of the highly unique gadgets and gears implemented in the rover. If there were somehow a measure of content, tech might have a slight majority.

But on top of cameras, drills, engines, parachutes, rockets, etc., Manning and Simon also delve into the more practical side of things—the congressional fights for budget, the passed and failed testing, the interpersonal challenges, etc. One of the other nice things is that the writer duo add bits of history here and their to flesh out various points. Far from overdone, it's more like spice for the cake.

One of the most fascinating post-reading notes to this books is: Curiosity was designed to be in operation and provide Earth data for 2 years. That was the scope of the return on investment. Almost a decade later, the rover is still trundling along, gathering data (and dust), and doing what is is programmed to do.

As science fiction so often points out, humans are weak in the face of the universe. Bags of gelatinous material with a couple bones kicking around, sure we have opposing digits, but to escape our atmosphere? To be on the moon? To land on another planet—at least vicariously? Mars Rover Curiosity documents the things that needed to happen to make that unlikely achievement a reality. Knowing how difficult IT projects lasting only a couple of months can be, it's amazing we, evolved monkeys, have been able to do that. If you are in any way interested in the space program, or would like to see how one of the world's most complex projects was successfully pulled off, have a try.

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