Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch

My husband talked me into taking a geology class while attending University. I lasted two weeks. I say this because I really liked the first part of this book and the focus on robotics, but I lost interest when it shifted toward the study of rocks on Mars. I'm a tech geek. I love the guts of metal contraptions moreso than silica and pyllosilicates. See why I dropped my class? Rock names like that can lull or tangle a brain in minutes. While I thought this book was well researched and well-written, I needed more variety with the alternating narratives of the rovers when they were exploring Mars. The narrative pattern of something mechanical breaking on the rovers, the scientists waiting anxiously as they tried to fix it followed by the rovers recovering got a bit repetitive. Overall, the story is engaging and full of interesting facts and data.

Steve Squyres dreamed of sending a geologist to Mars, but when he approached NASA they were not interested. The climate was too harsh. It was too far away. A person needed too much equipment. And on and on. Squyres was determined and instead came up with the idea of sending rovers to Mars. He drew up a proposal and sent it to NASA who said, "Nada" again, but like a squirrel foraging for acorns, Squyres didn't give up. He spent eight years trying to convince NASA that his idea was valid and worth exploring. NASA decided to give it a go when Mars orbited to a spot that made it closer to Earth than it had been in 60,000 years. The program to build two exploration rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, to go to Mars was launched in the year 2000 with the objective of studying rocks and soils to see if they hold clues to past water activity on Mars. Opportunity and Spirit took three years to build and were launched in 2003.  Scientists were hoping they would last three months, but they have exceeded expectations and Opportunity is still tooling around Mars today while Spirit is resting in peace in a sand trap, its communication ceasing in 2011 with scientists.

The informational text is a narrative with subtexts explaining information. While the narrative is engaging and the subtexts are visually attractive, some subtexts didn't fit smoothly in with the narrative text - at least for my random reading habits.  Oftentimes, I read the subtext before the narrative and it would give away a point. Once I realized this, I made sure I read the narrative first and then the subtext. I thought the photos were beautiful and the layout attractive.

I would have liked Steve developed more as a person. I think that if his personality had been rounded out more I might have had a greater emotional investment in the tension of whether or not the rovers would survive the challenges faced on Mars. It might have countered my lack of interest in rocks too. As portrayed I didn't really care after the third malfunction or obstacle that needed to be resolved and found myself skimming. Others who like geology should not feel this way. No author can expect everyone to like his or her book and there is an element of personal taste or aesthetics that makes an individual like or dislike a book; hence, I don't particularly like the subject but I do recognize that this is an excellent expository text.

The ending talks about sending Curiosity to Mars, a new and better robot. That perked my antennae and made me go searching NASA's website to see what this new rover was up to. I also went on Wikipedia and looked up the guts of the machine. As I'm reading about the computerized mother boards on the rovers I'm thinking that someone could easily argue with me, "computer processing units and million instructions per second are not more interesting than silica and pyllosilicates." So now that I've worked myself into a hole and am basically saying that calling a book "boring" is not a good argument, I feel I should rewrite my review and get rid of my interfering personal taste comments. But I'm not going to. I'll leave it as a reminder to not take "boring-route-review" highway. A good nonfiction book for your library. I can't argue the craftmanship.

Reading Level 6.4
4 Smileys

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