Discovering Mars – A History of Observation and Exploration of the Red Planet by William Sheehan and Jim Bell; Published by University of Arizona Press (2021); 744 pages; Hardcover: $30.00

This splendid book is the product of historian William Sheehan and astronomer and planetary scientist Jim Bell. As the authors explain in the book’s preface: “We hope you enjoy the stories told here chronicling the characters, technologies, human (and robotic) failures and successes, and the incredible scientific discoveries that have revealed and continue to reveal the true nature of our most Earthlike of celestial neighbors.”

Presented in 22 chapters of well-written and superb research, Discovering Mars covers it all – from the Red Planet being little more than a fuzzy place of mystery through telescopic eyepieces here on Earth to robotic explorers circling Mars and the powerful Perseverance rover and its Ingenuity helicopter drone, now busily at work within Jezero Crater.

There’s a number of appendix pieces chock full of details, including NASA’s historical investment in Mars exploration.

The collective talents of Bell and Sheehan shine throughout the book. The rich history of why Mars continues to tug on humankind’s curious nature and what constitutes multiple pathways to create a future Mars – be it robots or humans, dotting the world with small, expeditionary encampments, or transforming the planet into an Earth II via terraforming – or is it terrorforming?

“Even much of the basic reconnaissance work that robots do so well could be done much more quickly and efficiently by trained professionals in the field, although that is not adequate justification on its own to support the risk of human lives and the expenditure of scare resources,” the authors note.

The march of Mars machinery, starting with the Mariner and Viking missions of the 1960s and 1970s, have yielded tell-tale data that, in a true sense, allows us to “re-discover” Mars over and over again. Who knows when and what evidence is lurking there to show that the Red Planet was indeed once an extraterrestrial address for life – and perhaps that life is alive and well today.

This epic and one-of-a-kind volume is best read with a mind in full-inquisitive mode and why our technologies have provided decade-after-decade of astounding and captivating reveals…and what awaits us.

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