Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Red! The Story of a Mars Rover by Marcus Motum

Wherever you are in the world right now, I'm a very long way away.

Mars has always fascinated mankind. The ancients saw it as an oddity, a steady reddish glow amid the twinkling white lights of the stars. But armed with the early tool of the telescope. early astronomers discovered its planetary nature and named it for the bloody Roman god of war.

So close and yet so far, Earth's sister rocky planet was one of the first settinga for science fiction writers who imagined it populated by a variety of strange beings, and once man and lunar rovers left their tracks on the moon, Mars became the next low-hanging fruit in the solar system.

But Mars is a 350,000,000-mile journey away, too far and too harsh an environment for spacemen, so soon after the Lunar rovers proved useful, human scientists devised an alter ego to go to Mars, crafted with cameras for eyes and a robotic arm and hand that used man-made tools to collect samples, a built-in chem lab for analyzing soil and atmospheric samples, and tough all-terrain wheels upon which the robot could tootle around the planet's rocky surface. At last the curious world began to get some answers. Would it find the same sort of rocks as those on Earth? Would there be any evidence of water and life? And behind those is the big question:

"Is there anybody else out there?"

Conceived in 2007 and touching down on Mars in 2012, this robust, later-generation robotic rover was appropriately christened Curiosity. She has exceeded all expectations, landing softly and safely and immediately beginning to speak through its telemetry back to a curious Earth, where scientists waited to satisfy the world's curiosity about the possibility of a once life-sustaining atmosphere and whether there was and is still usable water present.

Marcus Motum's recent Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover (Candlewick Press, 2017) is a stunning introduction to the exploration of Mars for young readers. Curiosity was not the first Mars rover, but purpose-built to endure and explore these big questions, she is on the job still, providing data, clues to the history of Mars and the entire solar system in which we live. Author Marcus Motum provides an engaging rundown of Curiosity's mission in easily accessible language, and artist Motum portrays Curiosity charmingly, as a curiously anthropomorphic Victorian autonomous robotic carriage, humanity's largest eyes and hands on the Red Planet. Set in a powerfully drawn and vivid setting of rusty red rocks and rough terrain, Motum's autonomous rover Curiosity expresses the drive all-too-human drive to find out what, why, and when. Will Curiosity's tracks go down in space history with those footprints of Neil Armstrong on the moon?

For more about this doughty rover, NASA offers details about Curiosity's research into the big question: Did Mars once have a life-supporting ecology and did life once thrive there? (See details here.) For more about the decades-old exploration of Mars and the upcoming  May 18 launch of the In-Sight rover, see a brief history here and here.

Says Publishers Weekly in its starred review, "The books's large trim size and expansive scenes work in tandem to evoke the vastness of star-filled skies and reddish Martian landscapes."

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