Curiosity by Rod Pyle (book review).

No, ‘Curiosity’ isn’t about why you puzzle over things. The cover and the sub-title, ‘An Inside Look At The Mars Rover Mission And The People Who Made It Happen’ should give instant clarification and that it’s the name of the vehicle currently on Mars. More amazingly, considering that it’s two years since the Mars landing, you would have expected more books but as author Rod Pyle points out, a lot of the information is lost unless you understand advanced geology.

Curiosity by Rod Pyle (book review).
Curiosity by Rod Pyle (book review).

When I was young, there were still non-fiction books about professing that there was life on Mars and Venus and it was only the evidence of sending space vessels to both to dispel this. I like Pyle’s description that the lines that astronomer Percival Lowell saw in his telescope was probably the reflection of the blood vessels in his eyes. For those of you who have ever had an out-patients scan of your retinas will know, the similarities to Mars are startling.

Since Lowell’s time, improvements have been made to the lens to remove such reflections and removed much of the mythology surrounding Mars being inhabited. It also brought a whole new depth to ‘in the eye of the beholder’, in my opinion. Both the USA and USSR made attempts to send unmanned space vehicles to both planets with varying success or lack of it in the 60s, over-shadowed by the Apollo programme. Although Mars isn’t the hellhouse that Venus is, the successes there haven’t been particularly good with some marked failures, even in modern day.

When you consider the flight window to Mars is every two years, everything is done to a tight schedule and sorting out problems as quickly as possible because delaying longer adds to the budget. Compared to other space programmes, the budget for exploring Mars is quite miniscule. This book also explains what does the team do while they wait for the landing, they rehearse so everything becomes second nature for all sorts of problems. No thumb twiddling while they wait for something to happen. Going over the specs for Curiosity, its run on a military CPU but when you read how much attention is spent to sterilising before launch, you want a computer that can survive intense heating.

The Apple CPU was made originally in the 1990s and slow compared to what is available now but when you consider the computer that was on-board the Apollo 11 Eagle lander had less go than a modern calculator, I have a feeling that it’s safer to go for something with a reliable record than top of the range. A good lesson for all computer users when buying a new computer. Looking at all the discoveries, the realisation that Mars’ red colour is literally only skin deep and that beneath it, the material is all grey and the selection of materials is enough to create life even if nothing has been found yet. I’m still less sure about Martian meteorites coming to Earth though. Considering the number of meteorites that crashed on both Mars and our planet, I tend to see that as the common denominator than something hitting it with such an impact that a piece can leave its orbit and head our way.

Hopefully, the more examination is made towards sorting that out the better. When you consider outside of the International Space Station and the recent Rosetta comet mission, the Curiosity trip to Mars is our only current mission to another planet. If you have an interest in what is really out there then this is a must buy read. It’ll give you enough details at layman level as to what it took to get there and up-to-date on the discoveries so far.

The discovery of water once flowed on Mars has at least been confirmed and if a supply can be found, increases the possibility of a manned flight one day. As such, Curiosity is the most successful Mars mission so far. It might not seem so to the man or woman in the street but if you have an interest in space travel, then this is a must read book.

GF Willmetts

August 2014

(pub: Prometheus Books. 300 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $19.95 (US), $21.00 (CAN), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-933-8) check out websites:,, and

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