Interplanetary Robots: True Stories Of Space Exploration by Rod Pyle (book review).

Rod Pyle’s latest book is, as the title shows, all about ‘Interplanetary Robots: True Stories Of Space Exploration’. The focus is on the collected unmanned space flights rather than the manned ones. Considering the length of time for these probes to reach their destinations, long-term planning is a must and expensive. What is also state-of-the-art computer technology when sent into space becomes very primitive in a decade.

There are already concerns about maintaining old equipment that can make sense of the data that is sent back to Earth. Thinking about that, I would have thought that ensuring modern software can still read it would be the way to go, assuming the encryption or zipping can still be read.

Pyle says the most significant event was in 1965 when close-up photos of Mars showed it was a dead planet and not teeming with life. Our view of our Solar system was changed forever.

The initial thoughts of the American military after the Russians had launched Sputnik was to have a nuclear blast on the Moon to make their mark. The thoughts of a failed launch, scattering nuclear waste on Earth quickly took that idea off the table. Russia did get probes landed on the Moon first. America was really lagging behind and knew it. Enough so that the CIA took advantage of a Russian exhibition of their space equipment to covertly take a lunar probe apart when they realised it was the real thing. Reading this book, you have to wonder why someone hasn’t considered making some of the events here into a film or TV series.

Oh, there are plenty of photos in this book as well as a colour section to back up the text. Seeing the difference in resolutions of an earlier photo of Mars and a later one shows how far we’ve come along. The budgets at NASA and JPL might seem huge but Washington bureaucracy nearly stopped cameras being sent to Mars. As we all know, pictures speak louder than number data.

It’s rather interesting contrasting the American and Russian investigations in space. The Russians made bigger breakthroughs with its Venera space program when it came to Venus and what lied below its clouds. Even so, both nations and the world were shook up that neither planet was hospitable and in Venus’ case lethal.

The Voyager Grand Tour of the planets revealed so much information about the outer planets and moons and they none of them were dull. The last information from Voyager showing the last remains of the Sun’s radiation at the edge of the Solar system shows how far out its reach is.

Bear in mind, all of this is modern history from the past 60 years and as recent satellite information from those sent to Jupiter and Saturn has shown, we are still seeing new discoveries all the time as witnessed by the photos of the moon Titan. There are plans to sending a submersible there in the planning stages. It’s also innovative as new ways have to be found to do things on a budget. Pyle’s description of a new antenna which is an inflatable ball once in space is going to get some interesting press descriptions when it is finally used but it will at least get around the Galileo probe’s antenna not opening properly.

Considering Man hasn’t been to the Moon in some 40 years, it is the unmanned probes that are our eyes into the Solar system and going where we can’t with the likes of Jupiter and Saturn where radiation hazards would prohibit them. From reading Pyle’s book, if funding is tight then there should be more international funding to ensure such probes are properly equipped.

Rod Pyle avoids getting too technical in this book and makes it very easy to read and getting a grasp on how these interplanetary probes are finding out more about our star system. It is a must buy book if you have an interest in space travel. If we can’t go in person, then our ever improving technology will be our eyes into the cosmos. I hope Pyle considers doing a book showing some of the information we have learnt in recent years from our telescopes both here and in space.

GF Willmetts

January 2019

(pub: Prometheus Books, 2019. 325 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-502-8. Ebook: Price: $11.99 (US), $13.99 (CAN), £11.61 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63388-503-5)

check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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