Mars Owners’ Workshop Manual: From 4.5 Billion Years Ago To The Present by David M. Harland (book review).

Mars. Our nearest planetary neighbour and yet only recently properly explored in the last 30 years and all by machine. The latest Haynes book, ‘Mars Owners’ Workshop Manual: From 4.5 Billion Years Ago To The Present’ by David M. Harland is out to give its real life and fictional history and how the two crossed over.

But let’s start at the beginning. The most important detail came from Johanne Kepler, whose observations of Mars’ orbit proved that the Earth and other planets rotated around the Sun and not around our planet. Radical thought in its day and yet when telescopes improved enough to examine Mars’ surface, the regular lines that was seen led the belief that the red planet was also inhabited. If you’ve ever had a retina scan, you’d have also seen this version of Mars as what they were really observing was the back of their own eyes, although that’s not mentioned in the book.

What is important is that it wasn’t just Percival Lowell who thought there were canals on Mars and you sort of get an Emperor’s new clothes with others agreeing with Schiaparelli’s and his findings. In Lowell’s case, he at least increased the size of his refractor to study Mars in more detail, if only to look for more signs of life. It was only when spectrography was used on the highest place on Earth to cut back on our own atmospheric effects that Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere started to reduce the possibilities of life and put things into perspective. It wasn’t until the last century with the Mariner and Viking space programs when we saw Mars and landings there that we really saw the red planet up close. Although it’s not said, nothing about scale is noted although Viking in the corner of the screen would give some idea of how big the rubble was next to the vehicle. There’s a photograph showing how the size of the vehicles has grown over the years so I would have thought scaling would have been important.

America isn’t the only country who’ve sent probes to Mars. The Russian and Chinese attempts ended in failure. Europe failed a couple times and even India’s one mission has had some success. Mars is a far dustier planet than the Moon and I was surprised how the dust devils there have actually cleaned the solar panels on the reconnaissance probes prolonging their use. This is contrary to the original thought that this would actually be their downfall and why they are still working today.

The major find is the discovery of water, invariably frozen but significant. I do wish Harland had included a glossary of the minerals that have been discovered. He does reveal the elements they represent, principally iron compounds, from time to time but a ready reference would have been useful.

What is the most significant is the photographs. This is Mars. Our nearest planetary neighbour and alien planet. As rocky surrounds, it must look a little Earth-like when the colours are flipped to resemble Earth to help geologists when its normal appearance has a blue or slightly lemon sky and reddish rocks and dust. It really becomes jaw-dropping to look at. Interestingly, it hasn’t cost as much as the other probes sent to the other planets and all significant ones in the past 30 years so is current history in the making.

The look at the Science Fiction based on Mars only focuses on Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke with a little reference to Stephen Baxter and Kim Stanley Robinson. The significant element is in how Mars is depicted than story content.

The final chapter explores the problems of getting Man to Mars and the thoughts on that over the years. This largely focuses on payload and fuel.

Finally, the appendixes show maps of Mars and other pertinent data that makes this book a really useful reference volume for those planning to write stories in such a setting. Mars hasn’t revealed all its secrets yet but you will be better informed for reading this book.

GF Willmetts

May 2018

(pub: Haynes. 188 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78521-138-6)

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