The Mighty Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: I want to caution readers that if you are, as I am, susceptible to robot love you might want to use care with The Might Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Houghton 2012). Yes, this latest volume in the stellar Scientists in Field series does what it always does with such panache – introduces an inspirational scientist, describes his/her work and processes and explores his/her field of research. However, this book also introduces the two small rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity and I defy anyone to read this book and not only be anthropomorphizing like crazy but also become thoroughly robot-smitten!
The Mighty Mars Rovers chiefly follows Steven Squyres, principal science investigator for the first NASA Mars Rover Exploration team from his early fascination with astronomy and geology to his 8-year-effort to convince NASA to approve his proposals for a Mars rover. “I’m stubborn, said Steve, “and stubborness pays off.” Indeed it does although Steve’s and his team’s stubbornness were called on intensely throughout both the development AND operational phases in so many ways!
Rusch’s descriptions of the design and manufacture of the little Mars Rovers are completely fascinating and I learned so much along the way. But my favorite part of the book came when the little vehicles landed and started their investigations. What an incredible feat and the book is filled with things that I immediately wanted to share with someone! This is definitely a “listen to this” sort of book and I could go on and on about the most amazing things I learned. For example, did you know that the scientists could only communicate with the rovers once a day? They would give them directions and then have to wait a whole day to find out what happened. And SO much happened! The two little vehicles, designed and expected to work for only three months, kept going and going, sending back data for more than six years! Amazing. It’s in this section of the book that I started to think about Spirit and Opportunity as distinct personalities. Like their team on Earth, I worried about them as they got stuck, went to sleep in the winter and fell into slippery sand. I was fascinated by the efforts of the team to solve the Rover’s problems and cheered with each triumph. I think I came away with a completely expanded understanding both of the mission itself and also of the amazing scientific and engineering efforts that made it such a success. And I fell in love with the two little rovers along the way. This is truly science writing at it’s best. Rusch writes with a clarity that makes complex topics completely accessible and a verve that turns the book into a wondrous adventure. Add in the jaw-dropping photographs and this is a winner from beginning to end!
Cindy: Last week I started following updates for B95 (Moonbird) to keep track of his longevity and progress; this week I’ve added Mars rovers to my watch list! Yes, a quick check here and I learned that Opportunity has far outlasted its warranty and is still exploring Mars after 9 years!!! It was projected to last 3 months and to not survive the harsh Martian winter. But Opportunity is not alone. Launched in November of 2011, Curiosity landed on Mars in August and has its own page to follow its discoveries. Read Rusch’s book and you will be addicted, too.
In addition to the strengths Lynn mentions, there are interesting sidebars throughout the book with information like how the scientists give working names to land features on Mars while waiting for the International Astronomical Union to do the official naming. I love the image I have in my head of brilliant NASA minds coming up with “Cookies and Cream” or “Mudpie” for a land feature on Mars. And you can learn about the young girl who named the rovers in another sidebar. I also enjoyed the details of how the scientists scrambled here on Earth to solve rover problems so very far away. Driving to every Home Depot in the area to buy sand, paving stones, and clay to build a replica Mars sandbox to problem solve with a duplicate rover before issuing commands to the real thing–fabulous.
Curious young readers can explore further using the source notes, recommended resources, suggested follow up activities and the glossary and index. Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity…well done.
Common Core Connections
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
“I’m stubborn, said Steve Squyres, “and stubborness pays off.” Do you think this is true? What events support your conclusions? Cite your textual evidence. Do you think stubbornness pays off for people other than scientists?
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
An enormous amount of time, effort, and resources have been poured into the Mars Rover projects. Clearly the science team believes in the importance of what they are learning. What do they believe are some of the most important results of their project? Cite your evidence. Why do they think this is valuable? Do you agree?