I just finished reading Martian Summer and it was very entertaining and humorous book.

Running a very expensive and complicated mission on the surface of another planet is an incredibly difficult task. First of all, the crew works on “Mars time” which leads to exhaustion and possibly making mistakes. The Mars Polar lander is a complicated robot that has numerous constraints and a very limited lifespan on the planet. You’d never guess that scooping up a soil sample and dumping it an instrument could be so difficult.

However, the most interesting part of the story is the people. It takes a dedicated team of extremely bright people working together to make this mission a success. There are the engineers that know and understand the lander and work extremely hard to protect “their” machine. The scientists have their research that they want to do and their results can make or break a scientific career. However, they need to share the lander, its instruments, and their funding with other scientists. There are the managers from JPL and NASA that have their goals of protecting the public’s investment while making political decisions. Finally, there is the press that shares results with the public but often have their agenda and sometimes causes political pressure. Sometimes the press shares stories that lead to huge controversy and conspiracy theories and other times the press is completely apathetic.

This book is written from an unique perspective of an outsider that is watching history being made. The folks who cobbled the lander together from the pieces of a cancelled mission, do some amazing science on a shoestring budget, deal with meddling managers, conspiracy theorists and a fickle public, have a an amazing story, and Andrew Kessler tells it well. You can buy it here.