Monday, December 19, 2016
REVIEW: Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer (nonfiction audiobook) by Rob Manning and William L. Simon, narrated by Bronson Pinchot
Anyway, I checked this out via my library's Overdrive service. I have to admit that I didn't really know much about Curiosity before listening to this. I knew that it existed, I knew a few fun things related to it (pictures, it singing itself Happy Birthday, etc.), and I knew that it continues to function well past its 2-year mission. Recent(ish) news about things like the Juno mission and the Philae lander, plus my enjoyment of Andy Weir's The Martian, led to me wanting to read space-related nonfiction, and this book looked like a good one.
Now, let's see if I can remember what topics were covered. The book didn't actually start with Curiosity, but rather with an earlier project Manning worked on, the Sojourner Rover. This allowed him to compare and contrast the thought processes that went into Sojourner with the ones that went into Curiosity, a much larger and heavier rover with a different set of scientific instruments. I found it all fascinating, and Manning did a great job of describing the problems and most of the solutions in a way I was able to understand.
I really liked this book when it was covering the problems that needed to be solved to get a rover safely to Mars and make sure it could function in extreme cold. I also liked a lot of the stuff on Curiosity's (and its instruments') capabilities, as well as the team management stuff. However, I winced a bit during Manning's repeated mentions of budget issues. Even the “cheaper, faster” mission budgets seemed enormous to me.
I tend to be really bad about starting to read nonfiction books and then never finishing them, so it's usually audio or nothing for me. However, audio nonfiction doesn't always work well. Mars Rover Curiosity was doing fine, up until the list of all of Curiosity's scientific instruments. It made for very dry listening, and I imagine I'd have skimmed that part if I had been reading a paper version of the book instead. The narration itself was okay – not terribly exciting, but Bronson Pinchot's voice fit the text well enough that, since I didn't know what Manning sounded like, it was easy to forget that it wasn't Manning himself narrating the book.
All in all, this was an interesting look at the work, planning, testing, and, at times, politics that went into Curiosity.