Monday, June 14, 2021

Reading | Mission To Mars

Mission To Mars | Michael Collins

The year was 1990, and America's space program was set on snooze. Apollo's glory days had long since passed, space station dreams were fizzling away, and the post-Challenger explosion shuttle program was gasping for breath. In the midst of these doldrums, the voice of this former astronaut rings clear and true: "Cut the crap and let's put a man on Mars." 

In this book, Collins organizes the obstacles to be overcome into two categories: scientific, though the technicalities of how to safely send humans to Mars and get them back again have been mostly solved, and political, which boil down to a pair of overlapping concerns about how to build international collaboration and where to get the money. After sorting through the imposing list of challenges, Collins does an about face and with a surprising deft touch, lays out a delightful and detailed what-if narrative of an imaginary first voyage to the red planet. His vision is clear and his enthusiasm is contagious, and for the record, he's very much in favor of women in space. So, let's cut the crap and put a man - or a woman - on Mars!

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I'm interested in science but I am not a science-y person. 

Which is to say that while I love reading about space exploration, I do not enjoy technical dissertations on rocket propulsion, fuel technologies, or optimal trajectories through the solar system. Dear Michael Collins, my very most favorite astronaut and Command Module Pilot of historic Apollo 11 - he was the dude who drove around the moon 30 times while the other two landed and bounced around on the surface - truly gets me. 

First and foremost, he writes with passion and humor, and just enough detail to make me feel like I'm wrapping my brain around the issues without triggering a systems overload. Secondly, he deploys the traditional three-act structure of classic literature to skillfully draw me into his cleverly blended fiction/nonfiction construction. And finally, Collins' joyfully imaginative story of eight humans traveling together for the first Mars landing charms me beyond words. 

Though I've been ambivalent about it for decades, after reading this book, I'm now a true believer and passionate proponent of manned flight to the red planet.

 Let's go to Mars!

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