NASA "Mars Czar" Hubbard (Aeronautics/Stanford Univ.) draws an intimate picture of the Mars Exploration Program, which he fully revamped starting in 2000.
After a series of failed, high-profile projects in 1999, the Mars project was an embarrassing mess. The agency hired Hubbard, a veteran director of its Ames Research Center, to pick up the pieces and reignite the program as well as public perception as to the meaning and worth of such a costly enterprise. In an affable voice thinly covering his diplomatic shrewdness, Hubbard displays how to be in command without being suffocatingly commanding. He admits from the get-go that Mars sells itself in many ways: its strange color and weird motion, its evidence of water and the tantalizing amino acids trapped in its meteorites. But Hubbard most of all wants readers to understand how he fashioned his Mars program. Half of it concerns insider maneuvering in the snake-pit of Washington, a place often referred to as a "logic-free zone," where "inside-the-Beltway, spin doctor, agenda-setting, rumor-mongering activity...went on continuously." Still, such duplicitous, venal behavior is little but comic relief when held up against the artful qualities of the program's design and the tools created to accomplish its goals. The author explains the scientific strategy, presented for public consumption, as to what the program was doing and why; one of Hubbard's strong suits is his yearning for good science at the service of education and public outreach. He outlines the program's balance as regards orbital and land-based exploration, the systems-engineering approach, the expected high level of return, the budgetary consideration and the program's probes into ancient Mars and current Mars. The author closes with an impressive list of the program's successes over the last decade.
A lucid, concentrated appreciation of the technological, political and scientific imperatives that guide the nation's approach to Mars.