Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rescue Mode, by Ben Bova and Les Johnson

On the heels of last year's Mars, Inc., sci-fi legend Ben Bova takes a slightly different tack on kicking off a mission to Mars in Rescue Mode.  I don't know whether it was his teaming up with Les Johnson that caused the writing to be much improved over Mars, Inc., but Rescue Mode is a much better book.

Set just a few decades in the future, Rescue Mode follows the first crewed Mars mission from prelaunch to return.  Bova and Johnson give a lot of detail about the requirements and preparations for the mission.  Johnson, a long-time NASA scientist, must have added technical, logistical knowledge to the novel.  Everything is very believable, and made me feel like this could start happening today!  As Johnson points out in the introduction, "We have the technology to get people to Mars and to bring them safely back to Earth."

These guys are definitely cheerleaders for a Mars mission.  Through the course of the story, they address the superiority of human astronauts over robots ("One human mission will gather more information, make more discoveries, than a dozen robot probes."); on the economic impact of space exploration ("We don't shoot the money into space! It's spent right here, on scientist and engineers, on technicians and mechanics and schoolteachers and truck drivers and grocery workers.  It adds to our economy.  And the knowledge we'll eventually earn will bring an enormous bonus to our economy.); and the overall benefit to society (Exploration of space and Mars "gives people hope, excitement, something to be thrilled about, something to be proud of.  And the technology we develop builds our economy better and faster than all the handouts we offer to the people.").

The great thing about Rescue Mode is that even with the didactic, almost propagandistic tone, the story is still primary.  There's no hiding that fact that a mission to Mars is perilous, perhaps even fatal for the astronauts, and that difficulties abound.  Yet the story offers hope and confidence in human ingenuity and resilience in the face of impending catastrophe.

I was a little disappointed that Bova didn't continue the theme of privately-funded space travel he established in Mars, Inc.  I guess Johnson, the NASA guy, convinced him that NASA was the only outfit that could handle such a mission.  I enjoyed the characters, the story, and the great push for travel to Mars.  Bova and Johnson have me hoping and believing that we'll be sending crewed missions to Mars in my lifetime!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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