Win a copy of Andrew Kessler’s “Martian Summer” – !!!!!

Hey BookNerds!

What’s better than free books, right?

The Friendly Folks at OpenRoadMedia have offered me the chance to give away a copy of Andrew Kessler’s new non-fiction book – “Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and my 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission.”

All YOU have to do is share the below excerpt (or part of it) with the world!

If you have a personal blog, share it there.  If you want to share it on facebook, do that too!  If you want to share it on twitter, use the hashtag #martiansummer and tweet it to @suchabooknerd and @openroadmedia.  Or, you can leave a comment on this post, or send me an email and let me know where you’ve shared. 🙂

The winner will receive a digital copy of the book for review.  Winner to be selected June 13th, 2011!

Excerpt to share is below.


Date: June 04, 2007

The story begins two months before the launch of the Phoenix Mars Lander. One year before the landing. It takes ten months to fly at 74,000 mph to arrive on Mars. It’s far.

 The subject of the story is a Martian photographer.

 “Don’t call me that,” Peter Smith, the world’s greatest Martian Photographer says dryly. “It really diminishes the science.”

 This is a story about the world’s greatest Mars picture-taker and his robot, Phoenix.

“And don’t make me look like some wacko mad scientist,” Peter says. He has a hard enough time with the mission’s image as it is. Peter is particular about the mission’s image because he knows how getting it right has the potential to inspire children and adults alike. More than half his team is here because they grew up watching Apollo and Viking missions.

“What’s going to inspire the next generation?” he wants to know.

We’re sitting in the back yard of Peter’s Tucson home. We’re getting off on the wrong foot and I can’t stop imagining Peter working in his Martian photo studio posing little aliens on the Red Planet. Stupid, I know.

Peter is intimidating. He is tall—very tall—with a shock of white hair, bushy eyebrows, big mustache, a robust Buddha-like belly and an alpha-male cowboy swagger. He towers over me and says little. Only grimacing and asking if I’m sure I’m up for the task, correcting me when I say things like “Martian photographer” or make other interplanetary gaffes. I blabber to fill the silence. It’s not uncommon to feel this way when you first meet the brilliant, geeky—

“Please don’t make us look like geeks, either” says the brilliant John Wayne of space.

“Go collect some firewood for dinner,” he says. I do it. When I return, Peter breaks the wood with his hands, starts a small fire, and tells me a story.


Then came the first telescopes, and Mars ceased to be a dot. It became, instead, a world which scientists claimed was much like our own. Imaginations ran wild, and before long, rather than see vast, won- derful possibilities, we feared a Martian attack. As a war of the worlds loomed, Mars became a source of fear and anxiety.

It wasn’t until our first stumblings into the solar system in the 1960s, when Mariner 4 snapped photos of Mars’s surface that we caught a glimpse of what it might actually be like. Rather than an advanced civilization poised for an attack, Mariner 4 showed us a lifeless, deso- late place. A few years later, in the 1970s, Viking I confirmed those first impressions: Mars was nothing to fear. Just a dead planet; barely worth exploring. The missions stopped. The scientific dreamers lost sleep and became depressed.

Then a discovery in the 1990s changed everything. ALH84001, a piece of Mars ejected by a cosmic collision, was thrust through the solar system and somehow landed on Earth. It was found in Antarctica in 1984 but no one took much interest. When scientists at NASA finally cut it open to take a closer look, they found something shocking: evidence of life. Tiny microbes, simple little guys with evidence of a few of the basic structures of life, like a cell wall. It was the basic innards of something you might find in the extreme environments of the Earth—sulfur vents at the bottom of the ocean, the dry valleys of Antarctica, or the Andean desert. Clearly there was more to discover on Mars. So, we headed back.

Peter Smith is a master at conjuring these little Mars vignettes.

That’s not his only virtue or why we’re here. Peter built an excavator to operate on Mars. It took five years of construction and nearly a lifetime of dreams. In a few months, he will watch a Delta II rocket blast off into space carrying his 800-pound lander with a long arm that can dig into the surface of Mars. Past Mars missions toted along soup-spoon style digging equipment, but Phoenix brings a mini backhoe to do real interplanetary digging. His mission is called The Phoenix Mars Lander. Phoenix for short.

Peter builds cameras for space. Capturing the universe on film is a great gig. He built almost half of the cameras that have operated on Mars, and got to where he is by working his way up from research assistant to Mission Captain—or Principal Investigator to NASA insiders. It’s a classic photon-to-Charged-Coupled-Device story.

You might remember waking up one summer morning in 1997 to a well-cropped ocher-colored Martian landscape on the front page of your newspaper or computer screen. Remember? Peter took that image. His camera, fixed to a robot called Pathfinder, captured the alien landscape using a simple yet brilliant trick to get non-scientists to imagine themselves on Mars and bask in its glory.

His scientific images looked like tourist photos. And Peter, betting that scientists wouldn’t be the only ones who wanted to look at them, made a secret handshake deal to thwart NASA protocol and post the images on the Internet as they came down from Mars. It was arguably the first ever viral marketing campaign—undoubtedly the first for space. The traffic he brought to NASA’s site nearly crashed the whole Internet. The coolness factor re-awakened a waning interest in not just the Red Planet, but space exploration itself.

This is Peter’s whole raison d’etre, as well as his gift of empathy—a rare trait among scientific minds: obsessed with discovery, but never forgetting to stop to smell the roses. Peter wants people to care about space and science, so he does everything possible to make it romantic and within arm’s length. Get through that gruff exterior, and I’m just positive we’ll find an old softy.

NOW PETER HAS TAKEN ON SOMETHING BIGGER. HE DIDN’T JUST BUILD the cameras for this mission, he’s the captain of this whole ship and he won’t take no jive from no one—except NASA. They control his $420 million budget and can cut him off at any moment, if he goes rogue. Not that I’m implying he would ever hijack a Mars lander.

Peter Smith invited me to his rocket-ship-shaped home—a design rendered when he was a swinging space bachelor—because he wanted to revive the great space narrative, begun a generation ago, but now in need of a new chapter. From our scant conversations before I arrived in Tucson, I learned he was looking for an outsider to join the mission and articulate to the world a story starring one lovable but tough- as-nails hero, Peter Smith, on one crazy, heroic, funtastic mission to explore the innards of another world.

This is our first face-to-face Mars accord. Peter wants someone on his mission that’s not a brilliant scientist. Check. He’s got enough headaches with 130 of those. He’s looking for someone who might see Mars with a fresh approach and could write about it from a new perspective. Check. And there’s one thing Peter can see clearly—I’ve got naïveté in spades.

Still, this whole project is a risk. Letting an outsider into Mission Control makes Peter’s current P.R. chief nervous.

“You’re a liability.” she says. Then again, she used to work for the folks that make shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, cluster bombs, and the like. Transparency doesn’t come naturally for her. I just have to gently remind her, this is the Martian arctic, not Afghanistan.


So share and share away! I’ll pick a winner on June 13th, 2011!


About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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