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In August 2012, Nasa succeeded in landing the Curiosity rover safely on the surface of Mars. But who, or what is ‘Curiosity’? Glad you asked. Curiosity is a car-sized rover, or robot vehicle, designed to explore Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL). Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, at 15:02 UTC aboard the MSL spacecraft and landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012, 05:17 UTC. The Bradbury Landing site was less than 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from the centre of the rover’s touchdown target after a 560 million km (350 million mi) journey.
Part of Curiosity’s mission is to investigate the make up and behavior of the Martian climate and geology and, more importantly collect evidence that Gale Crater may have been suitable to foster microbial life. Essential to that, of course, is the presence of water. Now, the question arises: could Mars be suitable for human exploration?
Curiosity’s early efforts were so successful that in December 2012, the original two-year mission was extended indefinitely. On the 5th of August 2017, NASA celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Curiosity rover landing and related exploratory accomplishments on the planet Mars.
To celebrate Markus Motum has created a wonderful book aimed at kids, but not exclusively. Parents who enjoy clean, vibrant graphics and short punchy bites of information will also enjoy this book, although their eyes may glaze over with some of the facts. But don’t worry, their kids will get it. Motum is clever. He personalizes Curiosity, possibly using other models like Wall-e. Curiosity talks directly to you, the reader and takes you on the journey with him. Along the way Curiosity explains about space travel and the development of space exploration, especially of the rover series. We learn about the labs, the experiments and the Kennedy Space Centre. When I was a kid, one of my favourite books was Mike and the Modelmakers, about the making of Matchbox toy cars. This book reminds me of that one. The art is the same and the way the facts and the information are presented is the same, too.
One of the tools Mokum uses is space. He ensures there’s plenty of gaps between his planets or paints a large sky that dominates the page, giving a feeling of awesomeness across the universes he’s painting. This is also emphasised by the size of the book – it’s about 30x25cms, so not a small package. One of the best images is the NASA control room, with an illustration that covers both pages – 60cms across. It gives a real widescreen feel. And another is a two-page spread of a rocket taking off. The art is clean and simple but very effective.
Later in the book there’s a time lapse image of Curiosity landing, with comments to help understand the stages as it descends through the atmosphere to the surface of Mars. The accompanying information tells us that the pod that delivers Curiosity used a ‘sky crane’ to lower the vehicle safely. This is just one example of the level of detail Mokum includes. It’s details like this that show that Mokum never compromises or patronises his readers. He wants them to use this book as a source book for their own projects. I tried Googling these facts and really had to search them out. It wasn’t easy, so for the keen reader the value in this book is endless. This is a really special book and a bit of a treasure. The internet is not always the solution. Sometimes books are better. Here’s a great example of that.
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover
by Markus Motum
Published by Walker Books Ltd