Journalist Brown (Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry) brings to vivid life the 17-year effort to put together a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. At the heart of the quest is Robert Pappalardo, a plucky planetary scientist whose expertise was in “icy moons” (and who studied under Carl Sagan at Cornell). Dissatisfied with his life as a professor and at the request of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in 2006 Pappalardo “packed his life and his cat and pointed his car westerly” to California to build a program to find life on Europa. There, he “oversaw all decisions affecting the project science” and in 2014 met with the administrator of NASA, to whom he “made the science case for Europa.” Meanwhile, NASA was focused on sending robots to Mars, White House support for space exploration waffled from one administration to the next, and rival planetary scientists fought to fund their own projects. Not until 2015 was the Europa Clipper mission greenlighted by NASA. (Its launch date is still undetermined.) Brown skillfully braids biography, science, obsession, and accounts of bureaucracy-wrangling into this mesmerizing tale of “good, bare-fisted science.” Salted with pop culture references and humor, Brown’s fascinating outing will entertain anyone curious about space exploration. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Jan.)
"This is one of the most impressive works of nonfiction I’ve ever read. It defies genre in many ways. It’s science, yes, but it’s driven by characters—brilliant, real-life scientists with contagious determination. David W. Brown turns complex planetary science into lyrical, accessible prose... It was compulsively readable and astonishing in scholarship."
Brown is a nimble, gifted writer, downright Dickensian in his pointed descriptions and irreverent humor… Brown’s language drew me in to the world of interplanetary science and made me a part of it. The Europa Clipper mission is scheduled to launch in 2024 and, thanks to The Mission, I will be looking up, dreaming of Europa’s oceans, and those plumes, and waiting for news of what we find there.
The Mission is as much about the people behind space exploration as it is about the science of distant moons. ... [Brown] vividly captures the challenges, triumphs and disappointments they have confronted. … Combining science and technology with the emotional human experience, The Mission is a fresh look at the future of space exploration.
"With deftness and vigor, David W. Brown brings to life the intricate science, the historical heft and, most exquisitely, the beating hearts at the center of his sprawling, immersive story. With rich characters, an epic struggle and a Herculean resolve, The Mission is an extraordinary tale, extraordinarily told."
Europa is the sparkly jewel of the Jupiter system and learning its mysteries is a delight, but it's the people and their dreams and their stories that shine in The Mission. David W. Brown deftly weaves together the science, the history, and the politics to write the definitive account of one of NASA’s most exciting upcoming missions.
Magnificent. ... This book cannot answer the question of what—if anything—lurks in Europa's dark abyss, but it masterfully reveals with remarkable clarity what lies within the hearts of the men and women determined to find out.
Brown leaves no door closed as he covers the science, logistics, personalities, and politics of this extraordinary NASA mission. His extensively researched, humorous, raucous, dramatic, and pop-culture-and science-fiction-laced immersion in planetary science will have readers hanging on every word.
"Scientists believe that any extraterrestrial life in our solar system would most likely be found on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. This book chronicles the work of a tenacious team of researchers who have spent decades investigating that possibility, despite obstacles both bureaucratic (NASA’s long-standing preoccupation with Mars) and physical: Europa lies within a 'pulsing, rippling' belt of radiation and is covered by an ice shell 'kilometers thicker than any hole ever drilled on earth.'"
The Mission reads almost like a novel. Brown immersed himself in the lives of his characters and their work, coming away from his research with a richly realized story about fascinating characters."
"Absolutely riveting from the very first page. David W. Brown is a beautiful writer who brings this incredible story to life in sharp, surprising prose. It is a true pleasure to read."
Journalist Brown provides a narrative of one of the most ambitious science projects ever conceived: NASA's deep-space mission to Europa. This true story has not been previously written about in such detail. Europa, one of the moons orbiting Jupiter, has miles of ice that may contain an ocean that may contain life. The story begins with Bob Pappalardo, a former disciple of Carl Sagan while a student at Cornell University. Pappalardo had multiple stops in academia and developed a doctoral thesis that focused on Jupiter's moons. He would become Project Scientist for a motley crew focused on developing a mission to explore Europa. This eclectic team encounters multiple challenges, including navigating the complexities of NASA, the White House, Congress, members of academia, and even Jupiter itself. The grit and persistence, mixed with the idealism of the group, led to creative approaches for completing the mission, including hitching a ride on another rocket launch designed to send a robot to Jupiter. This inspiring story provides a look into some of the characteristics needed to make change in a large industrial complex. Extensive notes are provided for further research. VERDICT An engaging read for all, especially for anyone curious about the details of space exploration.—Gary Medina, El Camino Coll., Torrance, CA
The inner workings of NASA through an enthusiastic account of an interplanetary probe to a distant moon.
Although space travel hasn’t enraptured the U.S. since the 1969 Apollo moon landing, NASA continues to accomplish great feats, and more are in the offing, including this book’s subject: the 2024 launch of a multibillion-dollar spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. To puzzled readers, journalist and Army veteran Brown explains that the Galileo probe, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, discovered a liquid water ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface. Life requires liquid water, and despite a torrent of probes and landers, none has turned up on Mars. No president since Lyndon Johnson has shown a genuine interest in space travel, a feeling shared by Congress with rare exceptions, including one of Brown’s unlikely heroes, a conservative from Texas. Furthermore, when Congress doles out tax money, anything involving astronauts takes priority. Even space buffs struggle to name a discovery produced by the manned space station, but robotic probes often return spectacular discoveries. Despite this, unmanned programs struggle for attention in this “astronaut-led, astronaut-centric organization,” but its scientists and engineers contain many brilliant workaholics. Brown delivers breathless biographies of a dozen as he describes their effort, now passing 20 years, to explore Europa. Since the 1990s, they have seen several proposals approved and then killed, but the Europa Clipper mission will probably happen for the only reason space programs happen: Congress approved the money. Readers will roll their eyes but keep reading as Brown engagingly describes the cutthroat NASA political landscape, in which Mars gets the most attention, leaving advocates of other planets fuming. Leading-edge technology usually goes over budget, but Congress rarely makes up the difference, so high priority space programs that run short extract money from other programs and sometimes get them cancelled. Few experts expect the 2024 launch date to hold, but some time after 2030, we may find evidence of fish on Europa.
A delightful slice of NASA life.