By Richard Sherman
The Mission by David W. Brown
Hardback $20.99, Paperback $18.99 on Amazon
Here’s an astronomy book that isn’t filled with science. Rather, this newly-released book is the story of the men and women that battled for more than a decade to get the Europa Clipper mission approved. After years of despair, and countless losses to Mars-obsessed administrations, the turning point finally came in 2012 when the Hubble Space Telescope revealed 200 km high vapor plumes shooting from Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. The Mission details the passion and foresight of a group of people, and tells us a bit about the lives (and death), their personal and professional struggles, and their enduring commitment to get an orbiting spacecraft to Europa.
“Orbiters are all about getting a global view. Here is where Cassini comes in. Each time it orbits Saturn, Cassini swings by Titan to change its orbital plane—its angle of travel. Titan is an enormous moon and has the perfect gravity for that. So Titan lets Cassini fly higher or lower over Saturn and see different parts of its rings. And every time Cassini flies by Titan, it keeps its science instruments switched on and gets some new slice of the mysterious moon. By orbiting Saturn, we have been able to capture eighty-five percent of Titan…because of all those flybys. So if we want a global view to understand Europa at Jupiter, we can do it just like Cassini: with multiple flybys.”
The author, David W. Brown, has a very distinctive style—I would call it “casual conversation”—and this quickens the pace of a 400 page book (480 pages including the acknowledgements, notes, and index). In addition, Mr. Brown includes a handy list of more than two dozen individuals and their roles in the front of the book. Because The Mission details the various setbacks and challenges and the many people impacted, the book jumps around temporally and I found it easy to get lost on the sequence of events. I think the book could have benefited from a timeline of events as a reference. There are 16 pages of black and white photographs in the center of the book which are primarily images of the people (so don’t expect any “wow” images of Europa or Jupiter).
I enjoyed the book—it gave me great insight into the passion and commitment of the people behind the science and imagery. Thanks to The Mission, I am now following the Europa Clipper mission online, and you can too, at: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/europa-clipper.