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Planetary Adventures: From Moscow to Mars by Louis Friedman
Quest Volume: 27 #4 (2020)
The journey to Mars and the exploration of the solar system starts much closer to home. For Louis Friedman, a co-founder of The Planetary Society (along with Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray), that involved taking 50 trips to the Soviet Union from his home in the United States. Planetary Adventures is not so much an autobiography as a collection of first-person account stories, told about his travels and personal experiences in and with the Soviet Union as he sought to further the goal of space exploration.
For example, “After a nearly 24-hour airplane trip…we are now en route to Chelyabinsk-70, site of the Soviet hydrogen bomb development. In the front seat of our dark bus, the father of the American hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller, is in earnest discussion with our host, Vadim Simonenko. They are talking about how an asteroid might break apart in space if huge nuclear explosives are fired at it. To me this scene is surreal” [28-29].
Each of the first dozen chapters address a trip related to some aspect of space exploration, including a Mars balloon, asteroid deflection, the Mars Rover, Halley’s Comet, etc. In addition to sharing personal anecdotes about the purpose of the trip and the space activity, he provides insight into the politics at that time, setting the scene to explain why certain events happened in the way they did.
In an aside, Dr. Friedman mentions a meeting with Admiral Truly, the NASA Administrator, at the time, during which he asked if he thought their work testing Mars rovers in Kamchatka was useful. Truly responded, “‘you’ve been to Kamchatka—tell me about it.’ He kept me there another 45 minutes. It seems that in his previous Navy life…he had spent countless weeks in ships in the Pacific off the Kamchatka coast trying to observe what was going on there”.
The final two chapters conclude with his thoughts on “Where Next? / What Next?” and some references and discussions about Mars, providing a brief summary of our Mars activities by presidential administration.
Though not covered directly in the book, The Planetary Society was established as a direct response to President Reagan’s initial decision to halt NASA’s program of planetary exploration after two decades of missions to the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Despite their efforts, the 1980s ended up as the only decade since the beginning of the Space Age without a mission to Mars.
Dr. Friedman’s lifelong career with The Planetary Society, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the AVCO Space Systems Division, focused on planetary exploration and he worked on programs such as Voyager and Magellan, and the exploration of Mars. Readers interested in the red planet and space exploration will undoubtably enjoy reading his stories and anecdotes. Likewise, historians studying the interplay between the Soviet Union and US space scientists during the 1980s and 1990s will gain personal insight from someone at the center of it.
About the Book
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Title: Planetary Adventures: From Moscow to Mars
Author: Louis Friedman
Publisher: Page Publishing
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