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Why Mars

, 336 pages
May 2014



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Why Mars

NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration

Mars has captured the human imagination for decades. Since NASA’s establishment in 1958, the space agency has looked to Mars as a compelling prize, the one place, beyond the Moon, where robotic and human exploration could converge. Remarkably successful with its roaming multi-billion-dollar robot, Curiosity, NASA’s Mars program represents one of the agency’s greatest achievements.

Why Mars analyzes the history of the robotic Mars exploration program from its origins to today. W. Henry Lambright examines the politics and policies behind NASA's multi-decade quest, illuminating the roles of key individuals and institutions along with their triumphs and defeats.

Lambright outlines the ebbs and flows of policy evolution, focusing on critical points of change and factors that spurred strategic reorientation. He explains Mars exploration as a striking example of "big science" and describes the ways a powerful advocacy coalition—composed of NASA decision makers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mars academic science community, and many others—has influenced governmental decisions on Mars exploration, making it, at times, a national priority.

The quest for Mars stretches over many years and involves billions of dollars. What does it take to mount and give coherence to a multi-mission, big science program? How do advocates and decision makers maintain goals and adapt their programs in the face of opposition and budgetary stringency? Where do they succeed in their strategies? Where do they fall short? Lambright’s insightful book suggests that from Mars exploration we can learn lessons that apply to other large-scale national endeavors in science and technology.

W. Henry Lambright is a professor of public administration, international affairs, and political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is author of Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA and Space Policy in the Twenty-First Century, both published by Johns Hopkins.

"Very well researched, written, and analyzed. No one before Lambright has come close to explaining the development of NASA’s successful two-decade strategy to garner public and political support for Mars exploration. He elucidates the core issues in science policy and the convergences and divergences in relation to one of the biggest of all science efforts. Excellent."

"Lambright tells a thorough story of NASA’s efforts to send a series of increasingly capable spacecraft to Mars. The flyby missions of Mariner 4 and its successors led to the first Mars orbiter, Mariner 9, and then the Viking program of orbiters and landers... The history of NASA’s robotic Mars exploration program, as recounted in Why Mars, can provide lessons learned and guidance for its future."

"Henry Lambright has put together a tour-de-force of just how rocky has been the NASA road to Mars... Why Mars is an important addition to the literature."

"Author W. Henry Lambright has written an absorbing and detailed look at the long trail of robotic Mars exploration program from its origins to today. This is an excellent review of the politics and policies behind NASA's multi-decade quest at exploring the Red Planet, the roles of key individuals and institutions, including a look at triumphs and defeats in reaching Mars."

"The reading is very compelling, and Lambright makes the topic come to life, particularly in the way he discusses key NASA officials and scientists... A useful resource for those interested in the history of the space program and in public policy regarding large-scale science projects."

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