Its robotic arm, controlled from over 200 million miles away in the mission control center based in Tucson, dug up sand that scientists were able to study from afar. According to Kessler, Phoenix found evidence of a frozen ocean underneath the surface of Mars and discovered perchlorate, a potential energy source.
“Those two discoveries are the basic ingredients needed for life on Mars,” Kessler said. And he was there to witness the whole thing.
Now, in the wake of the most recent Mars landing, Kessler has released the paperback version of his book entitled, "Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission."
Kessler’s book is a nonfiction account of his time with the 150 people who controlled and studied Phoenix’s jaunt on Mars.
“It is a story of the lives and dramas of the passionate people who work on these missions,” he said. “They are heroes completely and solely dedicated to this one task.” He went on to say that people like this are vital for the advancement of society and often go unnamed.
"Neil Armstrong's death makes me realize that there hasn't been anyone since," he said. "Our space heroes are no longer in the collective consciousness."
Kessler was initially chosen to spend time with the NASA team in order to make a documentary for the Discovery Channel of the Phoenix Mars Mission.
But after producing a typical talking-heads style film that garnered little interest, he decided to write a book.
“I wanted to tell the story of space exploration in a new way in order to interest a larger audience,” he said. “People should know more about the amazing efforts and accomplishments of our scientists.”
Kessler got up close and personal with the team, even living on Martian time. A Martian day is 24 hours and 40 minutes, according to Kessler, and those extra minutes in the day are harder to get used to than one might think.
And although Kessler spent only three months with the team, they went on to work through the five-month Martian summer. The mission ended when the Phoenix froze to death during the two-year Martian winter.
And today as the SUV-sized spacecraft, Curiosity, roams the peaks and valleys of Mars, there is no better time for a story about the people behind missions to Mars, and what it takes to make space exploration possible.
Andrew Kessler will be reading from Martian Summer and answering questions Thursday Aug. 30 at Bookcourt at 163 Court St. in Brooklyn at 7 p.m. Click here for more information about the event.