The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity

Five, four, three, two, one…liftoff! On June 10, 2003, a little rover named Spirit blasted off on a rocket headed for Mars. Less than a month later, a twin rover named Opportunity soared through the solar system with the same mission: to find out if Mars ever had water that could have supported life. Totally dependent on solar power, which is scarce during harsh Martian winters, Spirit and Opportunity were expected to survive for three months. Instead, in what may well be the most successful space mission ever, the two go-cart-sized, six-wheeled rovers explored the red planet for more than six years. Opportunity has driven farther than anyone can believe, and Spirit survived so many impossible situations that engineers call her “the Indiana Jones of Mars.” Defying all expectations, Opportunity is still exploring!

This thrilling addition to the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series, The Mighty Mars Rovers tells the greatest space robot adventure of all time through the eyes—and heart—of Steven Squyres, professor of astronomy at Cornell University and lead scientist on the mission. Join Steve as he sweats through the rover’s dramatic landings, puzzle with him and his team as they figure out how to make delicate rovers explore deep craters and travel up the sides of jagged mountains, and hold your breath with Steve as Spirit and Opportunity find themselves in grave danger again and again. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Year Published: June 19, 2012

ISBN-10: 054747881X
ISBN-13: 978-0547478814


~ Oregon Spirit Award winner ~

~ Orbis Pictus Honor, NCTE ~
~ ALA Notable Children's Book ~
~ Bankstreet Best Children's Book ~
~ Booklist's Top 10 Science and Health Books for Youth ~
~ Best Book of 2012, New York Public Library ~
~ Best Book of 2012, Kirkus ~
~ Best Book of 2012, School Library Journal ~
~ Outstanding Science Trade Book, NSTA ~
~ YALSA Nonfiction Award nominee ~
~ Junior Library Guild selection~
~ Crystal Kite Award finalist~
~ Oregon Spirit Book Award winner ~
~ Arizona's Children's Choice Award finalist (Grand Canyon Award) ~


THE HORN BOOK,★ Starred Review



KIRKUS, ★ Starred Review

“Enthralling…Stellar…Edge-of-your-seat reading”


What’s it like to explore Mars? Did life ever exist on Earth’s red neighbor? To find out, readers need only soar along with this enthralling account of the adventures of two rovers designed to seek evidence on Mars of water that could have once supported life. Expected to last three months, the indefatigable Spirit and Opportunity incredibly carried out their missions for more than six years. In the process, lead scientist Steve Squyres and his team learned more about and probed more terrain on Mars than anyone before. Readers are carried aloft by Rusch’s exciting, clear prose and the rovers' exceptional photos sent Earthside. Along with the team, young people celebrate every thrilling moment of success—yes, there once was water on Mars!—and accept failures and disappointments. This is edge-of-your-seat reading as the author explains how setbacks were handled. Readers are not only drawn in by the dedication, hard work and emotions of the people involved, but they will also, like the scientists themselves, feel proprietary toward the rovers—and, fortunately, there’s an update about them. One quibble: the ample backmatter has little specifically for children. Another stellar outing in the consistently excellent Scientists in the Field series. How extraordinary to visit Mars in Spirit; readers will be very glad of the Opportunity.

BOOKLIST, Starred Review

“A book that space technology fans won’t want to miss”


After briefly discussing the search for life on Mars, Rusch introduces Steven Squyres as a 13-year-old boy watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. Later, while studying geology at Cornell, he came across Viking mission photos that inspired his career as a planetary scientist and astronomy professor. This handsome volume from the Scientists in the Field series spotlights Squyres’ work at NASA as “principal science investigator” for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Simultaneously it tells the story of landing the rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars and using them to gather information and images, some of which suggest the past existence of water on the planet. Wildly successful, the mission has lasted years longer than expected and one of the rovers is still active. This well-designed volume offers insights into the scientist’s work as well as a very informative account of the mission. Quotes are used very effectively, both in the text and as dramatic headlines superimposed on photos. Sidebars fill in details on topics such as the communication with the rovers and names of physical features on Mars. Well documented and fully illustrated with many colorful photos and digital images, this is a book that space technology fans won’t want to miss. —Carolyn Phelan



 “This detailed look at planning, implementing, maintaining, and troubleshooting a highly complex scientific mission puts a human face on an incredible accomplishment.”


Rusch covers not only the scientific aspects of Mars exploration but also the personalities of the people who made it happen, and profiles the rovers themselves, Spirit and Opportunity. Her comprehensive research shines through in her detailed style as she zeroes in on the behind-the-scenes efforts of launching a scientific mission. Full-color photographs on every page in this picture-book-size volume illuminate the Mars surface and the faces of the scientists as they agonize over communication difficulties and computer glitches and exult over the thrill of discovery. The lists of websites, archives, multimedia, and sources may inspire readers to follow in the footsteps of Steve Squyres–mission leader. The glossary is brief but helpful in unscrambling some of the “alphabet soup” of acronyms and nicknames (e.g., ATLO–Assembly, Test and Launch Operations and Pancam–Panoramic Camera) as well as scientific terms (e.g., Sol–one Martian day, or 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds in Earth time) used throughout. Terms and photographs are indexed. This detailed look at planning, implementing, maintaining, and troubleshooting a highly complex scientific mission puts a human face on an incredible accomplishment.

–Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA


GOODREADS, Five Stars ★★★★★

“Fascinating, inspiring, and ultimately humbling”

 In the eleven chapters in this book (part of the Scientists in the Field series), readers are drawn into the world of a team of scientists responsible for sending two rovers to Mars back in 2003. Readers follow the mission from its inception through lift-off and then as the two rovers, launched a month apart, explore Martian terrain at the behest of the men and women on the ground. Spirit and Opportunity were expected to last only three months, but both explored Mars for six years in search of clues as to whether life could have existed on Mars, far exceeding anyone's expectations. The author relates their missions in an edge-of-the-seat style, luring readers into the story and making them care about Spirit's broken wheel and Opportunity's months spent trapped into the sand. It's intriguing to consider how the rovers were "driven" by someone on Earth, and how frustrating it must have been to wait for signals indicating the vehicles were okay. Although readers hear from many of those involved in the project, the author returns to Steven Squyres, an astronomy professor at Cornell, whose words seem to capture perfectly the way the team felt about this mission. Back matter includes a Mission Update, chapter notes, and websites for additional current information on the Mars mission. The book is filled with photographs that almost make it seem as though readers have made their own trip to Mars. Fascinating, inspiring, and ultimately humbling, this book is sure to intrigue the budding scientists in your classroom or home, and although machines clearly are just that--machines--it's hard not to internalize lessons from these vehicles that just never seem to quit, continuing on against all odds while those on the ground tried to come up with solutions to the problems they faced on Mars.



“An incredible story of science and perseverance…Hand this one to young star-gazers and budding astrophysicists and engineers”

 In 2003, two go-cart-size rovers were sent to Mars. Their names were Spirit and Opportunity and their mission was expected to last six months before the harsh climate and dust of Mars rendered the rovers unable to function. Controlled by scientists on Earth, the rovers sent back photos, tested rocks, and reported other information about Mars. Scientists were hoping to find evidence that Mars could have supported life. The rovers were expected to last six months. The Mars terrain is treacherous, the winters are brutal, blowing dust can easily block the receptors that gather solar power. Spirit lasted nearly seven years and Opportunity is still rambling around on Mars nearly nine years later. These little machines trekked many more miles than scientists dared to hope they could. They explored craters and mountains and eventually found evidence that Mars could have supported life at some time in the past. The Mighty Mars Rovers is an incredible story of science and perseverance, of problem-solving from millions of miles away. You already know that any book in the Scientists in the Field series will provide rich back matter, incredible photos, and an inside look into the life of a scientist. What sets this book apart is Elizabeth Rusch's ability to bring the Mars rovers to life. Of course the scientists that worked on them for so long and had so much invested in their success would feel a connection to them. Rusch is able to bring that across to the reader. Perhaps it's because they look a little like WALL-E*, but Rusch creates characters out of Spirit and Opportunity. She allows readers to get to know them and cheer on their triumphs as their scientists pushed them to achieve more than anyone thought was possible. Hand this one to young star-gazers and budding astrophysicists and engineers. Publication is perfectly timed: the latest Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012. Check out NASA's Mars Rover Mission website for updates on Opportunity and more information.

*Okay, technically WALL-E looks a little like the Mars rovers.



“readers – and that will likely include fascinated adults– will be not only amazed but also emotionally engrossed”

 The Mighty Mars Rovers is a book about science and scientists, about interplanetary exploration, about plenty of cold, hard facts – but, even more interestingly, about tremendous human warmth as it enwraps not only the team members handling the mission but also the so-far-off mechanical-and-electronic “beings” performing the mission’s work at a distance of some 48,000,000 miles. Elizabeth Rusch humanizes the science by making the book in large part a focus on Steve Squyres, who spent eight years making unsuccessful Mars-rover proposals to NASA before the agency decided that it wanted not one, but two – and so quickly that, said Squyres, “our schedule was almost impossible.” But like so many events in space exploration (including the first Moon landing in 1969, fulfilling President Kennedy’s pledge to land men on the moon before the end of that decade), this one was accomplished – thanks to Squyres and a team of 170 scientists. To say that the project was difficult is a vast understatement: “It was so complicated that not a single one of us fully understood what was going on,” Squyres remembers. The team as a whole did understand, though, and that was what mattered. All this design-and-manufacturing drama occurred before Spirit and Opportunity took off for Mars – and is covered by Rusch in a mere 20 pages. Then comes the narrative of the Martian landing and start of exploration, complete with marvelous photos of Squyres and others jubilantly celebrating achievement after achievement. They had many reasons to be delighted: the rovers performed beautifully and started making important discoveries about Mars very quickly. Rusch is careful to include explanations about how scientist-to-rover communication really works. This is not science fiction: “‘You can’t watch the rover; you can’t listen to it. You really have no idea what is happening,’” explains Matt Golombek, manager of rover planning. Genuine communication by beeps and blips alternates in Rusch’s narrative with imaginative interpretations of the mission, such as what it could have felt like to be a rover landing on Mars. The rovers’ work was above all a search for water, an indicator that Mars could contain life or could once have harbored it. The excitement mounts as earthbound scientists investigate and solve operating problems from tens of millions of miles away, while the rovers (with Opportunity referred to as “he” and Spirit as “she”) diligently follow commands and turn up, as Rusch writes at one point, “Not much. Nothing but basalt, a common form of lava.” But the search continues, the challenges mount, discoveries are made, and photos of the scientists are interspersed with ones of some of those discoveries – for example, “the first [meteorite] ever found on a planet other than Earth.” The humans’ admiration for the machines is palpable and ever-increasing, especially as the rovers last much, much longer than anyone ever thought they would. By the book’s end, readers – and that will likely include fascinated adults, even though The Mighty Mars Rovers is intended primarily for children – will be not only amazed but also emotionally engrossed in the story, and the pictures of scientists showing their intense emotions during the mission will come to make perfect sense. The rovers were never alive, but they take on a distinct life and distinctive personalities throughout this story of hard work, trouble and triumph – which ends with a discussion of Curiosity, a new rover that is currently on its way to Mars for a planned summer landing and the start of a new journey of adventure and wonder.

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© 2020 by Elizabeth Rusch