Brooklyn author tells the story of the people behind NASA

September 6, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Andrew Kessler
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Who are kids’ heroes today?

Possibly athletes, possibly pop stars, possibly movie stars, most people would answer.

But few would say scientists or people involved in the space program.

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“NASA used to give us these amazing heroes,” says Brooklyn resident and space buff Andrew Kessler. “Now we don’t know their names.

“Neil Armstrong was famous,” said the Gowanus resident. “Now, it’s hard to name anyone who works at NASA.”

To this end, he recently spent three months “embedded” as a journalist with NASA at the University of Arizona, where staffers were working on the Mars landing craft and “writing the code.”
The result is his new book, “Martian Summer.” Kessler will be appearing at BookCourt at 163 Court St. on Friday night at 7 p.m. to read from his book and answer questions.

Speaking about his background, Kessler said, “I was always a big science geek. I went to Berkeley to study math, but then got into storytelling to work with the scientists who work on these missions, but whose lives are hidden from us.”

His job, as he sees it, is not to talk about how the Mars rovers work, but what the scientists are like as people.

One interesting scientists he got to know, he recalls, is Dr. Peter Smith, the head of the most recent mission.

“Dr. Smith had an interesting start in NASA,” Kessler said. “He pitched the idea for a camera that would at human heights and take amazing landscape photos. He understood the power of narrative.”

During the early 1990s, when the internet was more or less unknown, Kessler continued, he arranged it so that computer users could download space-landing photos right into their computers.

“In the 1990s, he created the first viral campaign for anything,” said Kessler.

Another interesting scientist Kessler mentioned was Nilton Renno of the University of Michigan. “He used to be a competitive glider pilot,” says Kessler. “His contribution was observing these images near the lander’s legs and noticing these weird blobs near the bottom. He believes the photos could indicate the presence of liquid brine, which in turn could mean that at one time it was possible to have water on the surface of Mars.

Brine aside, Kessler is enthusiastic about the growth of interest in science in Brooklyn. He points to developments like “Nerd Night” in DUMBO, in which scientists come and discuss projects they are involved in; and the Secret Science Club at the Bell House in Gowanus, where scientists come to present their ideas before an audience in a club setting.

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