The challenges of Mars

by Paolo Ferri, 2023

The author

Paolo Ferri, a theoretical physicist, played a prominent role at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mission Control Center, the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany, for over 37 years. He held various leadership positions, including the role of Flight Operations Director for numerous scientific missions, such as Cluster, Venus Express Flight Director, and Project Manager for the ground segment of BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter. From 2006 to 2013, he was in charge of mission operations for solar and planetary probes, and from 2013 to 2020, he oversaw all robotic space missions at ESA. Probably the most significant projects was the Rosetta mission, a pioneering endeavor that marked a milestone in space exploration history. The Rosetta mission was the first and only one to successfully land on the nucleus of a comet.  Throughout his distinguished career, he actively contributed to the history of European space exploration.


Paolo Ferri, with his long career at ESA, provides a unique perspective on the evolution of space exploration and the central role that Mars has played. The book emphasizes how, from the beginning, Mars has been a fascinating yet extremely challenging planet, as evidenced by the numerous mission failures.

Certainly, the book’s significant added value lies in Ferri’s professional experiences in European missions to Mars. Having been at the center of ESA’s space operations for almost forty years offers a glimpse into the emotions, successes, and failures experienced by the scientist and his collaborators.

The book begins with Mars itself, a planet that has always sparked interest, curiosity, and fueled myths. Ferri then lays the groundwork to understand all phases of a mission, including flight, cruise, orbit insertion, and landing, as well as the main technical challenges. In the following chapters, he clearly illustrates the major historical and current missions undertaken by ESA and other agencies to reach the red planet: Mariner 4, Viking missions, Mars Express (ESA’s first mission, late ’90s), ExoMars, Schiaparelli, and the future Mars Sample Return. Clearly, much is discussed about the Mars Express mission, launched in 2003, which represents a fascinating case study. Ferri outlines the initial technical challenges the probe had to face, turning a low-cost project into a lasting success or developing solutions quickly to major problems.

The book conveys how exciting and stimulating it can be to work in ESA’s operations directorate. Once I’ve finished organizing my notes, I’ll provide a more structured overview of all the missions and information in the book! // website created in 2023
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