To Mars with Love, by Patricia Ann Straat, is the true and intimate account of a young woman's journey into space exploration sciences. As Co-Experimenter of the Viking Labeled Release Experiment (LR), Dr. Straat worked side by side with engineers to develop one of three life detection experiments sent to Mars on the 1976 Viking Mission. Her experiences in laboratories and conference rooms are juxtaposed to her parallel experiences in the beach side communities of Los Angeles, and with the equestrian worlds

of Maryland and California.

Author with LR Test Instrument

The controversial LR results, positive for microbial life, have been published many times, but the story of the development of the LR flight experiment—with all its challenges, trials, and tribulations—has never before been told. The book encapsulates the six years prior to the Viking landing as well as the primary mission in its tense and humorous moments, bringing to life both the atmosphere and people involved in the mission.

A Maryland Hunt Starting out on a crisp fall day.

The engineering aspects, with never-before-published details, emphasize the enormous problems encountered in such an endeavor. 


The question of life on Mars is discussed in balanced perspective along with possible problems and directions for future Mars exploration.

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To Mars with Love

by Patricia Ann Straat

ISBN: 978-1-64111-150-8

Full Color Hardcover Limited Edition

304 pages with 91 Photos and Figures

Publication Date: January 16, 2019

Price: $29.99 (USD) plus shipping


Author with Test Lander at JPL

The book includes photos of Viking scientists, Viking memorabilia, and the author’s compelling reflections as she takes us back in time to the unprecedented Viking years.


Reviews & News

Readers Reviews

Reviews & News

Readers Reviews

"To Mars With Love" reads like a captivating novel filled with science, engineering, and human challenges (faced and overcome), and amusing interactions with neighbors in the beach side community of LA. It is filled with interesting personalities, from Nobel scientists to equestrians of all ilk and form, and laced with personal experiences documenting the development of the biology investigation "Labelled Release" instrument and her own life as a young woman scientist in an era that was competitive but brought together the greatest minds to accomplish feats never before attempted. Her light style and intensity remind me of other favorite Authors such as Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, and Studs Terkel, oral historian extraordinaire. She is fascinating and inspiring, but presents her life as her work, in a detailed and objective manner, with wry humor that often only comes from the outside in. And yet its true! I want to see it in film!" 
Rachel - Oregon
"A fascinating, first-hand account of the life detection experiments conducted by the Viking Lander on Mars. The book is filled with tons of details about how the first experiments to detect life on Mars were designed and carried out. Interspersed with never before seen diagrams and candid pictures of the scientific team, the author also shares some very entertaining tales from her personal life, especially her adventures riding horses as a member of a local hunt club. 

I never really thought about what was needed to design an experiment to be carried out on a planet millions of miles from the researchers, especially with the technology available in the 1970’s, but the author lays out the thought processes behind the experiments, and how the team dealt with all the challenges. She explains it in an easy to understand manner, and kept my attention all through the book. 

I would love to see a movie made from this - sort of a ‘Hidden Figures’ meets ‘The Martian’!"
Michelle - Maryland
"Just finished this book. Wow! What an insight. Between the excitement, trials, problems, failures and successes with LR, entwined with the heartache of losing a friend, a horse and a dog, and the colorful life with friends and horses, this is quite a story. To Mars With Love was an informative and delightful read. I didn’t want to put it down."
Virginia – New York
"I was fascinated by this book. I really LOVE this book! I'm in LOVE with “To Mars With LOVE.” This is my first time to read a book in English, but the story was so addictive, and kept giving me some catharsis, that I could read it faster than even if it was translated to Korean. I was so soaked in the story that I felt searching dictionary is something unnecessary because it is a time-waste; in that time, I could read more pages!
There were several catharsis points while reading the book. One of the best LR outcomes was the Controlled Experiment that "The bugs are dead!” Also, I was really interested by your stories related to those experiments, including: Gil Levin's interview, everywhere you go you ride horses, your story about the 'Manhattan Beach's bicycle path', what it was like when Viking had touchdown, 50 degree low temperature sterile experiments' shark's fin-alike, and your badge for the Viking launch which was unfortunately unused.
I was astonished by your thousands of trial-and-error experiments including the DD Disaster, explosions on injection, and so on. As NASA is full of the world's best scientists, I thought that there is no such word as 'failure' in their world. I thought that once a project is started, the successful outcome comes right away. I was really affected by the millions of endeavors for achieving the LR goals. So I decided that, when I meet disturbances on my way to achieving my goal, I will consider it the process for attaining success. I will keep in mind: "Expect the Unexpected"
When I read the part that NASA had processed the LR experiment as insufficient evidence for the Martian creature, I almost cried. In Korea's Biology I textbook,
there are simple explanations about your experiments, and that also said that PR, LR, GCMS all had negative reaction. I wanted to believe that our country's education was wrong. I really hoped that your LR experiment is definitely a sign of creature. I'm really looking forward to NASA's next projects and hope they find out that their judgement of LR experiment as negative, was wrong.
Again, I really appreciate your greatest book ever. I'm sure that this book will change my life forever. Thanks a lot for giving me an opportunity to expand my cognition."
Hyunsoo – South Korea
Note: This teenager is in his last year in a South Korean high school.
"I admit that the book was better than I expected. The literary part was not Hugo or Dostojevsky, but it was a joy to read. The book becomes better as it progresses. It is challenging by definition to present experimental data in a book and at the same time keep it fun for the reader, and you have done it very very well. Congratulations!
As for the actual content, it was really impressive just to read about this development story, because I am an electronics design engineer with my own (very) small company and directly involved with making something work from scratch, debugging, deadlines, personal struggles etc. Technically impressive for me was the fact about the ROM was "cemented" and impossible to change, something unthinkable today. Also the add-on heater that was incorporated as a fix that turned out to be so critical for the controls. I am impressed by your analytical thinking and commitment to presenting your views in an unbiased way, but I was expecting that from a person involved directly in such important and innovative experiments. The uniqueness of the book through, is the little "womanly things", I mean the way of thinking and describing little things that mattered to you, like when you "almost fainted" when the Major formally kissed your hand.
Now my view and opinion on LR data (for what it matters) is that the biased interpretation lies not on your side but on the "official" interpretation (and lack of action to resolve things), irrespective of the nature of the active agent of the LR results. Being aware of my very limited understanding of Mars and biology, it still looks to me like a crime against humanity that no life detection experiments have been done since then and I simply cannot comprehend the silence around this inaction, especially from scientists such as astrobiologists today. Space agencies around the world should pursue experiments that give the quickest and most definitive answers about the possibility of extant life on Mars. Especially as sample-return or human missions are planned.
This is one of the best books I have read, and I enjoyed it very much. I would not be surprised if there comes a time when you will be celebrated as the pioneers that where ahead of their time. Actually if and when extant life is confirmed (something not so improbable) it will inevitably come down to this."
Lakis – Greece
"I am just fascinated! I find I had to skim the technical stuff as I totally lack a scientific background. However, you make it so interesting that I want to learn more, appreciating your very clear definitions in many cases. And the study of each individual who participated in this project shows exceptional intellect and unique characterizations but you have shown them to be real personalities!
As a life-long spectator and enthusiastic fan of sporting events, I found myself cheering as I completed the book this morning! Like you, I wanted a different ending to your amazing life’s work! But, I was delighted to know that you continue to see possibility and promise for research to validate the LR project!
With absolutely no prior understanding of the science and technical intricacies that this project required, your writing gave me the same almost breathless anticipation of what could be just around the corner - like a last minute shot at the buzzer to win the game! I applaud the challenges which you accepted both in your career and in life, chasing both your dreams and that elusive fox! Bravo!"
Betsy – New York

I enjoyed To Mars With Love immensely!  It brought many memories back to me of the Viking development days; having worked at JPL as a test engineer in the Electronic Parts Engineering section in the era of Viking and Voyager development.  Dr Straat provided excellent information about the Biology experiments on the Viking landers, and mixed the science presentation with many entertaining excerpts of her personal experiences while working to develop reliable and repeatable, robust methods and hardware that would perform on the surface of Mars in the extreme environmental conditions.  She is an exceptional author and obviously a very accomplished scientist (and engineer)!  Her style is very amiable and flowing, and easy to read.  She also brought tears to my eyes (of empathy, and of hilarious laughing with her descriptions of her ancillary experiences! 😂)  Her transitions back and forth from the development of the science to experiences were very refreshing, and when she transitioned back to each experience, I couldn’t wait to see what unusual and/or hilarious outcome she was going to reveal!


Bill - Oregon

“To Mars With Love” manages to explain a string of very complex challenges in an easily understandable way. That is no small feat. The data tables and graphs provided are excellent. The ins and outs of how the LR instrument worked are clearly explained and make a great case for trying again on a future mission. I think about how dried up moss will revive when water is poured on it and your point that dormant organisms on Mars could be also be revitalized. 


Frankly, it's hard for me to believe that there isn't any life on Mars. I was surprised that Dr. Klein said "No" was the answer to the question of the existence of life on Mars. LR did give a result consistent with life on earth so "Maybe" seems like the right answer to me. 


I had not realized that there were so many problems with the Biology instruments on Viking. This book really demonstrates that science is a path strewn with obstacles and setbacks of all kinds. It makes for a fascinating scientific history. I also enjoyed reading about the other Viking characters, their personalities, and experiments. I was particularly interested in the story of Wolf and what happened to him. You paint a picture of an adventurous scientist and all around good and helpful person. It was interesting to hear your take on the rest of the Biology team as well. The photographs illustrate all your points well.


I enjoyed reading about your horses and hunting and the General and the Major and seeing the photographs. Shadowfax is a beauty. I also liked reading about the characters you met while living at the beach. And your Egypt adventure was unbelievably great. All of this demonstrated that you had other interests that kept you going during stressful times and added immensely to the tapestry of your book. 


I was happy to see a photo of you with the data printouts. Glad you still had them when you needed them. I remember when I mailed boxes of them to you from Pasadena to Maryland. UPS wouldn't take them after I told them they were worth millions, so I had to ship them from the post office book rate! I've always been glad they made it.


I have read quite a few books about Viking but yours is my favorite because it tells such a fascinating story so well.


Cynthia Waldman – California

NOTE: Cindy was an intern to the author during the Viking Mission

Good books will be read fast!  The book is well written and understandable for people not having a deep understanding of biochemistry. Your book documents an important period in the history of astrobiology. The book raises interest by starting from the control room.  Excitement of landing, waiting for touchdown, seeing the first positive result from LR. 

The amount of work done for the nutrient selection and getting the onboard LR experiment device to work, is huge. Your work was absolutely central. It is good that you have now described this in detail. It is also good that you highlight the importance of the Mariner 9 mission results for planning the Viking missions.

I agree with you and Dr. Levin that the positive results obtained from LR really came from detection of microbial life. The Labeled Release experiment was the first one to detect life on another planet. All later Mars mission results and also my own study support that view. The chapters handling planetary protection are good with good examples that human mistakes would lead to the contamination of our planet with Martian microbes.


This book is a "must have" in the science bookshelf.  A pioneering astrobiology work and an example for future generations.


Harry – Finland


About The Author

Author with LR Phase 1 Breadboard

Author and Champion Piper (2017)

Author in 1995 on Machias



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