You can remember John Glenn by watching this 2005 British TV series

Still from Space Race

Vitalie Ursu plays cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the 2005 BBC docu-drama Space Race.

The death of Sen. John Glenn on December 8 brought to my mind the extraordinary achievement of his three orbits around the earth on February 20, 1962. He was the last survivor of the Mercury astronauts, the seven American test pilots who risked their lives to prove that humans could travel and work in space.

They were more than explorers, in a sense. They were soldiers in a propaganda war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which one-upped each other for more than a decade to prove the superiority of their respective political systems. It was started in 1957 by Russia with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, and climaxed with the US moon landing in 1969. The “space race,” as people called it, was the most visible, non-military manifestation of the Cold War between America and the USSR. Continue reading

Why The Martian’s success probably won’t spawn a sequel

The Martian still

Hollywood needs to make more science and technology movies like The Martian. Photo courtesy 20th-Century Fox.

My two college-age daughters and I walked out of a showing of The Martian last weekend in a mild daze resembling postprandial satisfaction. You want that feeling of well-being to go on, and so the first question I asked them and an accompanying friend was, “Should it get a sequel?”

The answer: “NO!!!!!”

I agree. In fact, most hard science fiction movies don’t get a sequel. No science-driven stranded-in-space stories I can think of—Marooned, Apollo 13, Gravity, Interstellar—got a sequel. The only hard sci-fi film that did was, ironically, the granddaddy of them all, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Does anyone remember 2010: The Year We Make Contact? Continue reading

Is Seattle the ‘New Space’ Capital of the USA?

Space Needle image

Could Seattle’s Space Needle become the symbol for the ‘New Space’ capital of the US?

When Americans think of a place for outer space on Earth, Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center come immediately to mind. That’s where the United States has launched most of the manned and unmanned space missions of the past half-century. Things are changing, however. While launches will always happen close to the equator because of the physics of rocketry, the intellectual center of gravity may be shifting catty-corner to the other end of the country. Seattle may soon vie for Florida’s “Space Coast” as the principal place where the country explores the possibilities of space.

A group of enthusiasts, engineers, and business leaders argued the point at a recent meeting of the Space Entrepreneurs, a Seattle-area meetup that’s a little more than a year old. The two-dozen or so attendees, some of whom have seen everything since Sputnik, and a few were born born years after the Moon landings, debated the meaning of “old space” and “new space” as they surveyed the history of space exploration and utilization from the speculations of H.G. Wells to the investments of Elon Musk. Though the details are arguable, “old space” refers to the government and defense contractor-dominated space projects from the end of World War II through the present day. Kickstarted by the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, the Commercial Space Act of 1998, and later laws, “new space” took form as Congress decided NASA should not carry the entire burden of developing the country’s space capabilities. Continue reading

Who are the new heroes of the Space Age?

Mercury astronauts

The Mercury 7 astronauts. Who will replace them in the 21st century? Photo by NASA.

Growing up in the 1960s, it was easy to spot the American heroes of the Space Age. Alan Shepard was the first to strap himself onto a rocket and blast into space. John Glenn followed him around the earth, and the parade continued until sometime in the 1980s, when the only astronauts that entered the public consciousness were the ones who died in the Challenger and Columbia accidents. After Sally Ride, astronauts became a commodity, as ordinary as truck drivers or airline pilots.

America has no one in the astronaut corp that can wear the title of “hero,” at least in the same way Neil Armstrong could. The Space Shuttle stopped flying in 2011, and no, the astronauts on the International Space Station are not heroes. They are courageous people, to be sure, but they travel a well-worn path. The word “hero” is thrown around too easily; I don’t subscribe to the idea of firefighters, police officers or most members of the military as heroes. We pay them to take risks, sometimes with their lives, which they do willingly, and although they often perform amazing deeds and sacrifice much for us, they rarely reach the level of humans walking on the Moon. Continue reading

Working on a Short

Crab NebulaI’ve taken a small break from the novel to write a short. It’s called “Space Porn” (yep, all the spam filters are going to catch that one) and it’s about a teenaged boy who is more interested in deep space objects that pretty girls.

I’m also brushing up on my editing skills by reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I try not to buy too many writing books, but this was money well-spent. Very down to earth and practical. No theory to bog you down and the inevitable preachiness is kept in check.