In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


Wifi Come Home

So, I have a new wifi router. TECH WARNING. TECH WARNING. TECH WARNING.
Day before yesterday, as I’m getting ready to go to bed early for a 3 am work call that I am facilitating, the network craps out. Actually, the wireless is fine, but the router can’t reach the Internet. Great. Comcast is very helpful, and although my cable modem appears to be working fine, suggests it, being near end of life, might be causing a problem. Great.
World’s fasted trip to Best Buy later and I have a new cable modem.
Naturally, that’s not the problem.The problem is the ASUS RN66-U Wireless N router I bought last year. They’ll repair it of course, like I can wait weeks for that to happen. So I run my work meeting over cat 5, with no phone, sitting in the closet with the modem. Then I have to drive the kids to school and attend a half-day mandatory training. Swell. Thank God for coffee.
I still have another 3 am call coming up. On the way home, I swing by Office Depot and buy a Netgear – Nighthawk X4 AC2350. This has high ratings, excellent coverage, whole new level of speed, great. Get it home. There’s no power adapter in the box.
So I run back to the Best Buy and buy another one from them ($30 cheaper). In the car, I carefully open it and find the power adapter inside. Excellent. Then I drive next door to a different Office Depot, and they are nice enough to take the return with no fuss. Yeah, I know, the manufacturers hate it when you do that. They want you to mail it to them and make them look good to their distributors, LIKE THAT’S GONNA HAPPEN.
So on two hours sleep and a gallon of coffee, I set it up. It’s ginormous, like a pizza box had a love child with a horseshoe crab. r7500_3-4rt2_transparent_082014
It’s so big it won’t fit on the “wiring shelf” I put in the closet. I hung it on the wall, accepted the defaults, and calldc it a night (okay, an afternoon).
So great. We’re back in business. Today, I put it through it’s paces. True to the hype, this thing puts out enough radio jazzam to light up a fluorescent tube at twenty paces. By which I mean, I can connect from the sidewalk, a house away in either direction. Not just connect, but get 13 GB per second download speed. Nice. Inside?
Screenshot from 2016-02-27 19:35:18
What the…56Mbps? I only have 10Mbps service!
I assume the cable company is just giving me extra juice at the moment. They do that, because they have extra capacity to make sure they meet their contracted SLAs.  But it’s for real. My Internet is now faster than at the office. If I load Pandora, it’s playing as soon as the page loads, 7 seconds after hitting Enter.
I like.

Support Your Favorite Authors

Ye Olden Times

My mother always wanted to be an author. She went so far as to give me what she thought was a writerly name and to send a few pages off to an editor who was kind enough to write back with encouragement and advice. In those days, most editors saw it as part of their job to help find and nurture the next crop of writers. Agents would take on new clients and then eat their commission through the first unprofitable, formative years as a writer found his or her wings.

Those days are gone.

In this branded, Internet age, publishers, editors, and agents face grueling competition from every direction. They still try to find and foster new talent, but everything they do must be funded from the profits from the big brands in their portfolio. It’s a dangerous game. If they invest too little in the future, they’ll slowly starve, to much and they’re bankrupt tomorrow.

Today, you almost can’t sell a non-fiction book without a built-in audience from Youtube, a contentious term in Congress, or prime-time news coverage of you taking a bullet to save a kitten. And we fiction authors are not far behind.  Anyone with a credit card can publish a book. Millions do each year. Publishers, increasingly, struggle to get their big guns out in front of consumers, to say nothing of the little guys or the new guys.

So how does this affect you as a reader? In two ways: First, you have your pick of more new reading material than ever before, though must of it, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, is that one book that everyone has in him but which, in most cases, is just where it should remain. Second, you can help.

How you can help good writing

  1. Be understanding. Yes, some writers are downright obnoxious in their obsessive desperation to self-promote, but we have to toot our own horn. Any writer who doesn’t maintain a mailing list, who doesn’t add a promotional footer to email and social media interactions, simply isn’t doing his or her job. I try to keep mine simple, tasteful, and whenever possible, humorous, but it has to be done.Screenshot - 02272016 - 01:58:47 PM
  2. Spread The Word. Liking and following on social media is awesome–thank you! But you know what’s even awesomer? Sharing. Retweeting. Blogging. When you do that, your peeps can see what you like and your author gets badly needed exposure.
  3. Visit Their Website. We built it for you. Visit it and report any problems you see, then sign up for the newsletter, request the freebie, and pass the word to your like-minded friends.
  4. Review Their Work. Goodreads and Amazon are just two places where you can rate and review books and magazine issues you like. Reviews help sell all products these days,  but they especially help with books by increasing the attention they get online. Have a blog or Youtube channel? Post a review, start a discussion, or just tweet a selfie of yourself with the book–or an “in the wild” photo of the book on a bookstore shelf. God, how we love those.
  5. Review the author. Love an author’s latest–and not for the first time? Think of why you like it–what it is that speaks to you–and post on that. One of my favorite parts of my website is a little scrolling list of kind words from readers.
  6. Pre-order that Novel. Preorders mean everything to new authors with a book contract. Really. Preorder it. Pre-order a copy for gifting, for the library, for the school. Tie up your friends, er…I mean…talk your friends into pre-orpodiumdering too.
  7. Nominate us. Attending Worldcon? YOU can nominate for the Hugos and the Campbell. Know all that “Sad Puppies” kerfuffle last year? That was only possible because almost no one ever does. Nominate and vote for awards big and small, international and local. We love that. A lot. Really.
  8. Come see us! We authors, we do these things called book signings? You know…you buy or bring a book and we open it up and scribble, “Dear Sally, I was told there would be donuts,” or something like that. Do that. You know what really makes our day? Smiling, happy readers. We love you. Really. We do it all for you. Well, at least half for you. Well you’re in there somewhere, anyway. And if you don’t come see us at Barns & Noble, we’ll have to post another selfie with the barista in the coffee shop, and no one wants that. Seriously. No one.

Get My Free Sampler

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See what I did there? 🙂

Outer Spacey Music

The media has been all abuzz today with amazing “revelations” of alien music heard by the crew of Apollo 10 on the dark side of the moon and “classified” until 2008.


Got a source for that guys? A source other than Fox News or the Interwebs? Cause I do, and it’s not classified, it’s right on the official web site of Nasa’s history office:

Some Apollo data was classified at the time (remember the Cold War and the Space Race?) and some of it might not have been released in a timely manner due to oversight, but there was certainly no special treatment given to this event on some “spooky” account. How do I know? Simple. I read the freakin transcript.

Here’s the deal. Apollo 10 went to the moon and did everything but touch down. They detached the LEM and maneuvered in space, the CSM and the LEM, orbiting together as the LEM prepared to go down on a checkout flight. The idea was to run through a landing, but do a planned abort to test the ascent propulsion system and guidance without getting too low for rescue by the CSM in case of failure.

What is being reported as some great mystery is this exchange, plainly recorded in the publicly available transcript just as they were testing their radar (Snoopy is the Lunder lander, flying free of the CSM):

102:12:53 Stafford (in Snoopy): You want some more brownies?

102:12:54 Cernan (in Snoopy): No.

102:12:56 Stafford (in Snoopy): [Garbled] go hungry.

102:13:02 Cernan (in Snoopy): That music even sounds outer-spacey, doesn’t it? You hear that? That whistling sound? (This is the first mention of the sound.)

102:13:06 Stafford (in Snoopy): Yes.

102:13:07 Cernan (in Snoopy): Whooooooooooo.

102:13:12 Young (in CSM): Did you hear that whistling sound, too?

102:13:14 Cernan (in Snoopy): Yeah. Sounds like – you know, outer-space-type music.

102:13:18 Young: I wonder what it is.

102:13:20 (Cernan and Stafford discuss burned insulation outside their LEM windows.)

102:13:29 Cernan (in Snoopy): – eerie, John?

102:13:34 Young: Yes, I got it, too. I was going to see who was outside.

102:13:45 Stafford (in Snoopy): You mark that set of features, Gene-o. I’m going to fix us some grape juice. OK? (Stafford is clearly taking Young’s remark as a joke. All is well.)

. . .[The next three minutes are spent discussing photography of a lunar crater, altitude and range, and how well the radar is performing.]. . .

102:17:58 Cernan (in Snoopy): Boy, that sure is weird music.

102:18:01 Young: We’re going to have to find out about that. Nobody will believe us.

102:18:07 Cernan (in Snoopy): No. It’s a whistling, you know, like an outer space-type thing. (He means like a theramin, commonly used in scifi movies of his youth. In fact, it sounds more like a lightning strike creating shortwave radio noise that travels around the ionosphere back on earth, but its much more uniform than that.)


102:18:10 Young: Probably due to the VHF ranging, I’d guess. (Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me too, either that or electrical noise from static charge movement we now know to occur near the lunar terminator due to the solar wind.)

102:18:16 Cernan (in Snoopy): Yes. I wouldn’t believe there’s anyone out there. OK, Tom, I’m going to call up P20 (Program 20, universal tracking–using the radar).

102:18:26 Cernan (in Snoopy): We want to pressurize our APS here. You get your Rendezvous Radar breakers all In?

102:18:29 Stafford (in Snoopy): Oh, yes. I’m locked on to him (The LEM radar is locked onto the CSM)

102:18:31 Cernan (in Snoopy): OK.

102:18:42 Stafford (in Snoopy): It may be a side lobe (The “music” might be a side lope of the radar beam interfering with the radio.

102:19:01 Stafford (in Snoopy): It’s weird, isn’t it?

102:19:03 Cernan (in Snoopy): Isn’t that weird?

102:19:11 Stafford (in Snoopy): I think that’s a side lobe.

102:19:15 Cernan (in Snoopy): Is it? Huh?

102:19:17 Stafford (in Snoopy): Yep.

And there you go. Later analysis confirmed the cause to be interference between the VHF radio gear on the two spacecraft. The great mysterious “space music,” which according to “News” reports was “classified till 2008” was just the rendezvous radar leaking into the radio spectrum. You know, my college radio station had sideband leakage into the shortwave bands, and even though our transmission was FM, we once got a letter from a guy 600 miles away in Illinois saying he listened on shortwave (AM).

I’m not sure where this “classified” recording would have come from. Apollo uses a special recorder to store voice and instrument data for compressed transmission back to earth. The recordings were transcribed back in the ’70s, and stuck in a warehouse somewere. The have been out on the Internet for a few years, but there is no good index and the recordings are raw. Crew voices are often inaudible beneath the thrum of the instrument signal data. It’s possible someone went looking for the “music” and was able to extract it from the background noise. It would not be surprising if it survived, given that it was heard over the radio by both the CSM and LEM.

At any rate, it wasn’t little green DJ’s playing “Space Music.” It was interference from the rendezvous radar other radio emmissions from the two spacecraft, and the (rather obvious) testement to that fact is the crew’s reaction: Hey what’s that? The Radio. Great, want some juice.

As if going to the freakin moon isn’t entertaining enough.


And the Nominees are!

Check it out–check it out!
The nominees are out, and my friends, Beth Cato and Martin L. Shoemaker are up for the Nebula!


Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)


Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
‘‘The Bone Swans of Amandale’’, C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
‘‘The New Mother’’, Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
‘‘The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn’’, Usman T. Malik ( 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (
‘‘Waters of Versailles’’, Kelly Robson ( 6/10/15)


‘‘Rattlesnakes and Men’’, Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
‘‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’’, Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
‘‘Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds’’, Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
‘‘The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society’’, Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
‘‘The Deepwater Bride’’, Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story

‘‘Madeleine’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
‘‘Cat Pictures Please’’, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
‘‘Damage’’, David D. Levine ( 1/21/15)
‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
‘‘Today I Am Paul’’, Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)


Six Top Lesson From Winning Writers Of the Future

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Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt


Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

So proud. So envious. Must write faster!

Meet The Winners! Kate Julicher

Greetings fellow readers! Allow me to introduce this year’s Writers of the Future Published Finalist, the very lovely, Kate Julicher.


Author Kate Julicher

Stuart: Hi Kate! It was great meeting you at Superstars earlier this month, tell my readers a bit about yourself.

Kate: I’m actually only half of the KD Julicher team. My husband and I collaborate closely – you might say intimately – on everything I write. My role is to be the “hands on keyboard”. We toss ideas around through emails during the work day or on weekend expeditions into the mountains around our home or over dinner. Then I sit down and write a draft, then we edit it together with a fine-tooth comb, lots of wine, and hopefully no need for marital counseling.

Oh, and I keep trains from crashing into each other.

Stuart: Wow! Any talents or hobbies, aside from the train thing?

Kate: I sing a lot. Not professionally, but it seems like once a month someone comes up after church and says “you should join the choir!”. I don’t think it’s because I’m that good, I think it’s just that I’m loud and enthusiastic.

Stuart: Enthusiasm definitely counts! So how’d you get into writing?

Kate: I’ve always been a writer. I wrote on that “story paper” you get in kindergarten, the stuff with the big lines and space at the top for art. I spent three years in fanfiction as a teenager and then discovered NaNoWriMo, which I’ve done every year since 2002 and only failed once. About four years ago we decided to get serious and went from NaNovelists to working at the craft year-round.

Stuart: Ha ha! I remember “story paper.” How long have you been entering WotF?

Kate: Two years ago I decided to enter every quarter of WotF until I won or pro’d out. I’ve racked up 4 HMs, 3 finalists. One of those won the Baen Fantasy Adventure contest in 2014.

Stuart: All right! Way to go, Kate! Okay, Star Trek or Star Wars?

Kate. Yes? I grew up on Star Trek. For a while it was the only thing my parents would let us watch. I saw the whole Star Wars trilogy at one sitting when I was 13 and it really fired my imagination. Right now I am enjoying the new Star Wars movie more than the new Trek movies but I would love to be won back over by Trek.

Stuart: Fair enough. Hey…what’s that…who’s shining that light in my eyes?

Kate: Winks.

Stuart: Pantser or Plotter?

Kate: Definite plotter. If I have a detailed scene-by-scene outline when I sit down I can whip out a first draft in no time flat. That said I leave enough room for my characters to surprise me.

Stuart: Very impressive. How do you come up with the outline?

Kate: My husband and I throw ideas back and forth at each other for a while. Then I sit down and start plotting in Scrivener. I set up a new project, break things into three acts, and start dumping in the events I know will happen as separate scenes.  I use the notecard function to jot down some notes for each scene. I’ll put in placeholders in between the scenes I know about, and start filling in. Usually at this point my writing brain is active and things just start to click. I also like to put in a word count estimate on each scene. If I’ve got multiple POVs, I color-code the scenes. Then I look and say, ok, this part needs to be longer, I need another Lord Evilpants chapter here, etc.

After that we’ll ideally go over the outline and make sure it makes sense. Then I sit down to write. If I’ve done this outline right, the writing part is pretty darn fast. I wrote a 120,000-word draft last November for NaNoWriMo, thanks to this system. It’s got some flaws and the pre-writing part can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to months, but I feel like the resulting product is strong.

I’m looking to upgrade this process to the next level by incorporating scene/sequel plotting as described in Deborah Chester’s “The Fantasy Fiction Formula” but I only just got that book so I haven’t actually tried yet.

Stuart: What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Kate: My boss wouldn’t let me quit my job.

No, seriously, I went in saying, “Sorry, love you guys, but my husband got a job offer a thousand miles away, here’s my two weeks’ notice” and they said “Wait wait, how about you work for us remotely?” Eight years and three moves since, I have either the longest or the shortest commute of anyone I know. It only takes me thirty seconds to stroll down the hall to the living room, but if I have to actually go to the office, that’s an all-day flight…

Stuart: Hola! If you had a superpower other than enrapturing employers, what would it be?

Kate: Can I have Hermione’s Time-Turner instead? I work full time, raise my daughter, and try to put in 3-4 hours a day on writing related stuff. As a result I often feel like Bilbo: “Butter that’s been scraped over too much bread”.

Stuart: Done! Now where did I put that thing….oh well, here’s a bagel. Er…next question. What was your favorite toy growing up?

Kate: The woods out back. We had a narrow lot that stretched out for what felt like miles, all wooded and hilly, with a four-foot ravine along one edge to play in and fallen trees to turn into forts. We’d go out after lunch and just be gone all day.>

Stuart: Ha ha! Me too. That tree made it into my upcoming Analog story, in fact. My sister and I were always secret agents looking for missing isotopes–whatever those were. If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?

Kate: My husband and I had custom-fitting hats made recently by a local hatmaker. He used this steampunk tophat device to measure our heads, and then shaped the hats to our heads. I love my fedora, I wear it every time I go out.

Stuart: Tell us about your winning story.

Kate: I’ve had three finalists at WotF now and they’re actually all in the same world, though that is not obvious at first glance. Swords Like Lightning, Hooves like Thunder is one of my favorites. It starts with the heroine running desperately from the enemies that have captured her brother. She meets a mysterious stranger and goes on a journey into a strange, exciting new world. This story actually sprang from an offhand reference to a legend that I wrote into an as yet unpublished novel. I started wondering just what that story had looked like to the people who lived it…. Interestingly, my other published story, The Golden Knight, was the second legend referenced in that same novel, and I wrote it for the same reason.

Stuart: Do you prefer fantasy or scifi?

Kate: You’d think as a software engineer who was reading hard SF at twelve ,that would be my passion, but I’ve been drawn to traditional fantasy. I like stories about duty and honor and sacrifice. I also really like using family, marriage, and relationships as plot motivators, and that tends to work better in fantasy.

Stuart: Well awesome, Kate. Enjoy the WotF workhop, it’s definitely a bit of fairytale come true.

Follow Kate at, and check out The Golden Knight at

Help for a Moon Hoax Fence Sitter

Someone recently asserted that “his dad” said th moon landings couldn’t be real because blah, blah, blah and that’s impossible, to which I responded with reality. The questioner that came back with these followups:

“What was the radiant barrier [that keeps spacecraft cool] made of?” Several layers of aluminized Mylar (the same stuff that is now used in attics) over a “superinsulation” of alternating layers of Kapton and glass-fiber cloth.

“Water cooled, [referring to spacesuit thermal control undergarments] that must have weighted a lot” No. Tiny plastic tubes filled with glycol and water were sewn to a mesh garment worn over the permanent waer garment, so one layer over the underwear. The purpose was mostly to remove the astronaut’s body heat. The suit reflected much of the sun’s heat and the remaining extremes between the sunlit and shadow sides canceled each other out. Movement, air circulation, and the water garment ensured no hot or cold spots. Thermo regulation was absolutely not a problem..

“If I remember correctly, the suits were at 250 F which is 121 C, at 100 C water boils, so the air inside the suit, when reaching 100 C would make the body of the astronauts burn and the blood boil.” No, dark surfaces would have heated up, but the white suit and reflective visor, combined with insulation, prevented the surface from getting so hot and prevented the heat from reaching the astronaut. Air entering the suit was cold anyway, because it was stored under pressure. The was not a problem. Firefighting gear has it far, far harder.

“Since they were in low pressure inside the suits, they would have boiled at even less temperature.” Yes they would, at about 170 F, but that was never going to happen.

“And cooling that water would be really hard.” No, cooling that water was simplicity itself. When they were in the shade or resting they didn’t need to cool it much at all. Gemini suits had no water cooled undergarment at all, and they worked just fine until the astronauts started doing physical work. In the A7 suits used by Apollo, when they we in the sun for a while or getting hot, a porous plate sublimator was used to cool a heat exchanger, which cooled the glycol loop. The Astronaut could control how much of the glycol went through the heat exchanger soas to avoid overcooling. This method is still used today, and was used for supplemental cooling on the LEM as well.

“Handling half a tank of water in the tank would make a pretty unstable astronaut” Good thinking! Naturally, the engineers thought of that. Water for the sublimator was stored in two flexible bladders, a primary holding about a gallon and a secondary holding about half that much. This were no more problem than today’s CamelBak packs. Really, the inertia of the entire PLSS pack was more of an issue than water slosh.

“Since they were in space, I suppose those are psi absolute, which would mean about 1/3 of the pressure at sea level.” Correct. Apollo spacesuits were pressurized to 5.5 psi of pure oxygen.

“Bizarre that they would use only oxygen given Gus Grissom’s death because of that in 1967.” Not at all. They still use pure oxygen in suits to this day. The reason is that inflating to 14.7 PSI would cause the suits to balloon and make flexing the joints too hard for the wearer, and adding nitrogen to the mix would make the life support pack far more complicated, prone to failure, and tricky to operate. Fire is no more a risk at 5.5PSI and 100% O2 than normal air at sea level. The Apollo 1 pad fire was caused by procedural oversights that led to the cabin being filled with more than sea level pressure of pure O2—a very bad idea. Also, suits are carefully constructed to prevent any source of sparks, and the astronaut can’t exactly forget and light up a stogie.

Hamilton standard’s tests showed that a man can live on pure O2 down to 3.7PSI–provided it’s all oxygen.

“If they weighted 1/6 of earth gravity they would have been able to kick a ball and put it into orbit.” No they wouldn’t. The minimum speed for lunar orbit is well over 2km per second.

“Without atmosphere and with an escape velocity of just 2 m/s, even an astronaut jumping would have been able to put himself into orbit,” No, because we are talking about the moon, where the escape velocity is 2.38 THOUSAND m/s. Even if your astronauts brought a clown cannon, they aren’t entering orbit.

“all the recorded videos and photos show the moon as having its horizon between 100 and 200 m” No they don’t. The horizon on the moon is about 2 kilometers away if you are standing on a plain, and that’s what all the photos show, but there is nothing to give a visual sense of scale.You can’t tell how far away a lunar mountain is without looking at a map. Jack Schmitt took this telephoto image of the Apollo 17 LEM from a rise 3 km away, with mountains in the background:


Or consider this shot of Apollo 15 from its ALSEP site, which all by itself it about 100 meters away:

as15-82-11054 thru as15-82-11058

Or maybe you mean like this shot of Pete Conrad inspecting the Surveyor 3 probe that landed two years before he did, with the LM in the distance (note the big antenna used to improve TV reception back on earth.)


And lest you are concerned by the lack of a crater beneath the probe—like Apollo, it was designed to cut off the engine early to avoid disturbing the soil it was sent to sample. It malfunctioned, and ended up bouncing 35 feet in the air, no worse for wear.

“A normal person would have recorded around himself…that is what we do when we explore, naturally, we go up and take a look.” Yeah, they did that. I believe it was Apollo 12 in which the commander opened the docking hatch first, then stood up to survey the landing site before going down through the door to the surface. Every major site of every surface mission produced at least one panoramic photo.

“wouldn’t it be normal for astronauts to record the stuff they left on the moon as they take off? You mean turn around and take a picture as they were lifting off? You mean like this movie frame from the Apollo 14 liftoff?


Why is the Moon Receding?

When the Apollo astronauts set down on the moon, they didn’t just plant the flag and take a selfie–they had science to do.

One of the experiments left by Apollo was a laser range finding experiment. By means of high quality retro-reflectors left by Apollo and two Soviet Lunakod missions, we now know that the moon is receding by nearly 4 cm per year. We also know our day is slowing down. So what gives?

The moon’s gravity constantly creates a bulge in the Earth, mostly in our oceans. But our daily rotation constantly carries that bulge eastward. The moon must then constantly pull it back toward itself–and the bulge constantly pulls the moon forward in its orbit. This has the effect of slowing our rotation and accelerating the moon’s orbit.


When the moon formed, both it and Earth revolved much more quickly than today. The Earth probably have something like a six hour day, and the moon? We just don’t know. But the moon was much closer then, and both the Earth and its moon were partly molten, which means the tides were vastly greater than today (today, 90% of the bulge is in our oceans) –and therefore this process of recession and slowing operated must faster. The moon’s rotation slowed until its rotational and orbital period were in sync, and then its bulge faced Earth and it became locked.

Looking at the diagram, you might notice that there are two bulges, one on either side of the Earth. This is true, but for purposed of understanding what’s going on, this can be ignored. Since gravity weakens with distance, the nearer bulge pulse harder than the farther bulge, and the net effect is the same (if somewhat weaker) than it would be if there were only the nearer bulge.

Don’t worry, though. Although the moon is now almost a foot farther away that it was when we first set foot on it, it’s not going anywhere. The recession is slow enough, the sun will die before the moon can get away.


Meet the Winners – Julie Frost

Welcome friends and readers, lend me your…er..eyes! Say hello to freshly minted Writers of the Future winner, Julie Frost.

Stuart: Congratulations Julie! Tell the good folks a little about yourself. What got you into writing?

Julie: I used to write a lot in high school, but got out of the habit in college. I didn’t pick it up again until I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction. I cut my writerly teeth on that, learning how to plot, keep characters consistent, and actually finish. The first piece of “original” fiction I actually wrote was a Firefly story I assiduously scraped the serial numbers off of by combining characters, changing sexes, and adding aliens (it’s up for free on my blog). The first story I ever sold was one starring those folks.

Stuart: Cool! I was somewhat the same. I just left behind those childish dream until one day they build up and exploded.

Julie: (Raises a wolf mug)

Stuart: I understand you write an eclectic mix of scifi, fantasy, and horror. What have you been working on lately?

Julie: Lately it’s been all werewolves, all the time. There’s so much you can do with them—I’ve even surprised myself.

Stuart: I can see that. Sort of inherently conflicted characters. And where do you do you write your werewolves. Describe your “writer’s cave.”

Julie: People have caves? I should get a cave. In a bar.

Stuart: No, silly. You put the bar in your cave. That way, when the moon is full—oh never mind. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Julie: Currently, it’s all writing all the time, with the occasional foray into picking up a new Oaxacan carving or anteater figurine.img_0487 In the past, I’ve enjoyed Dog Agility (my dog was the first dog in Utah to earn a title from NADAC and the first Brittany in the country to do so, back in the day), collecting and mounting insects, and building plastic car models. Zoo and nature photography and travel are fun. I also collect werewolf movies. The worse, the better.

Stuart: Wow! That’s amazing. You know, Dave Farland is from Utah. And Orson Scott Card and Brad Torgerson if either of them are there this year. How long have you been entering WotF?

Julie: I entered for the first time in 2007. I’ve garnered 14 form rejections, 11 Honorable Mentions, 2 Semi­Finalists, and 2 Finalists. This story was my second Finalist.

Stuart: Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

Julie: I used to swear by (and at) pantsing. Then I decided to do a short story NaNo project (in January, because I just can’t even in November), but knew that if I wanted to write 50,000 words worth of short stories without crashing and burning ignobly, I needed a plan. So I grabbed the Seven­Point Plot Outline, plotted out seven stories using it, and wrote five of them across 53,000 words that month. I have sworn by plotting ever since.

Stuart: Way to go! Knowledge is power. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Julie: The ability to read books by other people and write my own at the exact same time.

Stuart: Kind of like chewing gum and whistling at the same time, or whistling and drinking a coke-float. Yeah. Now we’re talking. When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Julie: I had a stuffed donkey I slept with and still actually own. I do remember always having my nose stuck in a book.

Stuart: Good preparation! If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag what might it be?

Julie: All wolf shirts, all the time. Oh, wait, that’s… pretty much what I wear now!

Stuart: So you wearwolves. I see. I think I see a pattern here… So tell us about your winning story.

Julie: It’s about a werewolf who is (probably) clinically depressed (having just lost his entire pack to hunters) going on a hunter-killing spree to make his city safe for his kind again. It opens in the morgue. The ending is super bittersweet, though not as awful (for the character) as the original ending was. I actually re­wrote it from nearly the ground up with Dave Farland’s sensibilities in mind. His comment about my first Finalist (which was also a werewolf story) was “Is it a story about werewolves, or a story about belonging?” That one, I hadn’t seen that way. This one definitely was. I used a lot of sensory imagery, and I had fun with the world-building aspects and the character immersion. I guess it

worked, since Dave famously “hates” werewolf fiction (he says so in my novel blurb), and yet he’s

put two of mine up as Finalists.

Stuart: Well done. I often remind folks who enter the contest over and over that, like any market, there are tastes and sensibilities to be considered. How about your tastes? What’s your favorite genre?

Julie: Urban fantasy is my current genre du jour. I find stories set in a semblance of our world just a little more satisfying. I like imagining what might lurk in the corners and shadows if we only had the wit to see it.

Stuart: Like…werewolves! Well thanks Julie. I can’t wait to see you on stage in April!


Follow Julie at and @juliecfrost.

That We May Have Wings

Thirty years ago today, I stepped up to get a hamburger and saw this on TV:ap8601281739

Two weeks before this, I had mentioned to my mother that I read a NASA report in our school depository library saying that solid rockets were not suitable for manned spaceflight because they could not be aborted and had too high a failure rate.

Six months later, we learned that the accident had been caused by leaky seals between solid rocket booster segments. The SRBs had been choosen for political reasons, to keep work flowing to the manufacturer and ensure the support of its state representatives. The danger of flying these boosters in cold weather was known, and urgent please from the engineers had been suppressed–for political reasons.

A tragedy, to be sure. The more tragic because it could easily have been prevented.

A tragedy made far, far worse by what happened eight years later, when the Space Shuttle Columbia was lost after suffering damage to its thermal protection system ceramic tiles at liftoff:


Nobel Lareat, Richard Feynman described the root cause of the Challenger disaster thusly (the same exact cause was at the heart of the Columbia loss)”

“They are warnings that something is wrong. The equipment is not operating as expected, and therefore there is a danger that it can operate with even wider deviations in this unexpected and not thoroughly understood way. The fact that this danger did not lead to a catastrophe before is no guarantee that it will not the next time, unless it is completely understood. When playing Russian roulette the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next. … In spite of these variations from case to case, officials behaved as if they understood it, giving apparently logical arguments to each other often depending on the “success” of previous flights.”

Feynman was right. Absolutely right. Chillingly right. And his conclusions speak to us all, everyday, and everything we do. The stakes are not always life and death, but the lesson is alwars the same. “Common sense” evolves on the African Savanna. It is no substitute for empirical evidence, scientific rigor, and tested understanding. When we deviate from these proven tool, we tread on broken ice.

As American, as humans, we owe it to the 14 men and women lost to these two disasters to take this lesson to heart. Not merely to patch a few procedures as NASA, but to embrace as a culture this reality: Science is how you know things. Anything else is guesswork.



Of Space and Pens

The story goes that NASA spent millions of dollars developing a high-tech space pen while the more practical Russians just used a pencil.

Only it isn’t true. At all. 1838a

During the first NASA missions, US astronauts used pencils. For  Project Gemini, for example, NASA ordered mechanical pencils in 1965 from Tycam Engineering Manufacturing, Inc., in Houston. The fixed price contract purchased 34 units at a total cost of $4,382.50, or $128.89 per unit. That created something of a stink, as many  people believed it was a frivolous expense. NASA backtracked immediately and equipped the astronauts with less costly items.

During this time period, Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co.  designed a ballpoint pen that would operate better in the unique  environment of space. His new pen, with a pressurized ink cartridge,  functioned in a weightless environment, underwater, in other liquids, and in temperature extremes ranging from -50 F to +400 F.  He developed his pen with no NASA funding, at a reported cost of $1 million–then  patented the pen and cornered the market as a result.

Fisher offered the pens to NASA in 1965, but, because of the  earlier controversy, the agency was hesitant in its approach. In 1967,  after rigorous tests, NASA managers agreed to equip the Apollo  astronauts with these pens. NASA purchased 400 pens at $6 per unit for Project Apollo.

The Soviet Union also purchased 100 of the Fisher pens and 1,000  ink cartridges in February 1969, for use on its Soyuz space flights.  Previously, its cosmonauts had been using grease pencils to write in  orbit.  Both American astronauts and Soviet/Russian cosmonauts have continued to use these pens.

I use them too. They are great for autographs and won’t leak or go dry when left for months in a car. Of course, the price has gone up.



50 Years Since Apollo

​​Uplifting space adventure with a

foreword by Astronaut Stanley G. Love