In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…

 

A Little Help From Our Rivals

During the Apollo 13, nations around the world did what they could to render aid to the United States and our three beleaguered astronauts. Those who are fans of space history may be aware that this included our Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union, who had worked through scientific back channels to keep Apollo radio frequencies clear at least as early at Apollo 8. During Apollo 13, Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin sent a message to the US government saying:

I want to inform you the Soviet Government has given orders to all citizens and members of the armed forces to use all necessary means to render assistance in the rescue of the American (Apollo 13) astronauts.

In addition, two Russian merchant vessels were diverted into the expected South Pacific recovery area in case they were needed to aid in search and rescue. Similarly, the UK send six navel vessels to the Indian Ocean and France and Italy put naval and air forces on alert to cover the Mediterranean.

But there’s another story of cooperation you may not have heard about. In September of 1970, the Soviet Union gifted the United States with a recovered Apollo capsule.

What?

Yep, but maybe not quite what that sounds like.

NASA had about thirty boilerplate capsules made for training of recovery crews. On of these, BP-1227 was lost at sea during training of recovery forces (sources are unclear as to whether these were British forces or US Naval forces based in Spain). The wayward capsule was found by a Russian fisherman in the Bay of Biscayne, recovered by the Soviet Navy, and inspected by Soviet scientists who were disappointed to learn it was only a training mock up. When the US Coast Guard cutter Southwind made a goodwill stop at the port of Murmansk a year later, the Soviets surprised them by returning it.

The capsule was returned to the US, cleaned up, and put in storage for several years before finally being donated to the Public Museum of Grand Rapids in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it remains on display.


Cool huh? Had you heard this story? Have you seen the capsule? Leave a note and let us know.

The “New” US Space Force?

For the love of all that goes blinkity blink–the whole world’s gone nuts. Again.

The other day, apparently without consulting anyone, Trump said during a press appearance that he was directing the DOD to “begin the process of establishing a United States Space Force as a sixth branch of the military.” He also said some other things that made it clear he didn’t actually know what that means, and by stating “it’s not enough for the US to have a presence in space, we need to have dominance in space” he made it crystal clear that he doesn’t understand space, the policing of space, or–ironically–the international agreement on space he was actually there, with the press watching, to sign.

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How to Get Started in Writing

Increasingly, I’m asked by aspiring writers if I have any advice for getting started or “breaking in” to the writing business. I’m asked this often enough that I’m posting this here so that I can provide a more complete answer than I might otherwise have time for.

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a reality check. David Gerrold, author of the Star Trek TOS episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and The Martian Child, says the best writing advice he can give is, “Do something else–anything else.” The cold hard reality is, the idea most people have of the writing life is a myth. Very few authors can support themselves exclusively through their writing, and those who do often struggle to consistently meet routine expenses like those for insurance and medical care. I don’t say this to discourage you, but rather to encourage realism. If you think you are going to write “the great american novel” and escape your soul-crushing day job, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Even if you are the next Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rolling, there is no guarantee you will even enjoy their success, and if you do it might take many years to pull off. What will sustain you in the meantime? If you want to write professionally, you must be prepared to cope with persistent frustration and rejection, laughable returns on your investment of time and effort, and a level of isolation and self denial that can be corrosive to health and relationships. Plan for that, and you can manage it. Pretend it isn’t true, and likely as not, you’re in trouble. Of course, I learned much the same thing from Rob Sawyer’s website, long before I ever met him, and that’s didn’t dissuade me, and as David says (paraphrasing), if that only pisses you off, if that just makes you that much more determined to prove me wrong, if you feel you have stories inside and your head will explode if you don’t give them life, then welcome aboard, God help you, you’re a writer.

So…how to get started.

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What the Evidence Actually Says About the Moon Landings

An Internet denizen asked whether there is any “real evidence” that the moon landings were faked. There isn’t, of course, but the blathering of those who think otherwise provides ample evidence for an alarming level of popular ignorance. To wit, some answers to this question, properly addressed:

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Space Development Conference 2018

I spent Memorial Day weekend in Los Angeles attending the International Space Development Conference and walking, walking, walking…. I was recognized for my Jim Baen Short Story Award placement along with first place winner Stephen Lawson, met renowned scientists Freeman Dyson and Frank Drake (of Dyson sphere and Drake Equation fame), and met actor-cum-space entrepreneur Harry Hamlin and philanthropist and space promoter Rod Roddenberry.

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Analog Reader Poll Win!

I’m delighted and honored that my novelette, “For All Mankind,” which appeared in the July/August issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact has won first place in the annual Analab reader poll!

I am truly honored to appear among these names:

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Sorry No, You Don’t Get Cocky

Apparently, there is a romance writer by the name of Faleena Hopkins who is claiming a trademark on the word “Cocky” and harrassing other authors for daring to use it. Some are calling this “#cockygate” and have set up a MoveOn petition to ask the US Patent and Trademark office to annul the ruling. This really isn’t necessary. Here’s why…

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Jim Baen Win

I just found out I’ve won the 2018 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award for my story, “Dangerous Company,” the second in my Open Space series. As a result, I’ll be going to the International Space Development conference, where one of the other honorees will be Amazon and Blue Origin founder, Jeff Bezos!

The New Space Race

With the launch of the Falcon Heavy, Space-x has demonstrated a booster half as powerful as the mighty Saturn V and three times as powerful as the next largest launch vehicle flying today:

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With the promise of extensive reusability and rapid turnaround times, Space-X seems poised to re-write the economic rules of spaceflight. Are we finally going to see hotels in orbit and colonies on the moon? Well…maybe. Right now, it’s hard to see how anyone is going to compete, not the United Launch Alliance behind the Delta IV Heavy, not the Russians, not Blue Origin, and not NASA. But expect all that to change.

Hat’s off to Space-X and Elon Musk for the sort of innovation that’s been missing from launch vehicle design since the days of Werner Von Braun and Sergei Korolev. Grid fins and engine design ideas from the Russians contribute to performance and reusability. Use of kerosene (out of fashion since the Apollo days) allows for a smaller rocket, which is therefore lighter and more efficient than hydrogen fueled rockets (like the Shuttle and Delta V) even through hydrogen carried more energy per unit mass.  Pre-chilling the fuel (not possible with hydrogen) makes the Falcon even more volume efficient. The result is that the Falcon 9 heavy can launch three times the payload of the Delta V Heavy, even through the falcon is slightly smaller and largely reusable.

This last point cannot be overestimated. Elon Musk has paid attention to something most of the rest of the industry has gotten wrong for decades: The goal in launch vehicle design is cutting the cost per pound to orbit. Specific impulse doesn’t matter. Energy content per pound of fuel doesn’t matter. Reusability, by itself, doesn’t matter. All the matter is, how much does it cost to get a pound into orbit.

The Space Shuttle tries to cut costs through reuse, but created a launch system so complex, it cost more to operate than contemporary expendables (like the Delta IV Heavy). Space-X instead, looked at the math in economic terms. It is amazing that in so doing, they’ve created a launch vehicle that is far more economical than any alternative, even though it has to hold back some of its fuel for the ride home.

Kudos. Mr. Musk. He also understands that rockets become more economical the larger they are. I don’t know if his “BFR” is going to carry colonists to Mars, but one thing I do know. There has been a sea change in space flight, and every player must now keep up or get out of the game. The result, likely, will be honeymoons in orbit sooner than you might think.