In Sputnik’s Orbit
A few thoughts to tide you over…
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…
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!
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:
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.
Bid welcome, dear followers, to Molly Elizabeth Atkins, 2017 Writers of the Future published finalist, and my guest today on the blog.
Stuart: Welcome Molly! Tell us a little about yourself!
Molly: I live in St. Louis with my husband and two daughters who are 5 and 9 years old. I’m originally from Texas, and I grew up in College Station. That’s where Texas A&M University is, so while some kids had summer jobs mowing lawns or working in food service, my summer jobs were things like shelving books in the university library and working in the university’s various labs. I always love it in job interviews when they ask what you would do if you were given a task you thought was beneath you because I can just shrug and say, “One of my summer jobs was analyzing animal fecal samples for the Rangeland Ecology department at A&M, so once you’ve spent a summer grinding poo….”
As regular readers may know, I won the Writers of the Future contest in 2014 and ever since, I’ve left the welcome mat out for each year’s new class. It’s a great way to meet new friend who I’ll soon be handing with at cons.
In this case, though, my next “guest” has been a friend for a few years now, so please join me in welcoming 2017 Wotf winner, Sean Patrick Hazlett.
Netflix has a Russian language biopic called “Gargarin: First In Space,” which I found terribly disappointing. It should have been the Russian “The Right Stuff,” but totally wasn’t. And that’s a real shame.
Yaroslav Zhalnin plays Gargarin, and is a dead ringer, close enough that in some places, the production cuts back and forth between historical footage and recreation, and you’d never know. All of the cast is wonderful, and the emotions–such as there are–come through believably, even with subtitles.
I was pleased that they included (and named) all twenty of the original soviet cosmonaut candidates. Sadly, through, this story was all Gagarin, and either the filmmakers didn’t know much more about him than you might learn from a blurb on a trading card, or they chose not to dramatize it.
Instead, the story is pretty much just Gargarin preparing for, then taking his historic flight, with a few flashbacks to his early life. There is a nice scene of him stealing from a German soldier during the war and almost getting his little brother killed, and…that’s about it. The only sources of drama are the (probably fabricated) conflict between Gagarin and Titov, resolved with a last minute hug at the foot of the rocket, and the long suffering silence of his wife, Valentina, “the pilot’s wife” played by the lovely Olga Ivanova.
Watching this film, you get the distinct impression that Gagarin only married her because she was pretty, and only was selected to be first in space because he was pretty; senior officers in one scene explain, not very dramatically, how he should be first because some of the other cosmonauts are more fit, and should be saved for the harder, longer flights to come. Really? His staunch party support and photogenic youth had nothing to do with it?
It’s sad, because the film should have been so much more. We don’t get to see Gargarin plant a ceremonial tree the day before the launch or have the bus to the launchpad pull over so he can take a piss–both on which happened and led to traditions carried on right up to the present day.
There is a brief mention of the passcode Gagarin was meant to be given so he could unlock the controls in the event manual operation was needed, but we don’t see the ground technician slip him the code–which we know from history is what happened; the ground crew knew that if he needed it, there would be no time for party officials to approve it. This conflict between party officials and common sense is portrayed, but is watered down to the extent one wonders who they are trying not to offend. At least Gargarin’s summary promotion from lieutenant to major (skipping a rank for political reasons) is portrayed.
Another thing they get right is that Gagarin had essentially nothing to do except sit in the capsule until it was done with the flight–then pull the eject rings. As he makes his one orbit, reflecting over his life, we are treated to several shots of his feet, dangling over the tiny porthole like a little boy’s from a treehouse.
Which is not to take anything away from him or the flight, but we get no sense of why he had to be the titular “first in space.” Instead, we see an attractive kid, an unexceptional but competent pilot, and his winning smile. We get no sense of anything that made him exceptional, either as a pilot, a cosmonaut, or a political envoy, we don’t see his post-flight drinking or infidelity (we don’t get to see him climb out the window) and we don’t see his fight to be allowed to return to the air, or subsequent crash and death (which would be where the real drama and tragedy lay).
We also don’t see cosmonaut candidate Valentin Vasiliyevich Bondarenko carried out in a body bag after his training accident, the drunken encounter that got Grigory Nelyubov booted from the program (later to commit suicide) or the state political revisionism that saw the famous photo of the Sochi Six–after the other fourteen cosmonaut candidates were airbrushed out of the photo–and history.
So…the effects are excellent and the performances are good for what they have to work with, but all in all, “Gagarin: First in Space” comes across as a fluffy bit of post-Soviet nostalgia that does a profound disservice to the genius and sacrifice behind Gagarin’s historic flight.
What a year! The world’s gone mad but my little oasis continues, unabated.
Once again, I made the finals for the Jim Baen award, didn’t win, but sold the story to Analog Science Fiction & Fact! “Open Source Space” is a spunky, humorous yarn about a near-future crowd-funded space adventure, and will presumably appear in the magazine some time in 2018.