Archive for the ‘Space exploration’ Category

Yuri Gagarin

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

“The roar was loud, but not really any louder than what you usually hear in the cockpit of a jet plane. Another interesting thing is that a great many new musical nuances and timbres can be heard in that roar. I have never heard anything like it on earth. I got the impression that the powerful rocket engines were creating the music of the future—perhaps more moving than the music of our time.”

An amazing re-creation of the view from Gagarin’s window is now on Youtube to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the flight.

Launch Pad workshop debrief

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Just got back from a week in Wyoming at Mike Brotherton’s Launch Pad workshop, an intensive NASA-sponsored workshop for pro SF writers. It was a fantastic week, and not just because it allowed me to escape the tropical humidity that D.C. has been plunged into for what seems like eons. Awesome lectures, brilliant stargazing, and unforgettable people….and thanks to fellow scribe Jeremiah Tolbert you see the attached picture of all of us.

From left to right, top row then lower row:

Cecilia Tan, Monte Cook, Alice Henderson, Ian Randal Strock, Walter Jon Williams, Bud Sparhawk, Instructor Mike Brotherton, Carrie Vaughn, David Williams, Rachel Swirsky, Nicholos Wethington, Kelly Barnhill, Genevieve Valentine, and John Joseph Adams.

Not pictured: Marjorie M. Liu and guest instructor Kevin Grazier.

Photo taken at the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) by Jeremiah Tolbert

“I have never heard anything like it on Earth”: Yuri Gagarin speaks

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Neil Tyson reminded folks on Twitter that today is Gagarin’s birthday, so I went and looked up an old book I’ve got on the early Russian space program in search of his description of man’s first journey into space (1961).  There’s a stereotype that astronauts aren’t too articulate in describing the wonders of space; if that’s the case, Gagarin was definitely an exception:

The roar was loud, but not really any louder than what you usually hear in the cockpit of a jet plane.  Another interesting thing is that a great many new musical nuances and timbres can be heard in that roar.  I have never heard anything like it on earth.  I got the impression that the powerful rocket engines were creating the music of the future—perhaps more moving than the music of our time.


Monday, December 21st, 2009

There’s a certain strand of geek culture that seems to almost pride itself on being unable to see the wood for the trees. In particular, it’s pretty funny to watch Aint It Cool News firing away at Avatar after having hailed the latest Star Trek movie as the second coming earlier this year.  Yet there’s not even a comparison.  The one was warmed-over triumphalist nostalgia, the other a totally original visionary freight-train.  Avatar’s storyline is being derided as thin in some quarters; for me, it was stripped down to its archetypal essentials, and all the more epic as a result. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that featuring a physically disabled lead character is in many ways as groundbreaking as the 3-D lushness that makes this movie something you could get so lost in.  As of this writing, 3-D tickets were outselling 2-D tickets two to one, though the movie itself did well under a hundred million in the States.  Which doesn’t really matter when it raked in more than $150 million overseas, and looks set to have strong legs, in part because the snowstorm that blanketed so much of the east coast acted as a considerable downer on box office performance.  Unless next week’s Sherlock Holmes becomes a ticket-stealing juggernaut, Avatar looks set to roll back and forth over the holiday box office like one of those killdozers from the first Terminator movie.

To be fair, I think what might have pissed off some at AICN is Cameron’s high-handed tone, which drifted perilously close to eco-preachiness.  This didn’t bother me, partially because I think that regardless of the specifics, he’s right on the fundamentals (we ARE going to be a planet bereft of green if we keep this up), but also because I really got into the idea that the moviemaker who took human-eating aliens to a whole new level back in the 1980s has now turned the whole equation on its head:  now humans are the invaders, and the notion of alien becomes relative.  “The aliens went back to their dying world”, concludes Sam Worthingon’s voiceover . . . but movies are never going back after this.

Spacing out

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Back from ComicCon, which ruled. I’ll have more detailed thoughts later, but in meantime, I forgot to link to an article I wrote for Bantam’s Suvudu last week re my thoughts on the fortieth anniversary of Apollo. So check it out. . .

UPDATE:  Discover Magazine has written up an account of proceedings!

(And if you want to see what happens when humanity finally DOES get back into space, all is revealed in BURNING SKIES!)

The U.S. space program . . . (yawn)

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

A front-page article in the Washington Post yesterday asserted that U.S. dominance in space is slipping, with lots of examples to prove the point: the recently launched Japanese lunar orbiter, the upcoming Chinese space walk, Israel’s nanosatellites, etc. But the article, which draws from a study undertaken by Bethesda, MD consultants Futron, is a somewhat awkward pastiche of two separate trends. On the one hand, it’s to be expected that the lead of the U.S. would decline in relative terms, as more and more nations get in on the act. It’s a little like the initial wave of industrialization: first Britain built its factories, but other nations were quick to follow suit, a development that Britain could do little about.  Indeed, more nations getting into space in a robust way is a good thing, and should be welcomed as such.

But, on the other hand . . .  the U.S. space program really is floundering, in absolute terms. Yes, the nation remains ahead of the competition, as can be seen in Futron’s space competitive index, published in The Economist. But the Shuttle gets retired in 2010, and then we’ve got a five year gap during which no American spaceship will be able to reach the International Space Station. Paying the Russians to take us there will be our only option, until the Constellation comes online five years later.

Or never.  Which is an increasing risk at this point.  We’re obviously heading into an era of ever-tighter budgets, and NASA’s programs tend to be one of the first things to get cut.  All the more so given that the U.S. public could give two shits about what happens after the Shuttle.  Or, for that matter, the Shuttle itself.  Hell, the only way it can make the news anymore is as flaming wreckage.

Which is what makes the post-Shuttle plans such a total pull-your-hair-out-while-you-bash-your-head-into-a-wall missed opportunity.  NASA had a big chance to get people’s attention again, and all they could come up with is something that looks to the average American suspiciously like a repeat of Apollo (only more expensive, with both earth AND lunar orbit rendezvous).  They’d have been far better advised to head to Mars, or start mining asteroids . . . or anything besides something that everybody in this country knows Tom Hanks has already done.  As Bob Mahoney argued so cogently in The Space Review earlier in the year, when it comes to PR, NASA really blew it.  Again.

But not everybody has lost the plot.  While NASA lurches toward the budget axe, the Pentagon keeps on trucking.  Because one of the areas where the U.S. still remains unchallenged in space is with regards to military hardware:  we’ve got as many satellites in orbit as all other nations combined.  Without those sats, the ultra-precise weaponry of the U.S. war machine would be reduced to near-uselessness.  And if anyone ever gets into a position to challenge those sats .  . .

And that, as I’ve argued before (and as the Post article implicitly underscores), is likely to be the dynamic that ultimately shifts this whole equation.  Ultimately, the only REAL reason America ever came up with for getting into space in a serious way is because the other guy was doing it.  Sputnik got us off our butts in the 1950s/60s, and I suspect that something similar is going to happen again.  Put it this way:  the Moon will be a LOT more interesting to the American public when the Chinese start walking around on it.  Which won’t happen for a while yet.  But there’s an awful lot that they and others can get up to in the meantime.