Wait! I’m Calling from Space!

By Marianne Dyson

April 2018

My husband almost hung up on a call from the International Space Station. Because no one immediately responded to his hello, he assumed it was just another junk call with a built-in delay before some recorded sales pitch kicked in. Just as he was about to hang up, astronaut TJ Creamer said, “Wait, don’t hang up! It’s TJ calling from the space station!”

The space station is “only” a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. We get calls from much greater distances all the time with no delay. So what causes the lag time? The radio signals from the space station first go up all the way to geosynchronous orbit, 22,200 miles up, where the Tracking Data Relay Satellites reside, and then back down to one of the Earth receiving antennas, and finally through ground networks to our house phone. It’s a long journey for that old radio signal that just won’t go any faster than 186,000 miles per second no matter how much you honk your horn.

Still, most people can tolerate a delay of half a second—as the telemarketers have unfortunately discovered. But if one of our astronaut friends one day calls us from the Moon, at 240,000 miles, times two for the round trip, the lag time between our hello and their answer is about two and a half seconds. Click. Better warn us ahead of time!

I saw the gold James Webb Telescope outside the vacuum test chamber at Johnson Space Center in January 2018. Photo © Marianne Dyson.

Calls from farther away, such as the million-mile distance of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 where the James Webb Telescope will be orbiting, will take more than five seconds each way. Click.

Calling from Mars? Depending if the Earth and Mars are on the same or opposite sides of the sun, the distance varies from half an astronomical unit (AU=93,000,000 miles or one light minute) to 2.5 AU or 4 to 21 minutes each way. Click.

Future messages from Europa out there orbiting Jupiter at 5 AU, would take from a half hour to almost an hour one way. Click. A call from Alpha Centauri at 4.3 light years distance? Sorry, that call can’t be completed as dialed…

No wonder Star Trek and other science fictional universes rely on “subspace” or “ansibles” that conveniently route calls through other dimensions or wormholes to allow the plot to move faster than the posted (light) speed limit.

The consequences of dealing with space lag times offer some interesting challenges for our future pioneers beyond having their friends or family hang up on them. Without being able to call 911 or Mission Control to solve problems, they need to be well-trained and equipped with appropriate tools to handle emergencies. Like Mark Whatney in The Martian, if regular communications fail, they may be forced to use hexadecimal coded signals to communicate. Or they may simply write “SOS” with a rover, rocks, or pieces of their broken spacecraft for the new James Webb Telescope to spot.

So when you answer the phone and hear clicks and no voice: Wait, don’t hang up! It might be a call from space!

Writing about Space

Analog readers, watch for my first guest editorial in the July/August issue!

My next book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic, is available for preorder now from Amazon. Look for it in stores/museums in October.

Buzz is featured on the cover of the winter 2018 issue of Ad Astra, the magazine of the National Space Society, that includes my article, “Space Business Challenges.”

Speaking about Space

Whether you’re looking for a role model for female students, a scientist to run a STEM workshop, or a speaker with some unique stories, please consider an author visit. I offer programs appropriate for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. See my list of programs on the Author Visits tab of my website.

Saturday, April 21, 8 AM-4 PM. Selling and signing books, new and used, at the Clear Lake Community Association Garage Sale.

Saturday, April 28, 10 AM-2 PM, volunteer for the Grand Opening of Exploration Green.

May 4-6, May the Fourth Celebration, visit to Nevada Space Center Hall of Fame. Speaking about Science and Science Fiction on Friday evening, attending the dedication of the Nevada Challenger Center Redfield Mission Control and giving a Keynote Address on Saturday.

Saturday, May 12, 1:00-4:30 PM. Speaking on “How to Publish a Book” at Houston Writers House event. Register here.

Tuesday, May 15, 9-10 AM Passion for Space, 10-11 AM, Children’s program, Laredo Public Library.

Tuesday, May 22, author visit to The Westview School.

Friday, May 25, panelist, Comicpalooza, George Brown Convention Center, Houston.

Thursday, June 7, vendor fair participant, Setting the Trend, Librarians as Leaders conference. Clear Falls High School, 4380 Village Way, League City, TX.

September 21-23, Science GOH at FenCon XV in Dallas. See their website for program details. Writer GOH is Larry Niven.

See my website’s contact page for a complete appearance schedule.

Make Time for the Stars

by Marianne Dyson

March 2018

Pioneering female astronomer Vera Rubin (1928-2016), who proved the existence of dark matter with her observations of the Andromeda Galaxy, told me that observing the stars out the window by standing on her bed as a child was what inspired her choice of career. I exclaimed, “I did that, too!” [Ref: Space and Astronomy, pp. 210-11]

Yet many children today can’t see the stars in the evening because it is still daylight when they go to bed, especially during the summer months. Thankfully, we have the power to change this by opting out of daylight savings time (DST). Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have already opted out. Congress controls standard time and sets the dates for when DST starts and stops (currently second Sunday in March and first Sunday in November), but allows states to opt out. [Ref: USNO Daylight Time]

So at my local precinct convention after the polls closed last Tuesday, I introduced a resolution for Texas to opt out. It passed unanimously.

The main arguments for stopping DST are that it is not effective in saving energy (the original reason it was instituted) and that it increases traffic fatalities.

With more efficient lighting, and increased use of air conditioning, some studies have shown that DST has a marginal or a negative effect on energy use. A study in 2008 showed about a one percent increase in energy consumption in Indiana after adopting DST. The economic impact is even more severe for states like Texas and Arizona with heavy use of air conditioning in hot summer evenings. [Ref. Daylight Saving Time 2018.]

But the strongest reason to opt out of DST is a study of 21 years of time shifting that found an increase in the number of fatal accidents on the Monday following the spring shift (from sleep deprivation), and also on the Sunday following the fall shift (attributed to people staying out later to take advantage of the extra hour). [Ref: Fatal accidents following changes in daylight savings time.]

Moving clocks forward (from about 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM) also puts high school students, who need to arrive by 7:20 AM in my school district, especially at risk as they wait for buses, walk to school, or drive in the dark. Is even the loss of one young life worth having an extra hour of daylight after dinner for two months in the spring and fall?

Note that there is no actual daylight “saved,” it is only shifted from the morning to the evening. For every person who enjoys that hour of light after dinner, there is another that would prefer to jog or walk their dog in the light before heading off to work in the morning.

But if daylight is preferred by the majority in the evening, then perhaps DST should shift forward in the fall and back in the spring, the opposite of the current system. Then, in December, when it is light for only 9-10 hours (less for higher latitudes), it would be light from about 8:30 AM until 6 PM instead of from 7:30 AM to 5 PM. And in June, when it is light for 14-15 hours (longer for higher latitudes), sunset would be about 8 PM instead of 9 PM, and more kids could see the stars before bed. [Ref: timeanddate.com]

If you’d like your state to opt out of daylight savings, I urge you to introduce planks in your party’s platform and share your opinion with your state and Congressional representations. Let’s make time for the stars!

Writing about Space

I’m happy to announce that my novelette, Europa’s Survivors is a finalist in the Analog Readers Poll, and for a limited time (and to help generate nominations for the Hugo Award: deadline is March 16!), Analog is offering it FREE through their website. It is also included in my story collection called Fly Me to the Moon.

My next book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic, is available for preorder now from Amazon. Look for it in stores/museums in October.

In February, I joined a National Assessment of Educational Progress panel of expert educators and fellow children’s authors (shown here L to R: John Alexander, Lulu Delacre, Marianne Dyson, Michael L. Cooper, and Allison Lassieur) to read and choose examples of fourth-grade writing at the basic, proficient, and advanced levels. Participation in this assessment is why there was no February Science Snacks! (Photo courtesy Marianne Dyson)

Speaking about Space

Whether you’re looking for a role model for female students, a scientist to run a STEM workshop, or a speaker with some unique stories, please consider an author visit. I offer programs appropriate for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. See my list of programs and prices on the Author Visits tab of my website. Book a fall visit before July to lock in current fees. Here’s my upcoming schedule of events:

Wednesday, March 14, 10:30 AM, children’s space activity & book signing, Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet St., Houston. 

March 18-23, attending Lunar & Planetary Science Conference as press looking for science stories.

Saturday, March 24, 9AM-3:30 PM. Selling and signing books at the JSC Annual Craft Fair and Flea Market.

Saturday, April 28, 10 AM-2 PM, volunteer for the Grand Opening of Exploration Green.

May 4-6, May the Fourth Celebration, visit to Nevada Space Center Hall of Fame. Speaking about Science and Science Fiction on Friday evening, attending the dedication of the Nevada Challenger Center Redfield Mission Control and giving a Keynote Address on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 15, 9-10 AM Passion for Space, 10-11 AM, Children’s program, Laredo Public Library.

Tuesday, May 22, author visit to The Westview School.

Friday, May 25, panelist, Comicpalooza, George Brown Convention Center, Houston.

See my website’s contact page for a complete appearance schedule.

Surviving Europa’s Radiation

by Marianne Dyson 

January 2018

There’s no question that the radiation on Europa is lethal. The surface receives about 14,000 rads in an hour. That’s 14 times the dose that is fatal to 100 percent of people exposed. This radiation, lack of atmosphere, and the minus 260-degree temperature make Europa an unlikely future tourist stop.

Yet Europa is near the top of the list for places likely to host alien life. How can life exist in this harsh environment? In a word: Water. Though Europa is about 90 percent the size of our Moon, it may host an ocean containing more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

Artist’s concept of Europa Clipper  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Europa Clipper sits on the moon’s icy surface with Jupiter in the sky and its sample arm extended. Launch is planned as one of the first uses of the Space Launch System as early as Spring 2022. [Reference]

Water is not only essential for life, it is an excellent shield for radiation. Just four inches of ice can reduce Europa’s surface dose to the level of a CT scan (about one rad). However, a long-term stay, like getting a CT scan every hour, could still be deadly if cells are damaged faster than they can be repaired or replaced. One hundred hours at this dose level would kill 5 percent of people within six weeks of exposure, and the rest would have an increased risk of cancer.

So future human visitors to Europa will want to send robots ahead to dig under or drill through the surface for protection from radiation. Besides, under the icy shield of the surface is also the place to find alien life.

Dim sunlight (Jupiter is five times the distance of Earth from the sun) would not penetrate far through the thick surface ice. But life doesn’t actually need sunlight, as scientists discovered back in 1977 when they observed giant tube worms living off of hydrogen sulfide bubbling out of volcanic vents in the sunless depths of the Pacific Ocean. Similar hydrothermal vents may exist at the base of Europa’s ocean, constantly heated by the tidal tug-of-war as Europa passes between Jupiter and its Mars-sized moon, Ganymede. The tidal forces also create dramatic upheavals on the surface that may be dangerous to visitors but offer exciting possibilities for research.

As a writer, I couldn’t resist setting a story on Europa. How might people get there and stay there safely? What kind of bacteria and viruses might co-evolve there? How might human activity, requiring energy and releasing waste, impact them? Since any existing life would not likely survive transport to Earth for study, what equipment and skills would scientists need to unlock the mysteries of alien life and distinguish it from manmade contamination? What kind of people would be motivated enough to devote years of their lives and risk getting cancer to explore this distant world? Would a young scientist with terminal cancer perhaps find a way to go so her final days might count for something?

If you’re curious to see how I answered these questions, I invite you to read, Europa’s Survivors, first published in the March/April 2017 issue of Analog Science Fiction magazine, and now included in my collection of previously published stories called, Fly Me to the Moon and other stories which is available in print or eBook form.

Fly Me to the Moon cover
Fly Me to the Moon and other stories now contains my novelette, Europa’s Survivors.

Writing about Space

Thursday January 25 at 2 AM CST to Tuesday, January 30 at 2 AM CST: Fly Me to the Moon and other stories (including Europa’s Survivors) is FREE on Kindle (regular price $2.99). Print copies are $9.99. Receive a 10 percent discount on print copies: enter this 8-digit code: 488RKZ5V on CreateSpace.

My new book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic, is due out in September. The first printing is likely to sell out, so you might want to preorder now from Amazon.

Speaking about Space

Whether you’re looking for a role model for female students, a scientist to run a STEM workshop, or a speaker with some unique stories, please consider an author visit. I offer programs appropriate for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. See my list of programs and prices on the Author Visits tab of my website. Book a fall visit before July to lock in current fees.

February 12-15, 2018. I’ll be in Atlanta, participating as a member of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Nation’s Report Card) panel for 4th grade writing.

“Hidden Figures” of the Gemini Program

Marianne Dyson, December 2017

The first landing on the Moon is often cited as the most historic achievement of the 20th century. With the upcoming 50th anniversaries of the Apollo missions, and the popularity of the book and movie Hidden Figures depicting the contributions of black women during the Mercury Program (1958-63), many people are asking what role women played in Mission Control leading up to and during the Moon missions.

A decade before I wrote my memoir, A Passion for Space, about my experiences working the first Space Shuttle flights, I collected the rosters starting with Gemini 4 (Gemini 3 was controlled from Florida) and talked with other flight controllers to discover the first women assigned technical positions in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR).

The first woman assigned a technical console in a support room was Frances (Poppy) M. Northcutt in the Flight Dynamics Support room during Apollo 8 in 1968. She is generally acknowledged as the first female flight controller. The first woman in a primary position (in the Mission Operations Control Room, MOCR, seen on TV) was Carolyn Huntoon at the Experiments console during Skylab in 1973.

Frances (Poppy) M. Northcutt
Frances (Poppy) M. Northcutt

But there were women working in Mission Control, in the MOCR and support rooms starting with Gemini 8 in March 1966. Who were these pioneering women?

Bond, Allison Bond

The first woman assigned a position in Mission Control at Johnson Space Center was Allison Bond. She worked as an assistant to the Public Affairs Officer (PAO), Paul Haney (1928-2009), for Gemini 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. I believe the woman in this photo from Gemini 8 is her: https://outlet.historicimages.com/products/rsj01683. (It costs $10 for this image which I will pay if someone can confirm for me that this is indeed Allison Bond!)

This woman worked the PAO console for Skylab in 1974. Could this be Allison Bond or maybe Patricia Santee? Is the guy Doug Ward? This is my photo of a NASA photo.

This woman worked the PAO console for Skylab in 1974. Could this be Allison Bond or maybe Patricia Santee? Is the guy Doug Ward? This is my photo of a NASA photo.

There was also a secretary in the room for Gemini 10 and 11. Her name was Virginia Engle. I suspect she reported to Chris Kraft who was the Flight/Mission Operations Director, the boss of the Flight Directors.

The “Hidden Figures” of Flight Dynamics

Math Aides and Trajectory Specialists

There were also “hidden” women (and men) in the support rooms which surrounded the Mission Operations Control Room. Many of them supported the Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO, pronounced Fi-doh). They were “computers” similar to the women depicted in Hidden Figures, but called Math Aides or Trajectory Specialists. I don’t know of any photos taken of this support room or indeed, of any support room during Gemini.

  • Paulette ?Mayock or ?Mazoch, Gemini 8, 9 (Spelling inconsistent on rosters)
  • Melba Taylor, Gemini 8
  • Mary Ann Richards or Richardson, Gemini 8, 10, 11
  • Lela Steward, Gemini 8
  • Patricia L. Hatchenberg, Gemini 9
  • Sherry or Sherrie Tilson or Tilton, Gemini 9, 10
  • Irene Horsington, Gemini 10
  • Hazel Bryan, Gemini 10
  • Molly Hernsby, Gemini 10, 11
  • Ratha M. Hansen Gemini 11
  • Joyce Landers, Gemini 11, 12
  • Jewell Harwell, Gemini 12
  • Margaret Crawford, Gemini 12

The “Hidden Figures” of Vehicle Systems

Data Support

The Vehicle System Support Room also had women serving as “Data Support” for the Agena (target vehicle for rendezvous) for Gemini 8:

  • Joyce E. Goodrich
  • Connie R. Turner
  • Patricia R. Garza
  • Joella M. English
  • Maureen E. Bowen
  • Gail A. Garrett

The “Hidden Figures” of the Flight Surgeon

Aeromed or Life Systems Support

There were also women in the Flight Surgeon’s Support Room, sometimes referred to as the Aeromed or Life Systems Support Room. I’m not sure if they were nurses or interns. All I could find out so far is that three of them were not MDs.

  • Judith B. Banks, 9, 10, 12, (Not MD)
  • Halley M Bishop, 9, 11
  • Norma Nugent, 9
  • Phyllis A Johnson, 9. 10
  • Bertha Gutlaw, 9
  • Lynda K. Richter, 9, 10. 11
  • Katherine Tindall, 9
  • Netha A Mayberry, 10,11
  • Pat McBride, 12 (not MD, might be a man?)
  • Evelyn Lindquist, 12 (not MD)

This list of women who worked the Gemini missions (1965-66) is certainly incomplete, but it is a start. This Gemini list and similar ones for Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, and the first 25 Shuttle flights are now posted on my website as a publicly-available resource for those interested in women’s space history.

I hope that relatives, co-workers, and researchers can help me add more detail about their contributions. Please visit these pages and let me know if you can help identify women in the photos posted there (see especially the photo of a Skylab team) and contact me with updates, additions, and corrections. I’d especially appreciate knowing the married names of any that are listed under maiden names, and links to obituaries if available. It is about time we recognize the contributions these pioneering women made to our nation’s space program and our collective history.

Writing about Space

To the Moon and Back by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne Dyson and Bruce Foster

Despite Harvey’s disruption to both me and artist Bruce Foster, we have successfully finished our new children’s book with Buzz Aldrin for National Geographic, called To the Moon and Back, in time for it to be produced and available in time for the 50th anniversary of the first manned Apollo flight (Apollo 7 in October 2018). While we anxiously await its arrival in stores, we hope you will continue to support our efforts to promote space by purchasing copies of our other books (such as Welcome to Mars!) as gifts for future astronauts and their teachers.

Speaking about Space

I’m preparing a new presentation for all ages (including a special interactive program for K-2) in support of To the Moon and Back that will celebrate the historic achievements of the Apollo Program and describe current plans to return humans to the Moon. If you’re interested in having me speak on this topic or any of the others on my website (Mars, Women in Mission Control, or a space science workshop), please visit my website and send an email with program and schedule preferences.

The Sun Has Spots

Marianne Dyson, November 2017

Did you know that the sun rotates on its axis about once a month? Since all sides of the sun look essentially the same, how can scientists tell how fast it goes around? The sun has spots! These spots act as markers for what part of the sun is facing Earth. By tracking their motion, scientists can clock the rate of motion of the surface.

Sunspots seen during eclipse August 21, 2017.
A group of sunspots appear near the center of the Sun in this photo taken during the eclipse on August 21. These spots first appeared on the edge of the Sun on August 14. © Marianne Dyson, 2017.

Back in 1610, Galileo was the first to notice spots moving across the Sun. But some people didn’t believe him. They said the spots were planets crossing between the Earth and Sun, casting shadows like Mercury and Venus. Galileo explained that the spots changed shape and sometimes appeared and disappeared, unlike the known planets.

Galileo also noted that the speed at which the spots crossed from the “left” side to the “right” side of the Sun was not constant. It usually takes about 11 days for a spot to make a crossing. (Because the sun is not a solid, the high latitudes take 36 days and the equatorial region takes 25 days for a full rotation.) Spots near the edge appear to move faster than when they are moving across the middle third of the disk. This effect is called foreshortening. A spot coming around the limb of a sphere is moving towards the viewer even though the disk appears flat from a distance. So it appears to be moving faster than when it is crossing the middle of the disk.

You too can prove the sun rotates by tracking sunspots. But please be careful! Never ever look directly at the sun, and especially not with binoculars or a telescope that isn’t covered by a special filter. As Galileo sadly discovered, looking at the Sun for just a few minutes can cause permanent blindness.

I safely observed sunspots during the August solar eclipse by mounting my 70mm binoculars on a tripod and viewing the image on a white mat placed on the driveway below. Photo © Marianne Dyson, 2017.

If you don’t see any spots, there might not be any. The number of spots varies over a 11-12-year solar cycle. The minimum number of spots is expected in 2019 or 2020. During solar minimum, the spots are closer to the equator and generally smaller than during maximum years.

NASA’s “The Sun Now” shows the state of the Sun every day. The images can be printed out and used to plot the progress of sunspots across the disk of the Sun. (I recommend dividing the diameter into at least six equal sections and drawing vertical lines. Then write the time it took the center of the spot to move from one line to the next to see foreshortening for yourself.)

Galileo proved through observations that the Sun has spots and rotates. Scientists now know that sunspots are areas where the magnetic fields are about a thousand times stronger than other areas. The magnetic fields cause the plasma to “bunch up,” and, to keep the pressure constant (T is lower since PV=nRT), cool off compared to surrounding areas. (Spots are 4000 versus 6000 degrees K.) These cooler areas appear as dark spots to human eyes, though I hope thinking about them has “brightened” your day!

Writing about Space

As my Twitter followers and Facebook friends know, my house was flooded by Hurricane Harvey. We are slowly rebuilding the downstairs while “camping” in my upstairs office. We hope to have floors and bedrooms by Christmas, and a new improved kitchen by early in the New Year. We are very grateful to friends and neighbors who have helped us deal with this disaster. I also appreciate all of you who subscribe to my blog and buy copies of my books and eBooks for yourselves or as gifts for others. You have really lifted my spirits! Thank you!

And I’m happy to announce that the new book I’m coauthoring with Buzz Aldrin for National Geographic Kids now has a title: To the Moon and Back! This book is Buzz’s personal story of the historic first trip to the Moon, brought to you in 3-D pop-up format by the extraordinary paper engineering wizard, Bruce Foster. Expected release is the fall of 2018 in time for the 50th anniversary of the first manned Apollo flight.

Photo © Marianne Dyson, 2017
Me and Bruce Foster show early drafts of our text and art for To the Moon and Back at SCBWI Houston conference in October. Photo © Marianne Dyson, 2017

Speaking about Space

If you’d like me to visit your school or speak at your event in the spring or summer, please visit my website and send an email with program and schedule preferences for 2018.

December 5-7, 2017, I’m attending SpaceCom Expo at GRB in Houston. Will Buzz make a surprise appearance? I don’t know, but he did last year!

Harvey Disruption

Marianne Dyson September 2017

The night that Harvey ripped through Houston, I was drafting my September blog about the sunspots I’d seen during the solar eclipse.  I hope to return to that topic in the future, but I’m currently consumed by dealing with the aftermath of this disaster.

This is a photo of the debris pile from our house after flooding caused by nearly 50 inches of rain by Hurricane Harvey. In the background, the shipping container we are using to store some of our furniture sits on the driveway. We are currently sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the upstairs office we added on years ago. Because of materials and labor shortages, we don’t expect to have repairs done until Christmas, maybe longer.

I’ve been sharing photos via Twitter and stories via Facebook if you want to know more about what it is like to go through a natural disaster which unfortunately, so many people are suffering through right now.

Like most Houstonians, I’m determined to get through this and come out stronger and better with heartfelt stories to share. One thing I can say for sure: there are a lot of saints living here who have helped us move furniture, pull out wet carpet, scrape goop off the floors, bring food, store our stuff (including my 20-gallon aquarium full of fish!), and offer prayers and encouragement. I’m grateful to them all.

To help pay for our recovery, I’d sure appreciate some invitations for author visits and some added book sales. Check out my author website for my program options and books to order. Please consider purchasing copies of books by Houston authors, especially my artist Bruce Foster who lost his house, for gifts or to donate to Houston-area schools or one of the schools in Puerto Rico or Florida that were likewise destroyed by 2017 hurricanes.

Writing about Space

 

I am happy to announce that I’ve signed a contract with National Geographic Kids for a second children’s book with Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin! We haven’t settled on a title yet, but it will be a pop-up book celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo in 2019. The book is planned for publication next fall. The pop-up engineer is Bruce Foster of Harry Potter pop-up fame!

Speaking about Space

I offer short programs and STEM workshops for adults, kids, and mixed audiences. For programs and prices, visit: Dyson Author Visits.

I’m taking a break from Harvey clean-up duty to attend the following events, and hope to see some of you there:

Sept. 22-24. FenCon. Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport, 4545 W. John Carpenter Freeway, Irving Texas, 75063. 972-929-4500.

Friday Sept. 22. 4-5 PM, Ticket to Ride-We’re Going to Mars! 5:30-6 PM. Reading. 6-7PM, Panelist for Space Fighters Don’t Make Zoom Noises!

Saturday, Sept. 23. 12-12:30 Autographing.

Sunday, Sept. 24. 10:30-11 AM Autographing. 2-3 PM Panelist. Spacecraft Engineering.

Saturday, October 7. SCBWI Houston Conference. 8 AM to 6:15 PM. Attending and signing books. The Marriott Houston Westchase, 2900 Briarpark Drive, Houston, TX.

No Astronaut Gender Parity

Marianne Dyson July/August 2017

When NASA announced a new group of twelve astronauts in June, I was disappointed to hear that only five of the twelve candidates selected are female, and only one is black. I had expected NASA to select an equal number of men and women like they did in 2013. I even dared to hope they might boldly select MORE women than men and several blacks to compensate for there being twice as many men as women and only one black woman in the current astronaut corps.

L to R, back row: Jonny Kim (Doctor, CA), Warren Hoburg (MIT Professor, PA), Frank Rubio (Major US Army, FL), Kayla Barron (Lt. Navy, WA), Bob Hines (NASA Pilot, PA), Matthew Dominick (Lt. Cdr, Navy, CO), Raja Chari (Lt. Col. USAF, IA). Front row: Robb Kulin (SpaceX Engineer, AK), Zena Cardman (Research Fellow, VA), Jasmin Moghbeli (Major, Marines, NY), Jessica Watkins (Research Fellow, CO), Loral O’Hara (Engineer, TX). Photo Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

With 18,353 applicants to choose from, it is simply not believable that they couldn’t find an equal number of men and women who meet their qualifications. Oddly, I didn’t hear a single news media outlet mention or question this lack of gender parity even though the 50/50 male/female astronaut selection was widely lauded and made headlines in 2013.

The lack of gender parity in the 2017 astronaut selection thus feels like a step backwards at a time when we are finally making plans to venture beyond Earth orbit. It seems these new female astronauts are destined to be isolated for six months on the International Space Station with two to five men (at least two of them Russian) or assigned as the sole female on a test flight of Orion. (And NASA wonders why more women don’t apply?!)

Speaking from my own experience as one of a handful of women in Mission Control in the 1980s, these women will not be in a position to complain about any awkward social or operational issues that arise. If they do, they will be labeled “weak” for not handling the stress or “ungrateful” for their “opportunity.” If any of them are asked in a public forum if it was stressful to be the only woman on the team, they are sure to say that it was not a problem. Neither is having a baby. That doesn’t make it easy.

Actions speak louder than words. The lack of gender parity in NASA’s selection sends the same message we heard in the Super Bowl ad where the dad watches his daughter compete in a cart race:

What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her that her grandpa’s worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?”

The daughter wins the race, and the father hopes for a future where he will be able to tell her something different. Me, too. But if we continue to select fewer women than men and send crews with a token woman on each mission, we’re not only extending gender bias into space, we are forfeiting any right to criticize the Russians or Chinese, who currently have no women on their space rosters, when or if they exclude women from future space jobs or settlements.

At least the Canadians followed gender parity and selected one man (Joshua Kutryk) and one woman (Jennifer Sidey) for their new astronaut class of 2017. The Russians are going to announce their selections at the end of this year. A society known for its chauvinistic ways is not likely to select many, if any, women as cosmonauts.

So, to assure our daughters that they have an equal opportunity to contribute to humanity’s future in space, I suggest that NASA select an all-female astronaut class for 2019. This would serve to balance out the astronaut corps and maybe even turn our space habitats from ugly man caves cluttered with wire bundles into places to call home.

Writing about Space

Read what it was like to be the only woman on a flight control team during STS-4: autographed copies of my shuttle memoir, A Passion for Space, are available for $32 plus tax and shipping.

Speaking about Space

I’d love to encourage some young women to consider STEM careers by sharing my space stories with them! Invite me to speak to your school/university, conference, or library. I’m offering a 20 percent discount for any author visits to Houston area schools or events scheduled in October (International Space Week is October 4-10). I offer short programs and STEM workshops for adults, kids, and mixed audiences. For programs and prices, visit: Dyson Author Visits.

Kobayashi Maru, a.k.a. the Loss of Space Shuttle Cooling

Marianne Dyson, June 2017

As a young flight controller, I was assigned to write the crew procedures for what to do if the space shuttle’s cooling system failed. A total loss of cooling was considered a “basket case,” as in the expression, “going to hell in a handbasket” because the space shuttle required electricity to land safely. The fuel cells that provided electricity would overheat and fail within 10 minutes without active cooling by the shuttle’s two Freon loops.

In a cartoon included with a review of my memoir, A Passion for Space, artist Dale DeBakscy aptly compares the loss of two Freon loops case with a famous Star Trek no-win training exercise named after a ship, the Kobayashi Maru, that can’t be rescued without causing the rescuers to be destroyed by the Klingons. The exercise is supposed to reveal a cadet’s decision-making process. Cadet Kirk is the first to beat the simulation, but he does it by cheating: reprogramming the Klingon ships so they lose their protective shields. [See Kobayashi Maru scenario.]

Cartoon created by Dale DeBakscy for Scheduling for Success, Preparing for Disaster. WomenYouShouldKnow, May 31, 2017. Used with permission.

Back in the real world, the Loss of 2 Freon Loops certainly provided a good training experience in real-time decision-making for flight controllers. Our top priority, similar to the rescue of the Kobayashi Maru, was to bring the crew home safely.

The first time the training team threw this failure at the STS-1 Ascent Team, we crashed and burned. It was a humbling experience that led to much discussion of actions that offered a better outcome.

Time was our equivalent to the Klingon war birds. We had to work fast or be destroyed.

An analysis indicated we could use a maintenance procedure called a purge, designed to clear contaminant buildup, to help remove heat from the fuel cells. This bought us 30 to 60 minutes if we could get the power load down to 8 kW within 10 minutes.

My fellow flight controller Carolynn Conley created a power down list, and I redid the entry procedures assuming all that equipment was turned off. We then ran a simulation with the STS-1 crew, John Young and Robert Crippen. We crashed. Three times. We needed a faster way to get the power level down. The crew suggested we use pictures of the cockpit panels showing the switches to be turned off rather than listing them in a checklist. This saved a lot of time. Also, we discovered that if we put the switches into the right position for launch, the ground could send commands to start the fuel cell purge and help shut things down. The crew didn’t have to get out of their seats, a real chore during ascent.

John Young and Robert Crippen

John Young and Robert Crippen in the simulator in 1980. The displays are black, meaning the simulator has crashed. Bob says, “Well, John, it’s the ole Loss of 2 Freon Loops.” (NASA photo)

But we still crashed. So just like Kirk, we had to cheat! We programmed one of the temperature values to stay low (like the analysis said it would) so we’d have power long enough to verify it really was the temperature that was causing the crashes and not something wrong with the procedures. Imagine how awful it would have been if Kirk had used his trick to dispatch the Klingons and then run out of fuel before he could rescue the Kobayashi Maru!

We didn’t uncover any issues with our plans. We put them in a checklist onboard for STS-1, and they stayed part of the flight data file all the way through STS-135.

Could a crew have survived the Loss of 2 Freon Loops, or was it as hopeless as rescuing the Kobayashi Maru? You can read my answer in a science fiction story called “Fireworks in Orbit.” It was published in Analog in 1990 and is included in my collection Fly Me to the Moon (see below for special offer!). Was there a way to beat the Kobayashi sim without cheating? I have no doubt a team of flight controllers could do it. After all, failure is not an option!

Writing about Space

ONE WEEK ONLY! Saturday June 3 to Saturday June 10, my science fiction eBook Fly Me to the Moon is only 99 cents on Amazon. If you prefer a print copy, order from CreateSpace and get 10 percent off the normal price of $8.99 by using this coupon code: FHKGHV2K (posted on my website Book Orders page). Autographed copies are available through my website for $8 plus tax and shipping.

Autographed copies of my shuttle memoir, A Passion for Space, are available for $32 plus tax and shipping.

Speaking about Space

I’d love to share my space stories with you! Invite me to speak to your school/university, conference, or library. I’m offering a 20 percent discount for any author visits to Houston area schools or events scheduled in October (international Space Week is October 4-10). I offer short programs and STEM workshops for adults, kids, and mixed audiences. For programs and prices, visit: Dyson Author Visits.

Mission Control: Unsung Heroes

Marianne Dyson, May 2017

I saw the premier of Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo at Space Center Houston on April 11. The documentary tells the story of the Apollo years (1967-72) through the eyes of the flight controllers in Houston’s historic Mission Control. Based on the book, Go Flight! by Rick Houston and former Flight Director Milt Heflin, the movie consists of interviews with flight directors, controllers, and astronauts interspersed with audio and video footage from the Apollo missions. Chief among those interviewed was the man who invented Mission Control and whose name adorns the side of the building where it is housed: 92-year-old Dr. Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.

When I joined NASA in 1979, Dr. Kraft was the Director of Johnson Space Center. Many of the Apollo veterans he trained were actively involved in the Shuttle Program (which first flew in 1981). It was my privilege to train under their guidance. They set a high bar for us newcomers who were expected to learn our systems inside and out (what’s the minimum electricity needed?), to identify potential failures (what would a lightning strike do?), to decide ahead of time the criteria we’d use to abort (what alarms are “go/no go”?), and to respond to unexpected challenges with Flight Director Gene Kranz’s “failure is not an option” attitude. As Courtney McMillan, a present-day flight director says in the documentary, “We wouldn’t be here today without the achievements these folks made.”

L to R: Movie Director David Fairhead, and Apollo Flight Directors Chris Kraft, Jr., Glynn Lunney, Milt Windler, Gerry Griffin, and Gene Kranz at the premier of Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo. Photo by Marianne Dyson at Space Center Houston, 4-11-17.

Even though it was fun to see all our “founding fathers” and hear their stories again, and it was nice that McMillan and Flight Director Ginger Kerrick were included in the show, I found myself wishing they’d included some interviews with the women who worked in Mission Control during Apollo.

I sat next to one of these trailblazing women, Flora Lowes, who supported the Flight Dynamics Officer during Apollo and the early Space Shuttle Program (as “Nav” for Navigation). I could not find her on the Apollo rosters, perhaps because she was in the Mission Planning and Analysis Directorate (MPAD) versus Flight Operations who published the list. I did find Frances M. “Poppy” Northcutt who worked for TRW as RETRO Support for Apollo 8 (and 10, 11, 12, and 13) and who is generally considered the first female flight controller.

However, she never advanced to the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR, pronounced “moh-cur”), the “front room” seen on TV. The first woman in one of those primary positions was Dr. Carolyn Huntoon who served as Experiments on Skylab IV in 1974. (See my list of the first female flight controllers.)

These women proved themselves as flight controllers, thus opening the door for more women, like me, to be considered for MOCR positions during the Shuttle era. And like the two young women I met after the show who are in training to be Flight Dynamics Officers (FDO, pronounced “fi-doh”) for Orion. They said their supervisor is a woman, and there are women in their chain of command all the way up to the Center Director Ellen Ochoa.

They asked Apollo FDO Jerry Bostick (who appears in the film) if he had any advice for them. He told the story of how he and two other men, who had more experience and better credentials than he had, were at the Cape in the early 60s vying to be hired as flight controllers. Kraft tested their mettle during a simulation where everything went wrong. Afterwards, during the debriefing, Jerry admitted he had screwed up big time while the other candidates tried to gloss over their mistakes as not important. “Kraft sent those guys packing,” Jerry said. Kraft wanted someone willing to take responsibility for his mistakes. So his advice for the new FDOs? “Be honest.”

As astronauts continue their explorations in space, and passengers join in the adventure, they can rest easier knowing that a team of bright young people like the new FDOs are in Mission Control watching over them. Thanks to this movie, perhaps some of these “unsung heroes” will finally get the recognition they deserve.

The International Women in Aviation & Space Museum has issued a set of playing cards featuring women in aerospace, and I’m honored to be the Ace of clubs! Decks are only $10, but order cards soon because they only printed 1000 and will sell out quickly! All sales go to support this fine museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Writing about Space

Learn more about what it was like to be one of the first female flight controllers in A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller.

Read a science fiction story “Fireworks in Orbit,” based on one of the contingency cases I created as a flight controller. The story was originally published in Analog in 1990, and is reprinted in my collection called Fly Me to the Moon available in print or as an eBook.

Watch for three of my articles about future plans for the Moon in the summer issue of Ad Astra magazine published by the National Space Society.

Speaking about Space

I’d love to share space with you! Invite me to speak to your school, conference, or library. I offer short programs and STEM workshops for adults, kids, and mixed audiences. Dyson Author Visits.

Saturday, May 6, 10 AM to 4 PM, Workshops for Writers. Morning: Write a Short Story in a Day. Afternoon: How to Publish a Book. Location: Southwestern Presbyterian Church in Bellaire. Cost is $30/$35 for either session or $50/$60 for both for members/nonmembers of Houston Writers House.

Saturday, May 13. Comicpalooza at George Brown Convention Center, Houston. Moderating Literary Track panel on Creative Collaborations from 2:30-3:30 & signing books at the Barnes & Noble booth in the exhibit room 4-4:45 PM.

Thursday, June 8. All day. STEM activities/demonstrations & book signing. CCISD “Setting the Trend” librarians conference at Victory Lake Intermediate School in League City.

The First Woman on the Moon

Marianne Dyson, April 2017

Russia is selecting six to eight new cosmonauts this year. The March 14 Roscosmos press release said, “They will be the first pilots of Russia’s future spacecraft Federatsiya (“Federation”). All will be trained under the International Space Program and will be the first Russians to fly to the Moon.”

Will one of these new recruits be the first woman on the Moon?

The Russians proudly claimed the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova in June of 1963), the first female spacewalker (Svetlana Savitskaya in August 1982), and the first woman to make a long duration flight (Elena Kondakova in 1994). They have only flown one other woman to date, Yelena Serova (on Expeditions 41/42 from September 2014 to March 2015) who is not expected to fly again. There are currently no female cosmonauts.

But if the new cosmonaut class has women, it may signal Russia’s intent to lay claim to the first woman to fly by the Moon and land on it. Given funding constraints, analysts predict a flyby (in their Federation) no sooner than 2023, with a human landing (using their PTK-L) no sooner than 2030.

NASA has 14 female astronauts and will (supposedly) choose more this summer. Orion on top of the new SLS booster is scheduled for a crewed circumlunar test flight (EM-2) in 2021 which might be moved up to 2019 on EM-1. But to land an American woman on the Moon, NASA would need to fund and develop a new vehicle, such as the Altair lunar lander cancelled in 2010.

Artist’s rendering of Altair lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. (NASA image JSC2007-E-113280 Dec. 2007)

Perhaps ESA could help? They are already providing the service module for Orion. In 2016 they unveiled a vision for an international collaboration to build a Moon Village by 2030 using huge 3D printers. To realize this vision, they need partners. If not NASA or Roscosmos, maybe they will work with SpaceX?

Elon Musk announced that two people have reserved a SpaceX flight around the Moon in 2018 using his Falcon 9 heavy and Dragon capsule. The gender of the SpaceX clients is unknown. Could one of them be the first woman to reach the Moon? SpaceX plans to test a human-capable lander on Mars in 2018. Could it be adapted for the Moon in time to celebrate the Apollo 11 60th anniversary in 2029?

The Chinese have flown six human spaceflights (11 taikonauts, 2 women) starting in 2003, and plan a permanently staffed space station in 2022. They have mapped the Moon with orbiters and landed a rover on the surface that hibernated through 32 lunar nights using plutonium heaters. Chang’E-5 (named after the Chinese Moon goddess) is scheduled to launch in late 2017 and return the first lunar sample since the Russian Luna 24 in 1976. Their official news agency announced a goal of landing humans on the Moon between 2031 and 2036. Thanks to stable multi-year funding and political support, the Chinese have met all their official milestones and are just as likely to meet this one.

So who will be the first woman to walk on another world? Will we call her First Woman like we call Neil Armstrong First Man? What will her first words be and in what language?

Regardless of where she is from or what she says, I know what my response will be: “It’s about time!”

Speaking about Space

I’d love to share space with you! Invite me to speak to your school, conference, or library. I offer short programs and STEM workshops for adults, kids, and mixed audiences. Dyson Author Visits.

Wednesday, April 12. 6-10 PM. Yuri’s Night & STS-1 Anniversary Party hosted by Clear Lake Area National Space Society & Moon Society. Held at the “party palace” (a member’s home) in Nassau Bay. To RSVP & get directions, email to info@nss-houston-moon.org. Donations for food & beverages appreciated.

Thursday, April 27, 7PM Deer Park Public Library. Presenting “A Passion for Space.” Free, open to the public. Books will be offered for sale afterwards.

Saturday, May 6, 10 AM to 4 PM, Workshops for Writers. Morning: Write a Short Story in a Day. Afternoon: How to Publish a Book. Location: Southwestern Presbyterian Church in Bellaire. Cost is $30/$35 for either session or $50/$60 for both for members/nonmembers of Houston Writers House.

Saturday, May 13. Comicpalooza at George Brown Convention Center, Houston. Moderating Literary Track panel on Creative Collaborations from 2:30-3:30 & signing books at the Barnes & Noble booth in the exhibit room 4-4:45 PM.

Writing about Space

My novelette, “Europa’s Survivors,” with a strong female lead character, is in the March/April issue of Analog Science Fiction magazine.

My article “Terraforming Mars: Could We? Should We?” is in the spring issue of Ad Astra magazine published by the National Space Society.