Marianne J. Dyson

Marianne Jakmides Dyson during STS-4, July 1982
FAO Marianne during STS-4, July 1982

WriteSpace Newsletters

by Marianne Dyson

There are six 2001 issues. Topics include: Could you give me some tips on what to write about? What do I put in a cover letter? Do you have any information about space camps, especially for hearing-impaired children? Why don't they use magnets to dock the shuttle to the space station? When were you (astronauts) first interested in space? Will NASA build space stations on planets? The End (writing an obituary); Outlining the Universe; The Making of a Moon Rock (creating a recipe activity); Noting STS-1 (recording history); Stars in my Pocket (technical reviewing); writing for Enslow. Read other issues using the links in the right column.


WriteSpace, November 2001

Quotable Quotes: Mizpah: a benediction from Genesis that means, "The Lord watch between thee and me, while we are absent one from the other." Engraved inside my mother's wedding ring.

In this month's issue:

*Question of the Month: "Could you give me some tips on what to write about?"

*Writing Adventures: The End

*** Question of the Month ***



You can find stories to write about by making a list of how you spend your time each day for a week. For example, if you care for a pet, you might write a story about caring for that pet (nonfiction) or an adventure the pet might have (fiction). To get the details right, you can read books about your pet or talk to a vet or pet shop worker or other pet owners. You can use your imagination to make your pet into something else - an iguana into a dinosaur or an alien for instance. You can combine several experiences from your everyday life - such as going to school but from the point of view of your pet stowing away in your lunchbox. Also, you can exaggerate normal things - make your pet's bark or squeak into a roar that knocks people over, and then think about how that might change what would be a normal holiday visit to your grandmother's or friend's house.

There is no limit to what you can write about. My advice is to start with something you find funny or have some emotional connection with, and then build on that.

I have a writing activity on my web site which you can use with my Space Station Science book. This activity will help you to plot your story and correct common mistakes. It is at: Go to the SF writing activity using the link on that page.

Good luck with your writing!

*** Appearances ***

Because of a death in the family and the unplanned travel and delays that has caused to my writing projects, I am limiting my appearances for the next few months to only those I have already contracted to do. Please check my author schedule page at for updates to my schedule.

I will be attending the Texas Book Festival in Austin on Saturday, November 17 and appearing on a panel at 1 PM and signing books afterwards. Book sales benefit Texas libraries.

Photos from my visit to the University of Houston in October and Oklahoma City in November are now posted on my author schedule page.

*** Writing Adventures ***

The End

Obituaries are notices printed in the newspapers informing the community that someone has died, what family members have survived them, and what arrangements have been made for memorials. They usually contain the person's places of birth and death, college degrees, military service and other significant accomplishments, and occupation. This part of the paper is not one that young people usually read unless they are searching for historical records of family members.

My stepfather, John (Jack) Moffitt Wildey, died suddenly of heart failure a week ago, and the task of writing his obituary fell to me.

Despite knowing him for 34 years, in my misted emotional state, I didn't trust my memory of the facts. Also, I realized I didn't know many of the details. What county was he born in? How do you spell his mother's maiden name? What years was he in the Navy and Army?

Thankfully, my stepfather was a writer. He wrote things down and filed them. My mother and I found what we couldn't remember in those files. We also found a treasure of clippings of his published letters and articles, photos of old friends and favorite places, and forgotten awards. Side by side in his files were the evidence of brave deeds in the foxholes in Korea and silly stories of squirrels sneaking food from the birdfeeders in the backyard. Such is the patchwork of a human life. I tucked these details away for the eulogy, the sharing of stories at a funeral or memorial service. I needed only the facts for the obituary.

I followed the examples in the paper listing the dates and degrees and major employers. In writing the survived by part, my mother told me he had a brother. I had never met this brother and didn't even know his name. I realized that if my children had to suddenly inform the world of my death, there would be a lot of cousins and old friends they would not know to contact. The only way those people might find out is through the obituary. We decided to run a longish one in the local paper, and a shorter version in my mother's home town (where they met and were married) and his home town, to be sure we reached everyone.

I struggled to get the obituary under 500 words. I e-mailed it to the local paper. Then I got a shock. They wanted $300 to print it! And $50 more if we wanted a photo. I checked around and discovered that this is a common practice. Newspapers treat obituaries like classified ads for used furniture and charge by the line! His home town paper, the Chicago Tribune, charges $7.95 for each 40 characters.

What has our society come to that we charge families to inform the community that someone they loved has died?

The death benefit paid by Social Security is only $250. This is not even enough to cover the obituary, let alone all the thousands of dollars in expenses for a funeral and the travel for family members to attend on short notice.

Some day soon I will write a letter to the editor (they print those for free!) to express my opinion that it should be free to print at least the first 10-15 lines (this was true of one paper) of an obituary, and there should be a minimal charge for additional lines. If any of you share this opinion, I encourage you to write letters to the editors of your local newspapers, too.

In the meantime, I had to cut the obituary down to the very basics. Out went the list of jobs he'd held. Out went the name of his high school.

I used to criticize the obituaries that spent most of the words listing who had survived the one who died and where to go for services or send donations. Now I understand. The poor widow or widower could not afford to say more, and they needed to list the names of the living to alert their friends that they need to be comforted. And without the service and donation listings, no one would know how to pay their respects.

It is a tradition to send flowers or make donations to a charity of the family's choice when someone dies. What charity would you want donations sent to in your memory? My mother and I had to pick one.

My stepfather loved words and books. He wrote book reviews for the papers. The last thing he did before he turned off the light the night he died, was to read a book he'd checked out from the library. Thus, my mother and I thought it appropriate that those who wished to pay their respects do so by donating to the library. The obituary said that donations could be sent in memory of John M. Wildey to the Durham County Public Library Foundation, PO Box 3809, Durham, NC 27702.

Jack didn't want a funeral, and he didn't want to be buried. My mother had him cremated and will eventually scatter his ashes in the ocean. That will be a private service. But his friends needed a way to say good-bye and share their stories of him with us. So, there will be a memorial at the library on November 20, hosted by the Durham Trails and Greenways Commission, a group that he served with for 18 years. Although I'd rather be listening to more stories from him in person, I know I'll hear some new and different ones that night.

This experience reminds me that each day is an opportunity for us to create a memory and a true-life story in the lives of those around us, whether they are family or friends. When it comes time to say, The end, to your life, what accomplishments will your family list in your obituary? What charity will they (or you) choose as a lasting memorial? Have you written down what they need to know? And most importantly, what stories will they remember and tell others about you?

Listen to the love around you. It forms the words of the stories of your life.

Marianne Dyson, November, 2001


WriteSpace, September 2001

Quotable Quote: "There are even children, and I've met some of them, who want to know what a black hole looks like; what is the smallest piece of matter; why we remember the past and not the future and why there IS a universe. Carl Sagan in Introduction to A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.


In this month's issue:

*Question of the Month: "What do I put in a cover letter?"


*Writing Adventures: Outlining the Universe

*** Question of the Month ***

A new children's writer who attended my local critique circle has her first story ready to send to a children's magazine. She asked, "What else do I send with my manuscript? A letter of introduction only? A synopsis? I appreciate whatever information you can give me." Jan B.


You should include a one-page cover letter. Mention that you are a member of SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). [If you want to write for children, you simply must join this organization! Go to and read all about it.] If you are a teacher or parent of children the ages given in the magazine, then mention that also. They want to know that you are familiar with the publication (flattery never hurts!), so if you're a subscriber, say that you love the magazine (mention a particular story if possible). If not, say that you studied some back issues at the library or school and feel that magazine X is the right magazine for this story. Keep it short. Thank them for their consideration, and include SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) for return of the manuscript.

Don't say your critique group loved it or that your mother enjoyed it. Those things may be true, but will sound unprofessional - editors form their own opinions, and those are the only ones that count with them! If you have other publication credits with the magazine group, you should mention those. Also mention if you met any of the editors or staff at a conference.

Magazines are slow to respond - don't take it personally! Three months is common. Be sure to address the letter to the editor by name. [This information is available as part of the Guidelines which are available online for most magazines.] Writers Market at the library has example cover letters.

Good luck, and don't give up!

*** Appearances ***

My next school visit is October 4 in Houston at West University Elementary. On the 20th, I'll be the keynote speaker at The Texas Association for Improvement of Reading conference at UH-CL.

On November 3, I'm attending the SCBWI-Houston conference to hear Newberry winner Richard Peck. For more on this conference, visit Then I'm off to Moore, Oklahoma for a week of school visits.

The next week I get to have breakfast with the Governor of Texas Rick Perry as one of many Texas authors speaking at the Texas Book Festival. If you're going to be in or near Austin on November 17-18, ya'll just have to come to the Festival. Book sales benefit Texas libraries.

*** Writing Adventures ***

Outlining the Universe

I agreed to write a series of five astronomy books for Enslow Publishing. Their subjects are; Stars, Black Holes, Galaxies, the Universe, and Constellations. I have served as a technical reviewer for this Countdown to Space series for several years, so I am familiar with the format, length, and content level of these books. But before I write them, before I can be given a contract and be paid an advance to write them, I must supply outlines.

Outlines! Ugh. I hated doing them in school, and I still hate them. You'd think that after writing nonfiction professionally for a dozen years now, that preparing an outline for a short children's book would be no big deal even if one of the subjects IS the whole giant Universe! Try narrowing that one down to five subtitles.

Don't get me wrong, outlines are a good thing. They help me focus my topic, identify parts that need to be pulled out in sidebars, and determine what complicated explanation could best be replaced with a photo or illustration. They also show my editor where I am headed, so she can redirect my research if it turns out some other book in the series has recently covered that subtopic. So, outlines really are essential to quality nonfiction. But I still hate them!

What I hate most is having to summarize what I'm going to write about before I've written it! And to know what I'm going to write, I have to research all the possible subtopics I MIGHT want to include. I spent the last two weeks alternating between reading books and surfing the web, tracking down experts I can interview for primary sources and reading the latest press releases. I love learning all these new things, but I hate having to rush, rush, rush through the reports. For an outline, I need to skim, not study, and yet, I worry that if I skim, I'll miss some pertinent fact that changes what I want to write.

For example, all the books I read discussed the expanding Universe and how Hubble discovered this in the 1920's. The main question in cosmology ever since Hubble has been whether or not the Universe will expand forever or be slowed down by gravity and collapse in the Big Crunch. The answer was thought to depend on the total mass in the Universe, which astronomers have been busy measuring in various ways for decades. A few years ago, the hot topic of discussion was the existence of dark matter which exerts a gravitational force, but can't be seen. Black holes are a form of dark matter. Enough of this dark matter might be enough to stop the expansion. Surely, this is a subtopic to include in my Universe book outline!

BUT, new data found via press releases this year (too new to be in the books yet), report that the Universe is not expanding at a constant rate or slowing down by gravity, but is ACCELERATING. The rate of expansion is increasing! Whoa, this is unexpected and totally strange. What pushing force is more powerful than the pulling force of gravity? Scientists don't know what this Dark Force might be. It may not matter how much dark matter there is after all. With the Dark Force in power, the Universe is destined to expand forever. The new question in cosmology is what is the Dark Force, and how does it work? Could we learn to use it to float ourselves around and/or bend space to go wherever we want?

I don't know about you, but I want to know more! I want to read every report I can find on this topic, and interview the scientists who are working on the problem. But I can't do that NOW. I have to write this outline! And the writing of the Stars book comes before the Universe book because the contract says so. Wah!

I hate outlines. They force me to do a taste test on my topic, and then when I discover a new dish I just love, they yank it away and tell me I have to wait until after I've done my chores.

Outlines. Sigh. I wonder if my editor knows how hard they are for me to write? Maybe now that I've outlined the whole entire UNIVERSE for heaven's sake (sorry about that pun), the others should be easy. But as I contemplate the outline for the book on Constellations, the information available on the topic seems to be expanding at an increasing rate! How will I ever get it to collapse into five little chapter topics? And what is this cool web site about Mayan constellations.

Wait! I think I know how to defeat the Dark Force! The Dark Force may be stronger than gravity and able to push galaxies around, but my Force is up to the challenge. It is stronger than the pull of curiosity, it is more powerful than the desire to watch the premier of a new show, and even able to ignore the constant yowling of the cat wanting in or out (again). What is this mysterious force? It is called the Deadline! That outline is due next week, and therefore, though no one can explain exactly how this Deadline Force works, the outline will get done.

So, if you are planning a nonfiction article or book and must do an outline, call upon the Deadline Force to get it done. We don't have to like outlines any more than the idea of an accelerating expanding Universe, but these things are not up to us. What is up to us is to write the best outline we can and share our piece of the Universe before it slips out of our reach!

Until next month, keep looking up, there's new information heading our way all the time.

Marianne Dyson, September, 2001


WriteSpace, June 2001

Quotable Quote: "Not walking is a very small thing that you can't do. Everybody has something that they can't do. You have to focus on what you want to do. Set your goals high. Don't let anybody tell you what you can't do. If you have a dream, just keep thinking about it - you'll figure out a way to do it eventually." -- Carl Stewart White, Challenge Air pilot and President of White Engineering, who lost the ability to walk when he was in a motorcycle accident at age 17. [Reprinted from US Kids magazine article by M. Dyson, April/May 1998]

In this month's issue:

*Question of the Month: "Do you have any information about space camps, especially for hearing-impaired children?"

*Appearances: On C-SPAN2/BookTV June 23

*Writing Adventures: The Making of a Moon Rock

*** Question of the Month ***


"Do you have any information about space camps, especially for hearing-impaired children?"


You can find all the information you need on the space camp web site: or by calling their information line. I called 1-800-637-7223 and asked if they have programs for hearing-impaired children. They told me they set aside a special week-long camp each summer for these children. The cost is $699. You can apply for a scholarship by calling the 800 number and askinig for an application. There are camps in three states: Alabama, Florida, and California.

I look forward to the day when any one who wants to can fly into space rather than only those who meet strict physical criteria. With the launch of the first tourist, we are getting a little bit closer.

If you know of a handicapped child who is interested in a free airplane ride, check out They sponsor rides at air shows.

*** Appearances ***

On no, it's summer reruns!

My Space Station Science show is being rebroadcast on C-SPAN2 on June 23 at 2:05 Eastern time. It is also viewable online via the archives on the BookTV website, Click on April 21, and then on "Watch."

Photos from my two library visits in Albuquerque are now posted on my website at: www.mariannedyson/authorschedule.html.

*** Writing Adventures ***

The Making of a Moon Rock

I am currently writing a book called FRONTIER MOON [Retitled to HOME ON THE MOON, published in 2003] for National Geographic children's books. To accompany a chapter about lunar resources, I "cooked up" the idea of creating an edible Moon rock as a science activity.

The first thing I asked myself was what edible substances would best reflect the properties of a Moon rock?

To answer that question, I needed to know what real Moon rocks are made of. I have collected quite a lot of books on the subject, and my two favorite for this topic are Paul Spudis's book, THE ONCE AND FUTURE MOON, and Peter Eckart's THE LUNAR BASE HANDBOOK.

From these and other sources, I learned that there are three basic kinds of Moon rocks; 1) rocks from the maria, 2) rocks from the highlands, and 3) rocks that through impacts, contain some of both.

Maria rocks, called basalts, are almost black, reflecting the presence of the mineral ilmenite which is high in iron and titanium. Highland rocks, called anorthosite, are light-colored and high in calcium and aluminum. Rocks created by asteroids slamming into the Moon's surface are called breccia, and show signs of having been melted.

Because the Moon has been constantly bombarded from space, the most common rocks on the Moon are breccias. To make one of these, my first requirement was that I have a very dark "basalt" ingredient, a light-colored "anorthosite" ingredient, and that these ingredients at least partially melt when the heat of "impact" is applied to them.

The top layer of the Moon has been ground up into a soil called regolith. Some of this regolith gets melted into the breccias during impacts. Although made of similar ingredients as the rocks, the texture is different. I therefore needed a "regolith" ingredient. Also, some bits of the impacting meteorites survive in the rocks, so I needed an "asteroid" ingredient. Finally, I needed a powdery outer layer of Moon dust.

For my dark basalt, I chose chocolate which can be melted into a nice gooey "lava." For the anorthosite, which floated on the "magma ocean" and formed the original crust of the Moon, I chose marshmallows. For the regolith, I decided to use graham crackers which crumble into random bits. My asteroid would be an almond, and for the dust, ground up Rice Krispies.

The proportions were important. The final rock needed to be dark-colored. Also, the rock needed to be hard and solid like a real rock. Ideally, it should be pitted and rough - there is no water on the Moon to make rocks round and smooth.

Another criteria for my science activities is that they be safe for school-aged children to do. I didn't want anyone getting cut or burning themselves! I therefore avoided sharp knives and restricted cooking to a microwave.

I melted the chocolate and marshmallows and then crumbled a graham cracker over them. Then I tried to smash an almond into it using the back of a spoon. The almond slid out of the bowl and shot across the room! A good asteroid, but a mess most parents would not appreciate. I put in another almond and left it whole. I spooned the gooey mess into a ball of sorts, and rolled it in the Rice Krispies.

What a mess! I had used too much sticky marshmallow, and the chocolate was a runny liquid. No amount of chilling in the refrigerator would fix the texture and color. There was nothing to be done but sacrifice it to the hungry teenagers-who-will-eat-anything.

As Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz, said, "Failure is not an option." So this former flight controller licked her fingers and went back to the lab.

For my next trial, I used natural chocolate chips instead of the soft milk chocolate. I reduced the amount of marshmallow. I replaced the almond with a cashew that smashed easily.

This rock was much improved, but it didn't look very "rocky." With the Rice Krispies on the outside, and the graham cracker mixed inside, it was too "brown." Once again I had to sacrifice it to the hungry teenagers-who-will-eat-anything.

Next, I got rid of the graham crackers and used Rice Krispies as the regolith, on the inside and crushed as dust on the outside. This improved the texture and color. However, it didn't taste very good. It wasn't sweet. Once again I had to sacrifice it to the hungry teenagers-who-will-eat-anything.

I searched my cupboards for something that would simulate lunar dust yet add sweetness to the final product. Powdered sugar! I made a new rock and rolled the slightly "molten" ball in the powdered sugar. I ate this one myself!

This activity simulates each of the parts of a lunar breccia - the basalt, the anorthosite, the regolith, the dust, and the hot impact of an asteroid. Once a rock is cooled in the "space" of a refrigerator, the student is directed to chip off a piece for study. It is interesting to see how well the chip reflects the proportions of the ingredients used. This demonstrates the reason why scientists need more samples.

My hungry teenagers-who-will-eat-anything are begging for more samples, too. (I did make them a few of the final version!) But there are no new trips to the Moon planned until 2003, and no plans for human missions at all. I am hoping that will change as the space station is completed. Maybe books such as FRONTIER MOON (hopefully including my recipe for Moon Rocks) will also help inspire new investigations of rich lunar resources.

In the meantime, have fun experimenting in your own home laboratory. But please, watch out for asteroidal almonds!

Marianne Dyson, June 22, 2001


WriteSpace, May 2001

Quotable Quote: "From what I know about impacts, sooner or later, we're going to get taken out. � If you take a look at the probabilities of an impact or super volcano on planet earth, the chances are 1 in 667 that in the next 50 years we'll take a hit from an asteroid that's either a kilometer or larger, or have a super volcano. � That's pretty high risk for taking out the species or setting civilization back 10,000 years. So, I sincerely believe that making progress in the exploration of space is the key to our future in this world. The exploration of space is what it is all about. I say, "Let's get on with it." We may not have a whole lot of time." ---

Astronaut John Young, speaking at the International Space Development Conference, May 25, 2001.

In this month's issue:

*Question of the Month: Why don't they use magnets to dock the shuttle to the space station?

*Appearances: More photos posted online

*Writing Adventures: Noting STS-1

*** Question of the Month ***

During an author visit on May 4, a student at Sienna Crossing Elementary asked, "Why don't they use magnets to dock the shuttle to the space station?"


The space shuttle docks with the International Space Station using 12 titanium hooks arranged in a circle around the hatch. (There is an activity on page 15 of Space Station Science for students to practice rendezvous and docking.) Titanium is a very strong metal which is important because the hooks have to hold two 200,000 pound vehicles together while the engines fire to raise the orbit. In space, the two "ships" are weightless, but they retain their mass. The force required to move an object depends on its mass and acceleration (speed). Therefore, if we wanted to use magnets, they would have to be powerful enough to keep the ships from being yanked apart when one or the other fired its engines. This would require a huge and heavy magnet which is not practical for the space station. It is not practical because it costs a lot of energy to lift mass to orbit. Titanium hooks don't weigh much at all for the amount of mass they can hold.

An Experiment: Try sticking two magnets together vertically such that one is holding the other "up." Then tape or tie (using a magnet with a hole in the center works) a plastic bag to the bottom magnet. Add coins to the bag one by one. How much mass (measured by weight on Earth) can a magnet hold before it breaks free of the magnet above it? Do the coins weigh much more than the magnet itself? Titanium hooks can hold at least 1,000 times their own weight.

Also, permanent magnets, such as iron bars, would not work for docking because they are only one-way - how would the ships be pulled apart after they stuck together? To solve that problem, electromagnets would be used. These magnets are created by having an electric current passed through them. The direction of the current can be changed so that the magnets on the two ships would attract for docking and repulse for undocking. However, it takes a lot of electricity to power electromagnets, and it would have to be on the whole time the ships were docked. Titanium hooks only need a little power to run the motors during docking and undocking.

One last consideration is that having powerful magnets on the space station or space shuttle could be a danger to the computers onboard. Permanent computer memory is magnetic, and having a big magnet there could erase that memory. (See the Data By Bits chapter, pages 35-38 of Space Station Science for more information. About memory.)

So, because of weight, power, and computer considerations, the space station and space shuttle use titanium hooks rather than magnets for docking.

Wasn't that a great question!

*** Appearances ***

My "show" on C-SPAN2 on April 21 is available online via the BookTV website, Click on April 21, and then on "Watch."

I was on Radio Disney on Sunday, May 20. The actual interview occurred on April 27, which explains why I said there was a shuttle crew visiting, and that Dennis Tito had not yet flown to the station. I thought I'd mention that here in case you heard the broadcast and wondered why I was so behind on my space news!

PHOTOS from my visits to Beth Yeshurun (April 25), Sienna Crossing (May 4), Kidfest (May 12), and Brazos Bend (May 16) are now posted on my website.

I also posted a photo of me getting my Brown Belt in Kuk Sool Won, a Korean Martial Art that I've been learning for about 3 years now.

I have a few photos from my two library visits in Albuquerque which are not yet developed.

Upcoming visits by Marianne Dyson:

I am taking a break from appearances for the summer in order to focus on writing Frontier Moon for National Geographic.

I am already booking a few appearances for the next school year, though. I recently accepted invitations from schools in Moore, Oklahoma the first week in November. If you are interested in having me visit your conference, special event, school, or library, please check out my web site:


*** Writing Adventures ***

Noting STS-1

I was asked to share my experience as a flight controller at the STS-1 anniversary luncheon at the International Space Development Conference in Albuquerque. (STS-1 stands for Space Transportation System flight number one, in other words, the first space shuttle flight.)

I was a bit nervous about being a "warm up" speaker for (Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle) astronaut John Young, who was the Commander of that flight. He is well known for his wry sense of humor and focus on the future. I expected he would give a few anecdotes from the flight and then talk about upcoming challenges (see quote above). I therefore decided to give an overview of the mission and explain what tests we were monitoring from Mission Control in Houston.

The flight launched 20 years ago, on Sunday, April 12, 1981. My position was called Timeline. I was one of about 10 people in the "back" or support room of the Flight Activities Officer (FAO). (I was a timeliner for 3 flights and then was promoted to FAO for flight 4, becoming one of the first ten women to work in the "front" room - the one seen on TV.)

I showed the summary timeline from the flight and talked about the procedures I worked on which included Launch Day Deorbit and Loss of 2 Freon Loops Deorbit (that one was turned into a science fiction story: "Fireworks in Orbit," published in Analog in 1990). I got a laugh when I said that my first book was entitled, "Post Insertion," and that these folks (aerospace workers and space enthusiasts) would be the only ones that would understand that I wasn't a romance writer. (For you non-aerospace workers, post insertion is the phase of flight after ascent and before orbit.)

One of the most important tests for the first flight was the opening of the payload bay doors. We had never flown a vehicle with big doors like that. We weren't sure if they would warp from the forces of launch or the extreme temperatures in space. The inside of the doors contain radiator panels used to cool the shuttle systems. For launch and entry, the shuttle sprays ammonia, and then water across the freon loops (pipes) to cool the systems. We had a limited amount of water onboard, so if we hadn't gotten the doors opened, we would have had to bring the shuttle home on launch day. We had tested my launch day deorbit procedures in simulators, but I sure didn't want to use them for a real flight!

The doors opened beautifully, and the radiators deployed and cooled the freon loops just as they had been designed to do. But it was during the door opening that we had our biggest scare of the flight: the pilot, Robert Crippen (we called him "Crip") reported that there were tiles missing from the OMS (orbital maneuvering system) pods. It got extremely quiet in Mission Control. The tiles were a new technology designed to keep the shuttle cool during re-entry. Previous space vehicles had used what are called ablative coatings that burn off during entry. The tiles instead act as insulators and do not burn off. Unlike old space vehicles which were used for only one mission each, the shuttle flies again and again. The tiles were part of its new reusable systems.

However, aluminum burns at a fairly low temperature (I think about 300 degrees). A spaceship passing through Earth's atmosphere is heated to thousands of degrees. If tiles were missing off the bottom of Columbia (the name of the first shuttle), then it could burn through the aluminum skin and equipment could fail - possibly even killing the crew. [This is sadly what actually happened to Columbia in 2003.]

There was not much we could do in Mission Control except pray and be prepared with procedures to deal with failed equipment. We spent the second day in flight practicing entry procedures and testing the equipment. Everything worked so well, we had only 6 switch changes to make to the entry checklist. Then it was time to come home.

The flight was before we had TDRS (the tracking data relay satellites - see pages 44-45 of Space Station Science), so we lost communications with the crew during entry for about 15 minutes. It was a very tense time. When they emerged safely from blackout, there was a cheer in Mission Control. Cigars were lit in celebration. (It was still legal to smoke in government buildings back then!) The tiles had worked, nothing had failed, and the entry and landing in California were watched by half a million people.

I am very proud of having played a small part in the beginning of the space shuttle program. Little did I know that 20 years later, I would be giving a speech about it at a banquet in Albuquerque and sitting next to the mission Commander, John Young. He asked me how I remembered all those details, and I told him, "I'm a writer, I wrote things down!" Thanks goodness I had, because otherwise, it would have been a very dull speech.

If you plan to be a writer, I encourage you to keep records - photos, mementos - and write down your impressions of events as they happen. You may not consider your graduation from elementary school historical, but when you are president someday, or perhaps just a writer trying to recall what it was like to be that age in that year, those notes will be valuable.

So, enjoy your history as it happens, and I'll see you again next month!

Marianne Dyson, May 31, 2001


WriteSpace, April 2001

Quotable Quote: "If you ask people in this country about exploring space, I think you'll get a unanimous decision that yes, we need to do this." Expedition 2 Astronaut Susan Helms speaking at a press conference 2-28-01. Currently orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes.

In this month's issue:

*Question of the Month: When were you (astronauts) first interested in space?

*Appearances: Marianne on C-SPAN2 on April 21

*Writing Adventures: Stars in my Pocket

*** Question of the Month ***

The students in Ms. Franklin's 4th grade class at Kennard Elementary school in Centreville, Maryland (the kids in the audience of my BookTV appearance) asked me to relay their question to the space station's Expedition 2 crew during a press conference I attended at Johnson Space Center, 2-28-01. Their question to the crew was, "When were you first interested in space?"


Astronaut Susan Helms - "I got interested after I saw one of these IMAX movies, the 'Dream is Alive.' [Note from Marianne - you can see this movie at Space Center Houston!] Before then, I didn't have a clue what people were doing off of the planet. I knew a lot of what was going on in the Air Force, but not the space part of it. After that movie was when my interest really took root. I was probably 26 when I saw that movie.

Astronaut Jim Voss - "That's because Susan is so young! I became interested in space by reading science fiction books before we had a space program, and then when we started having one, I thought it would be a wonderful thing to do. When NASA finally created a program - the mission specialists' program - in the shuttle program - I started applying then. I had always thought it would be a wonderful thing if I could do it."

Russian Cosmonaut (Expedition 2 Commander) Yuri Usachev - "I started to think about the spacee program maybe 10 years, 12, ago, when I started to work in Energia Company [this is the equivalent to our Boeing - the prime contractor for the Russian Spaace Agency]. 25-30 years ago it was difficult to dream that you can be a cosmonaut because.. just some modules in space with very strong, very smart people. We tried to learn more and to know more about space program, about life in space, and then [I came to] understand you can do that."

*** Appearances ***

Marianne to Appear on C-SPAN2 on April 21!

As I mentioned last month, BookTV taped my Space Station Science program during a school visit to Kennard Elementary in Centreville, MD on March 21. The show will broadcast on C-SPAN2 Saturday, April 21 at 8 AM and noon Eastern time. If you don't get this channel, tapes can be ordered by calling 877-ON-CSPAN. Or, you can watch it live on the Internet (and I'm told, via the archive for a month or so afterwards). Just go to:

Please note that they don't edit these programs, so what you will see is just what the kids saw - an hour-long program including science demonstrations about the International Space Station. Think of it as a home video, and you won't be disappointed!

I was rather nervous and upon listening to my audio tape afterwards noticed I erroneously called the rocket which took Zvezda up a Progress instead of a Proton. Then during the questions, I said the length was 359 feet - that is the width of the station! I also said Tito paid $10 million, and I realized via news later that week that he paid $20 million. I'm telling you this so that you know I have the correct information for future programs, and so you can tell anyone you watch this with the right answers for me!

PHOTOS from my visits to Sherman, Texas; 29Palms, California; the Hudson River Museum in New York; and the Scarsdale, New York Girl Scouts are now posted on my website at:

Upcoming visits by Marianne Dyson:

April 25, Beth Yeshurun School in Houston, TX

May 4, Sienna Crossing Elementary in Sugarland, TX

May 16, Brazos Bend Elementary in Sugarland, TX

May 26, Albuquerque Main Library and the International Space Development Conference in Albuquerque, NM

*** Writing Adventures ***

Stars in my Pocket

This month, I got a call from an editor at National Geographic asking me to do a technical review of a pocket guide on stars and planets. They published this book a few years ago for members of the National Geographic Society only. Now they are planning to update and publish it for the general market, so they asked me if I would like to check things such as the current number of moons for Jupiter. Not being one to turn down an offer to get paid to read an astronomy book, I took the job!

I have done many reviews like this, and I always learn something new while checking facts. Some facts are harder to verify than others. The number of moons for Jupiter was easy: 28. But where do you find the number of galaxies in the Local Group? My favorite astronomy textbook, George Abell's Exploration of the Universe, is still a great reference for many things, but it is OLD. Back in 1969, they counted only 17 galaxies as the Milky Way's neighbors. I checked my more current books and found "about 30" quoted in the mid-1990's.

Then I got on the Internet. I found a terrific web site:

I clicked on Galaxies, and then on Andromeda (our sister galaxy), and then on Local Group, and got this long list of not 17, not 30, but 45! galaxies (plus a bunch of candidates) in our Local Group. With all these "new" neighbors, next thing you know, they'll be moving the Sun to widen some intergalactic expressway.

I never get tired of learning new things about this fantastic universe we live in. I'm thankful that as a writer, I have a chance to share what I learn with you. So, if you have any questions about space, please send me an e-mail.

Until next month, keep looking up, the stars are closer than you think!

Marianne Dyson, April 18, 2001


WriteSpace, March 2001

Quotable Quote: "The only perfectly safe mission is the one that never gets launched." Paul Spudis, author of The Once and Future Moon.

In this month's issue:

* Question of the Month: Will NASA build space stations on planets?

* Appearances: Marianne to be on BookTV (C-SPAN2)

* Writing Adventures: Marianne becomes an Enslow author


***Question of the Month***

Annie K, a fourth grader at Pleasant Ridge School in

Glenview, Illinois, asked, "Is it true that NASA or anybody else will build space stations on planets?"

A space station is a place to live in space itself, not on the surface of a planet or moon. The first outposts on planets are likely to be called bases. NASA may use space station modules to build these bases. If so, the modules would have to be changed to work in a gravity field. In the weightless environment of space, you don't need a floor or a place to wipe your feet!

Unfortunately, the United States government has not approved any money for NASA to build a base on the Moon or Mars. I don't know of any other country that has immediate plans for sending humans to the Moon or Mars either. Japan and Europe (the European countries pool their money to do space projects via the European Space Agency) have robotic missions planned. The Chinese are planning to fly their first humans into space soon. They do their planning in secret, but rumors say that they plan to send people to the Moon eventually. I keep hoping that NASA will be given money to return people to the Moon - and finally land the first woman there!


Marianne to be on BookTV (C-SPAN2):

My school visit to Kennard Elementary in Centreville, MD on March 21 is being taped by BookTV for broadcast on their show 6-8 weeks later (probably in May). The art teachers are busy preparing decorations for the stage, and my fourth grade hostess is practicing her speech to introduce me. I'm busy replacing some of my transparencies with sharper images and fine-tuning my experiment equipment. I even got my hair cut!

More information about BookTV is available on the C-SPAN web site. Their children's book programs are every Saturday at 8 AM and noon. The web site is

While in Maryland, I'll also be visiting another school, and two libraries. If you live in the Baltimore/DC area and don't mind a drive, come and join us!

The week after my trip to Maryland, I'll be heading to New York's Hudson River Museum as a guest for Astronomy Day, April 1 - no joke! The public is invited. Then I'll be helping some Girl Scouts in Scarsdate earn their aerospace badges. Should be a "blast!"

For contact and addresses of appearance locations, check my web site schedule page:

Also, note my new Photo Gallery. If you attended one of my presentations, you might be in the audience!

*** Writing Adventures***

Marianne becomes an Enslow author:

For several years, I've been a series advisor for Enslow's "Countdown to Space" series of library books. (Library books have a special binding to make them last. That is why they are more expensive for the same length book, though the Enslow books will be available for order through book stores and online.) The editor suggested that I should write some of these books instead of reviewing them, and I agreed! I will be doing five books, all on deep space topics, for publication in 2003. That will be a banner year for me, because that is the year that my National Geographic book about the Moon is also scheduled for release.

Right now I am deep into research about the Moon. I will be interviewing scientists and hopefully an Apollo astronaut to find out more about how the Moon formed, and who ate all the green cheese <g>!

Until next month, keep looking up, the stars are closer than you think.

Marianne Dyson, March 12, 2001

More Information

My publications are available on Amazon. Please use the link below to find a complete listing:

Books By Marianne Dyson on AMAZON

2003 WriteSpace topics: How long should a middle-grade and YA book be? What made the last space shuttle blow up? Why put aluminum foil on the end of antennas? Space University (being a writer & consultant); The Myth of the Rich Author (how much authors make); A Final Mistake (last-minute editing). Read 2003 WriteSpace Issues.

2002 WriteSpace topics: What is the space station crew size? What is work-for-hire? Have your books been based on your experiences? Bald Cats and Writing (writing workshop experience); How Long it Takes to Write a Book (having series cancelled); Giving and Receiving the but-ended�Compliment (critique groups). Read 2002 WriteSpace Issues.

2001 WriteSpace topics: Could you give me some tips on what to write about? What do I put in a cover letter? Do you have any information about space camps, especially for hearing-impaired children? Why don't they use magnets to dock the shuttle to the space station?; When were you (astronauts) first interested in space? Will NASA build space stations on planets? The End (writing an obituary); Outlining the Universe; The Making of a Moon Rock (creating an activity); Noting STS-1 (recording history); Stars in my Pocket (technical reviewing); Marianne becomes an Enslow author (signing up for a series). Read 2001 WriteSpace Issues.

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