Clean (Spacecraft) Air

Marianne Dyson, August 2018

With no air in space, lungs empty like popped balloons. Blood boils, turning people into giant bruises. Eyes pop and eardrums burst. Yuck!

People must have air. We need it to breathe, and we need its pressure on us so air and liquids inside us don’t escape. We also need the right mix of gases to stay healthy and avoid fires in space.

Providing clean spacecraft air for a three-year round trip to Mars is quite a challenge, but one we are learning how to meet thanks to the experience gained on the International Space Station. To help others (especially you science fiction writers out there!) understand and appreciate that there is more to the life support system than worrying about the Klingons causing a hull breach, I’m sharing a slightly edited excerpt from my children’s book, Space Station Science (which you can order via Amazon or my website).

Bring Your Own Air

At the beginning of the space program, NASA filled spaceships with pure oxygen—the only gas people need to breathe. But during an Apollo 1 training session, the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere caused a fire to spread so fast that the three-man crew was killed in a matter of seconds. After that tragedy, NASA began mixing the oxygen with nitrogen during ground tests. Nitrogen slows fires, and people are used to breathing nitrogen and oxygen because natural air is four parts nitrogen to one part oxygen.

Station modules are launched with natural air inside. This air quickly grows stale and gradually escapes. It must be replaced. The nitrogen and oxygen for space station air are hauled to space from Earth. In order to fit in smaller tanks, these gases are chilled into liquids. The liquids are warmed to gas again before being released into the modules.

The Russians use a system called Elektron to turn wastewater into oxygen. Water is about 90 percent oxygen by weight. Electricity separates the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen goes into the cabin. Hydrogen is dangerous. A leak into the cabin could cause an explosion. Therefore the hydrogen is vented overboard.

Oxygen and nitrogen are stored in tanks in the Progress resupply ships or mounted outside the air lock. Tank valves open like little doors, “inflating” the station when the air pressure inside drops below a certain level.

When guests visit, more fresh air is needed. But astronauts can’t open a window to get it. When the space shuttle visited, hoses with air holes were snaked through the tunnels and hatches. The hoses transferred oxygen from the shuttle’s cabin to the station’s modules. Just before a shuttle departed, it “puffed up” the station with an extra shot of air.

The Russian Soyuz, a much smaller vehicle, does not carry extra air like the space shuttles did. When it brings visitors to the station, the Russians use portable solid fuel oxygen generators to provide the extra air needed. These generators were first developed for submarines and were used on the Mir space station. Like portable heaters, each generator sits in the aisle of a module. Cosmonauts insert a chemical candle that “smokes” oxygen for 5 to 20 minutes. These generators get very hot, and twice started fires on Mir. The crew were not hurt either time, but because of the risk, the generators are used only during visits and as a backup system on the station.

Keeping It Clean

Replacing oxygen and nitrogen is not enough. People breathe in oxygen but breathe out carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is poisonous. It can cause sickness and death even if there is enough oxygen in the air with it. On Earth, plants absorb it. In space, chemicals do the job.

Space suits use canisters of a chemical called lithium hydroxide to absorb carbon dioxide. The space shuttles also used these canisters. Like a litter box used by many cats, these canisters must be changed often. New ones must be stored and full ones thrown away. Enough canisters to supply the station between cargo supply visits would fill an entire module. So the station has a reusable air-scrubbing system. The Russian system is called Vozdukh, and the American one is called the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly (CDRA, pronounced see-drah).

Air Filtration System Diagram: About every 2.5 hours, the valves and heaters in the CDRA change to the opposite position. This forces the air to flow over a fresh zeolite bed. Diagram by Dave Klug from page 27, Space Station Science, © Marianne Dyson.

With no up and down, hot air does not rise. So station fans constantly stir it. Dust and debris collect on fan screens and filters.

After filtering, the fans blow the station’s air across beds of a chemical called zeolite, which is often used in fertilizers. The carbon dioxide in the air sticks to the zeolite while the oxygen and nitrogen sail on through. When a zeolite bed gets “soaked” with carbon dioxide, the airflow to it is shut off. The bed is heated, releasing the carbon dioxide overboard. Once all the carbon dioxide is gone, the zeolite bed is cooled, the airflow is turned back on, and the cycle starts over again.

Note: maintaining the CDRA system has proven quite challenging for space station astronauts as described in Scott Kelly’s book, Endurance, which I highly recommend.

Water vapor from breathing, washing, and sweating also must be removed from the air. Otherwise, it fogs windows and allows mold to grow.

To remove water from the air, the station uses a system that works like a dehumidifier on Earth. Fans blow the humid air over chilled water pipes. The water condenses onto the pipes like it does on glasses of iced tea. In Earth dehumidifiers, these drops naturally slide down into a collector tray. In the free-fall environment of space, spinning is needed to force the water to flow into a collector. This water is not wasted. It is stored in a tank and recycled for drinking and oxygen production. [End edited excerpt of Space Station Science.]

What combination of systems will astronauts headed to Mars use to keep their air fresh and clean? Whatever systems are chosen, they must operate for the entire time that astronauts are away from Earth—about three years for a round trip to Mars. 

Writing about Space

The Callahan Kids: Tales of Life on Mars is going out of print at the end of August. The stories are forever, but the company that sponsored the anthology which has two of my stories (“Martian Mice” and “Dropping the Martian Ball”) has gone out of business. The eBook book targeted at upper elementary and middle-school kids is now only 99 cents on Amazon. The print book is $9.99 on Amazon, but only $9.00 if you use my coupon code via CreateSpace. See my Book Orders page right-hand column for the code. You may also order a signed copy from me through my website.

An excerpt of my memoir, A Passion for Space, describing my experiences as a flight controller during the first space shuttle launch, will be included in the FenCon 2018 Program Book this September. Register to attend to get your copy!

My next book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic with art by Bruce Foster, is available for preorder now from Amazon. Look for it in stores everywhere on October 16.

Speaking about Space

Teachers, librarians, and event organizers, please consider me for Author Visits. Writers and publishers, I offer science consulting, content and technical editing.

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

September 29, Attending SCBWI Houston conference. Come and get a special pop-up book mark for To the Moon and Back from artist Bruce Foster.

October 2, Instructor for first class of Women and Space course at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

October 12, Featured speaker on Friday 11 to noon at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Reno, Nevada.

See my contact page for a complete appearance schedule and photos from previous events.

Triangles to Mars

Marianne Dyson, July 2018

At the end of July, Mars will be its brightest in 15 years because it will be only 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) away. Since no one has ever been to Mars, how do we know this distance so precisely?

Triangles! If the length of one side and two angles of a triangle are known, the length of the other sides can be calculated. Way back in 1673, Giovanni Cassini (1625-1712) used this knowledge of triangles to estimate the distance to Mars. This method is called parallax. [Ref: A Teacher’s Guide to the Universe: Background: Parallax.]

Half the distance (R in the diagram) between two locations on Earth is the known (opposite) side of the parallax triangle. One angle is 90 degrees. The other angle is found by observing the object from the two locations (Cassini in Paris and fellow astronomer Jean Richer in French Guiana in 1673). From the two locations (1 and 2 in the diagram), the object appears in a slightly different place in the sky (A and B in diagram) defined by the distant background stars. The difference in position reveals the angle (ɵ in the diagram). Plugging the known distance and measured angle into the tangent equation*, the answer for D is revealed.

Parallax Shift
The distance (D) to a planet or star can be found by observing it from two locations (1 & 2) whose separation (R) is known, and then determining the angle (ɵ) between the observed position in the sky using distant background stars (A and B). Credit: NASA.

*The tangent of ɵ equals the length of the opposite side (R) divided by the length of the adjacent side (D) which is the distance. Because the angle is very small, the tangent is approximately equal to the angle. So the equation simplifies to D (in parsecs) equals R (in Astronomical Units) divided by ɵ (in arc seconds).

The farther away an object is, the “taller” the triangle and the smaller the angle, making it difficult to measure very accurately. Thus parallax measurements to planets are easier when the planet is at opposition, on the same side of the sun as Earth. Mars opposition occurs every 26 months. But the orbit of Mars is an ellipse. So the closest to Earth Mars can get is when opposition is near periapsis—when Mars is closest to the sun. Opposition and periapsis coincide every 15 years, and 2018 is one of those years.

An Alternate History

The years when opposition and periapsis coincide are also the best years, in terms of fuel and time spent in transit, to send spacecraft to Mars. Back in 1990, I wrote a science fiction story about a group of astronauts preparing for a trip to Mars this year so that they would take the first steps on Mars before the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon. I rediscovered this manuscript (it was not in digital form!) in my closet recently and am in the process of turning it into an alternate history novel.

So when I go out to view Mars later this month, I’ll be imagining my crew on their way there this summer. If they had followed the trajectory of InSight that launched on May 5, they’d be arriving on Mars on Monday, November 26. [Ref: Planetary Society.] But to reduce radiation exposure, they would likely have launched on May 18, “passed” InSight en route, and would be arriving on Mars on September 10, 2018. Would that day become a holiday on Mars?

Imagine if the current crew of six (which includes only one woman) up on the International Space Station were instead on their way to Mars. Would they be worried about the global Martian dust storm in progress right now?  Would every kid in the country know everything there is to know about their planned landing area in Isidis Planitia? I can almost hear my young self proudly telling my mom that this part of Mars was named after the Egyptian goddess of heaven and fertility.

Mars in the Teapot

Though no humans are yet scheduled to travel to Mars, at least we have learned how to measure the distance and send spacecraft there. InSight is a pretty cool little spacecraft, too. It has a probe that is a self-hammering mechanism that will pound itself into the ground, up to 16 feet (5 meters). It relays data back via its tether to the lander. What might it find under the surface?

So later this month, look for Mars in the southeast evening sky near the Sagittarius “teapot.” Mars will be glowing orange below and to the left of the teapot with yellow Saturn above the top. Saturn was at opposition on June 27. How far is it to Saturn? If you have a good telescope, and a friend on the other side of the planet, you can figure it out yourself using triangles. Or you can just Google the answer!

Writing about Space

My guest editorial on Gender Parity is in the July/August issue of Analog. You can read it free online, but you might want to subscribe so you can read my fact article “In Defense of the Planet” in the upcoming Nov/Dec issue. I also did a Q&A with the magazine that should be posted later this month on the Astounding Analog Companion.

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 in October.

Speaking about Space

I offer programs for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. Please consider me for Author Visits.

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

September 29, Attending SCBWI Houston conference.

October 2, Instructor for first class of Women and Space course at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

October 12, Featured speaker on Friday at noon at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Reno, Nevada.

See my contact page for a complete appearance schedule and photos from previous events.

Alan Bean: First Artist on the Moon

Marianne Dyson, June 2018

Apollo 12 Astronaut and Artist Alan Bean who died on May 26, 2018, kindly granted an interview to this former flight controller who was considering a new career as a children’s writer back in 1994. After all these years, I find his words still inspiring, and I hope you will also.

The May 1994 issue of Odyssey Magazine included my interview and photo of Alan Bean. Photo © Marianne Dyson.
The May 1994 issue of Odyssey Magazine included my interview and photo of Alan Bean. Photo ©Marianne Dyson.

First Artist on the Moon: An Interview with Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean

by Marianne J. Dyson

As a boy growing up in Texas, Alan Bean fell in love with flying. He built precise model planes and hung them from the ceiling of his room, “like birds dressed up for a party in shiny decals and brightly colored paints.” Through a determination to always do his best, Bean became a Navy pilot and then a NASA astronaut. In November 1969, he stepped out of the Apollo 12 lunar module and became the fourth man to walk on the moon. He returned to space in 1973 as Commander of Skylab 3, the world’s first space station. Although he has not returned to space for over two decades, he returns often, in spirit. Bean left NASA in 1981 to pursue a new career as a space artist. He recently took out from work on his latest painting at his home studio in Houston, Texas, to talk with ODYSSEY.

The switch from being a test pilot and astronaut to being an artist could be called the ultimate career change. Was the transition difficult?

Well, being a test pilot and an astronaut is a lot more dangerous. You have to have intense training and a certain personality and work habits to be successful and survive. That’s not the case in art, where anyone can create what they feel is art. However, it takes longer to be a good artist. It took me about six years from the time I became an astronaut until I felt I was a really good astronaut. It’s taken me 12 years until I felt I was a really good artist.

You’ve ridden rockets to the moon and walked in space and received all kinds of recognition and awards for those achievements—how do those thrills compare to the rewards you get as an artist?

They’re really about the same. I think the feeling of a job well done on a daily basis, no matter what the job is, is one of the most important things that a person can feel to have a happy life. Awards come from time to time, but effort comes on a daily basis.

I have heard that there is real moon dust in your paintings. Is that true?

I wanted to put moondust in them, but I didn’t have any moon rocks; the government has all of those. But one day I realized NASA gave me the patches from my suit—the NASA patch, the American flag, the Apollo 12 patch. They were dirty with moondust, so not I cut up those patches into little bits and I sprinkle them around in the paintings. There are minute quantities [of the patches and moondust] in all of them.

Which painters that ODYSSEY readers might be familiar with have influenced your work?

American painters Charles Russell and Frederick Remington have inspired me. French artist Claude Monet is my favorite artist. When you look at Remington’s and Russell’s paintings, you can figure out the story they’re telling of a frontier and adventures that occurred on it. If I want to tell the story of this [space] frontier, I’ve go to be able to paint my spaceships as well as they painted their horses; I’ve got to be able to paint my astronauts as well as they painted cowboys and Indians. Now, Moment doesn’t tell stories as well, but he does things that are beautiful to look at. I try to combine some of Remington’s and Russell’s storytelling and realism with some of Monet’s color variety and beauty in my work.

Imagine that in 50 years, you’re still alive and our nation builds an art museum on the moon. What would you say if people ask to name it after you?

I’d say it would be very appropriate because I am the first artist to have painted the moon. Maybe some day they will have an art museum on the moon, and I hope they have a painting or two of mine in there. I’ve never really thought about it. But I think someday it will happen.

END published interview

I still have the audio cassette tape of this interview which of course had to be significantly cut to fit on two pages in a children’s magazine. Not included in the article is perhaps my favorite quote of Alan Bean: “The moon is gray, but I have the desire in my heart to paint these beautiful colors.”

In the yet-unfinished [in May 1994] painting of the moon, the artist [Alan Bean] uses a cathedral of colors similar to those he thinks Monet, his favorite artist, might have used. Photo © Marianne Dyson shown as published in Odyssey Magazine.
In the yet-unfinished [in May 1994] painting of the moon, the artist [Alan Bean] uses a cathedral of colors similar to those he thinks Monet, his favorite artist, might have used. Photo ©Marianne Dyson shown as published in Odyssey Magazine.
I sent him a copy of the magazine after it was published and included a sonnet that he inspired me to write. To honor his advice to put in the effort required to become a “good” writer, I chose the most difficult form of a poem I could think of, one that requires precise rhythm, meter, word choice, and rhyme: a Petrarchan sonnet. (This poem is included in Space Poems.)

The Artist's Moon

a Petrarchan sonnet by Marianne Dyson


The moon is gray, but not for those still free -

to dare the red of love, to stroke the sky

with flaming orange and silver ships that fly

beyond the pallid dawn of history.

The dreamers' moon is cast in rosy light,

a canvas bright with crystal beads and hopes

that lure the spirit high upon its ancient slopes

and paint its hills with hues of future sight.


The hero's brush disturbs the settled lust

of youthful goals, long patient human souls

who yearn with passion's palette for the day

they thrust aside the current veil of dust

and see creation's art, a mural whole

with fingerprints of God in lunar gray.

Writing about Space

Analog readers, watch for my guest editorial on Gender Parity 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 in October.

Speaking about Space

I offer programs for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. Please consider me for Author Visits.

After a talk with students at Laredo Public Library on May 15, 2018, I was interviewed by Telemundo TV. The clip aired during the local evening news. Photo by Rick Carrillo.
After a talk with students at Laredo Public Library on May 15, 2018, I was interviewed by Telemundo TV. The clip aired during the local evening news. Photo by Rick Carrillo.

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.

October 2, Instructor for first class of Women and Space course at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

October 12, Featured speaker on Friday at noon at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Reno, Nevada.

See my contact page for a complete appearance schedule and photos from previous events.

Slowing Down from Space

Marianne Dyson May, 2018

Many people mistakenly think that there is no gravity in space, and thus all that’s needed to reach space is to attain a certain altitude. But this is NOT true! Earth’s gravity at the surface is defined as 1g. A simple calculation* shows that the gravity at 200 miles (320 km) altitude is 90 percent of what it is on the surface, or 0.9g.

The reason spacecraft stay in orbit is not because there isn’t any gravity, but because they have attained the speed necessary to balance gravity’s pull. They must go up high enough to avoid running into mountains and the upper atmosphere which would slow them down.

A bit of algebra** proves that the velocity required to stay in an orbit does not depend on the mass of the object, only the mass of Earth and the object’s distance from the center of Earth. For orbits of 200 miles up, the speed is 17,500 mph (28,200 kph). (Note, it takes more energy to speed up a larger mass, but the speed that must be attained is the same.)

To drop to a lower orbit or return to Earth, a spacecraft doesn’t just “step off” a platform in the sky: it must slow down. This happens naturally over time because, though thin, the Earth’s atmosphere extends far into space. This is what happened to Skylab and more recently, to the Chinese space station. To stay in orbit, spacecraft must be periodically boosted.

The key to a safe return from space is to slow down, and slow down gradually.

Slowing down begins by flipping the spacecraft so that the engines are pointed forward, into the direction of travel. To slow down completely would require about the same amount of fuel as it took to reach orbital speed in the first place. On an airless world like the Moon, that is the only way to slow down. But because of Earth’s atmosphere, spacecraft need only fire their engines enough to slip into the atmosphere and then let friction do the rest.

But friction between objects at high speed produces a lot of heat. (Try rubbing your thumb and finger together slowly and then faster and note the difference in heat.) Meteors enter the atmosphere at very high speeds and quickly turn into fireballs. To avoid a similar fate, spacecraft use heat shields to protect the hull and crew. Heat shields can be made of what are called ablative materials such as used during Apollo that burn off and take heat with them; or they may take the form of insulating tiles such as were used on the space shuttles. (Damage to the heat shield is what caused the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia.)

space shuttle
The space shuttle orbiter was covered with tiles to insulate the aluminum skin underneath from the high temperatures produced by the friction of passing through the Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds. Image: Lockheed Martin.

Once the spacecraft has passed through the upper atmosphere and lost much of its speed to heat, it is still going very fast. Unless it slows down more, it will hit the surface like a speeding car crashing into a wall. To slow down further, winged craft like the space shuttle increase their time in the lower atmosphere by executing “S” turns and then deploying parachutes after touchdown. Capsules like the Russian Soyuz use parachutes while still in the air and fire retrorockets just before touchdown.

So when it comes time to return to Earth from your trip in space, remember to slow down!

cups
Prove that heavy objects do NOT fall faster than light ones, but compact objects DO. Take two identical plastic containers with lids. Put a flashlight battery in one. Seal and drop them both. They hit the floor at the same time. Then take two identical sheets of paper. Crumple one and leave the other flat. Drop them. The compact one hits first. If you did this experiment on the Moon, they would strike at the same time. (Watch an Apollo demonstration.) The speed of falling does not depend on mass. In an atmosphere, objects with more surface area fall more slowly than compact objects.

*The equation for gravity is g=G x M/D² where G is a constant, M is mass, and D is the distance. GM/D² for the surface divided by GM/D² for 200 miles up ends up with all terms except D cancelling out, i.e. 4000×4000/4200×4200=0.9.

**For calculating orbital velocity (v=√GM/r) see Gravitation Calculating Orbital Velocity of a Satellite, Step-by-Step Science.

 

 

Writing about Space

Analog readers, watch for my guest editorial on Gender Parity 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 in October.

Speaking about Space

I offer programs for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. Please consider me for Author Visits.

Nevada Space Center
I was inducted into the Nevada Space Center Hall of Fame on May 5, 2018. Prior to the evening event, I received a T-shirt from Challenger Center Flight Director Jenny McFarlane and former NASA Flight Director Paul Dye. Photo: Nevada Space Center.

Saturday, May 12, 1:00-4:30 PM. Speaking on “How to Publish a Book” at Houston Writers House. Event sold out, but watch for another session to be scheduled.

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.

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.