Shuttle Mission Control

Marianne Dyson, April 2021

After a year-long hiatus during the COVID crisis, Science Snacks is back! Hopefully, you are ready for some geeky stories because I used my “shut-in” time to finish a new book, Shuttle Mission Control: Flight Controller Stories and Photos, 1981-1992.

Cover Design by Lindsey Cousins. Black and white photo is of the author, FAO Marianne J. Dyson, and her husband Guidance Officer Thornton E (Thor/Ted) Dyson who were the first married couple in the “front room” of Mission Control during the fourth Space Shuttle flight which landed on July 4, 1982. NASA photo S82-36159 by Pat Patnesky. The Dysons were both at consoles in Mission Control when Space Shuttle Columbia launched on April 12, 1981. The external tank was painted white only for the first and second launches. NASA/KSC photo.

The book showcases twenty first-person accounts, illustrated with 150 images, of Space Shuttle controllers solving problems from dangerous pressure readings to the capture of slippery satellites. Why did I self-publish this book instead of going with a traditional trade house? Why did it take me 30 years to get it done?! I explain in my Author’s Note, excerpted from the book:

Begin Excerpt

While sorting materials for donation to the Johnson Space Center Archive at UHCL, I came across a manuscript I wrote nearly thirty years ago, titled Shuttle Mission Control.

I was in a unique position to write that story. I had the privilege of serving as a flight controller for the first five Space Transportation System (STS) flights. I had joined NASA in 1979, coming in on the “ground floor” of the Shuttle Program. Six years and five flights later, I still loved my job, but with a husband who was also a flight controller, and no affordable childcare for unpredictable all-night shifts, I decided to find a more “normal” job until our children were older. Hernandez Engineering offered a perfect parttime position helping “customers” fly their experiments on the Shuttle and prepare for Space Station Freedom.

I was excited to be part of the commercial space era!

But the Challenger accident in 1986 changed everything. Commercial and military use of the Shuttle stopped. Freedom was subsumed into the Shuttle/Mir Program (announced in 1992) and morphed into the International Space Station. I pivoted from working in the space program to writing about it. In the decades since, I’ve won top awards for my children’s books, coauthored books with Buzz Aldrin, and educated hundreds of thousands of people about space via writing and speaking. I documented my person story in my memoir, A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller (Springer, 2015). But the stories I collected from other controllers in 1992 remain mostly untold.

I drafted Shuttle Mission Control in 1990-92 when books were printed on paper and sold in bookstores. My agent and I collected a stack of rejection letters calling it too “narrowly focused” to sell enough copies to make publishers a profit. So the book languished in my closet all this time. Now, armed with decades of experience in publishing, no longer required to satisfy some gatekeeper’s profit margin, and with the help of my writing community (special thanks to Tom and Lindsey!), I am publishing it myself.

Scanning, color-correcting, and cropping faded photos and slides proved difficult, as was reformatting/merging old text files (from 5.25” floppy disks!) and typing hand-written lists (sorry if some names are misspelled!) into a modern document. Tracking down interview subjects (sadly, at least one has died) allowed me to add (thanks, Paul!) some “where they are now” information. I also added updated the Flight Control Room data and positions, replaced/supplemented drawings with photos, and enhanced the NASA-provided generic captions with names of flight controllers pictured (thanks, Space Hipsters!).

One of the old (rare) slides that I scanned for the book. Shown here are employees of Bingswanger Glass, the company who made the original 10-by-20-foot screens, replacing the old with the new in 1990. The new screens were 800 pounds heavier but had better optical properties and could be easily washed. NASA Photo S9026138.

To the lists of the first flight controllers to work each Shuttle “front room” position from STS-1 in April 1981 through STS-39 (the 40th flight, in April 1991), I added what data I could uncover about the first women/minorities using photos, contacts, and the Manned Spaceflight Operations Association ( manning lists (thanks, Bill!). Flight Director Bob Castle supplied the list of flight controllers honored to hang the mission plaque after each Shuttle flight (thanks, Bob!).

The original photos/slides, references, and manuscript of Shuttle Mission Control will be donated to the NASA JSC Archive at UHCL in Houston. Proceeds from sales of this book will be donated organizations and museums to help preserve more of the history of Mission Control.

End Excerpt

So I hope you will get a copy of this book (autographed via my Book Orders page, or print/eBook via Amazon) for your geek-reading pleasure, or perhaps for a young person who could use some inspiration for choosing a STEM career. And if you enjoy the book and want to support capturing and preserving more NASA history, I’d sure appreciate some reviews on Amazon and sharing of links via social media. With no publisher backing me, the encouragement and support of friends means the world to me!

Writing about Space

Hey teachers and space enthusiasts: a welcome distraction and hours of fun for all ages: Dyson’s Space Puzzles. Ten original space-themed puzzles and their solutions to download and print out for only $1.00.

My short story and poetry eBook collection are full of stories with thoughtful/hopeful endings and are appropriate for younger readers (rated “PG”). I hope Fly Me to the Moon and Space Poems provide some pleasant reading for you!

Speaking about Space

I am now fully vaccinated and willing to do in-person author visits with appropriate distancing guidelines. I also offer virtual author visits. See details on the Author Visits tab of my website.

Fever Temperature

Marianne Dyson, April 2020

One of the major symptoms of COVID-19 is fever. A fever is defined as a temperature about 2˚F above normal. Next question is, of course, what is normal? It depends…

Though doctors and scientists have known for decades that body temperatures vary from person to person, 98.6˚F (37˚C) has been considered the average since the 1800s. But new data has reset the average to 97.9˚F. The lower average is attributed to less inflammation today than in the 1800s when many people suffered with infections and chronic illnesses such as TB. [Ref. “Forget 98.6” by Kristin Fischer.]

Thus, today, if someone’s temperature is 100˚F (37.8˚C) or higher, they may have a fever. The 100˚F value is what airport screeners use as a threshold to decide to detain someone in quarantine or keep someone from boarding a plane.

There are multiple reasons why a simple screening will yield false positives and miss many people who are sick. Even when the thermometer “guns” are held at the proper distance from the subject, the reading might be incorrect because of dust, heat sources (car or outside temperature), or because the person was exercising, drank strong coffee, or took medication. [Ref. “Thermometer guns…” by Morgan McFall-Johnson.]

Two other important factors affecting body temperature are age and gender. People over 65 are warmer (98.6˚F) on average than younger adults (97 to 99˚F) or babies (97.9 to 99˚F).   [Ref. “What is the Normal Body Temperature Range?” by Carissa Stephens.]

Mostly because women have a larger body surface to mass ratio and have more subcutaneous fat than men, women are generally hotter (96.3˚F to 99.5˚F) than men (95.9˚F to 99.5˚F). This explains why women are more likely to need extra blankets than men! [Ref. “Gender differences in thermoregulation” by Kaciuba-Uscilko, and Grucza.]

Also, the temperature of women of child-bearing age changes by about half a degree during the menstrual cycle. At the time of ovulation at mid cycle, temperature drops to its lowest for about three days. Women are most fertile during this time, leading to the “rhythm method” of planning or avoiding pregnancy. [Ref. “Basal body temperature for natural family planning.” Mayo Clinic Staff.]

Time of day and activity level also impact temperature. Temperatures are the lowest in the morning after at least three hours of sleep. Temperatures rise throughout the day and may be several degrees higher during periods of physical activity—especially if you’re an astronaut! (You knew I’d find a way to include space in this topic, right?!)

A study onboard the International Space Station showed that after two and a half months in space, astronauts’ core body temperature was 100.4˚F on average. This “space fever” is attributed to the difficulty of cooling off in the space environment. Sweat doesn’t evaporate as well in freefall, resulting in some astronauts’ temps spiking to 104˚F during exercise. [Ref. “Space Fever” by Charite-Universitatsmedizin.]

So temperature alone does not indicate fever. The only way to know for sure if YOU have a fever is to know your baseline temperature.  

To find my baseline, I gathered five different thermometers from around my house. My average turned out to be 97.8˚F, just a tad under average. [Ref.  “7 Types of Thermometers…” by Jeff Calaway.]

Five thermometers
Five thermometers found around my house provided temperature readings from 97.4˚F to 98.4˚F, with an average of 97.8 ˚F during the same 15-minute period. Digital thermometers were faster, but not more accurate than old-fashioned mercury ones. Photo by Marianne Dyson, 2020.

If I suspect a fever, the first thing I will do is to repeat the measurement in case I didn’t shake my (mercury) or reset my (digital) thermometer correctly, or I didn’t place it properly in my mouth or on my temple.

If I confirm a fever, I will then visit the CDC Self Checker to see if I should call my doctor and/or get tested for COVID-19.

Knowing my normal temperature range and recording it every day at the same time provides me a measure of comfort. I hope you give this a try and that this knowledge helps ease your mind a bit, too!

Writing about Space

  • A welcome distraction and hours of fun for space enthusiasts of all ages: Dyson’s Space Puzzles.
  • Ten original space-themed puzzles and their solutions to download and print out for only $1.00.

I have dropped the price of my short story and poetry eBook collections to 99 cents for the duration of the pandemic. Both are full of stories with thoughtful/hopeful endings and are appropriate for younger readers (rated “PG”). I hope Fly Me to the Moon and Space Poems provide some pleasant reading for you!

Speaking about Space

With conferences cancelled and schools closed, all my speaking engagements through the end of June have been suspended. I am offering virtual author visits at a discount for the 2020-21 school year. See details on the Author Visits tab of my website.

Goodnight Crescent Moon

Marianne Dyson, November 2019

Despite the art you may find in some popular children’s books, the crescent Moon seen out the window when tucking a child into bed will never be shaped like a letter C (unless you live in the southern hemisphere). The waxing crescent, first quarter, and a full Moon are the only phases visible between sunset and 9 pm (standard time).

The waxing crescent Moon rises about 9 am (in the east), is highest around 3 pm (due south), and sets about 9 pm (in the west). This is the only crescent Moon that may appear outside the window in the early evening hours. Note the large round Sea of Crises near the equator. Observers in the southern hemisphere see this image “upside down,” in a C shape. [NASA 2015 Photo]

The Earth and Moon are spherical, so one side is always sunlit and the other side is in shadow. The side facing the Sun changes as each world rotates. The Moon rotates once for each orbit around Earth, making dayspan and nightspan for any location (except the poles) each about two weeks long.

The length of Earth’s day and night at any location depends on the season and latitude. But at the equator (and elsewhere at the equinoxes), day and night are 12 hours long. The Earth’s rotation carries observers counterclockwise (as seen from above the north pole) which is west to east. Observers at the location crossing the terminator from night to day experience sunrise at around 6 am. They continue rotating east so that the Sun seems to rise up from the east and reach its highest point (south) at noon. As the rotation continues, the Sun slides down to set in the west around 6 pm.

When the Moon is new, it is between the Earth and Sun. As the observers rotate through the day, the Moon moves with the Sun: it rises in the east with the Sun, is high at noon, and sets with the Sun in the west at 6 pm.

Each day the Moon moves east in its orbit. The day after the new Moon, the Sun rises again at 6 am as the terminator is crossed. But the Moon is “ahead” of the Sun, so the observer must rotate farther around to the day side before it appears to rise in the east. The waxing crescent (a backwards C) rises about 50 minutes after sunrise. The Sun again sets at 6 pm, and the Moon sets at about 6:50 pm.

The next day, the Moon has moved east some more and rises another 50 minutes later: at about 7:40 am. It sets at about 7:40 pm.

About a week after new Moon, the crescent has grown to the first quarter, showing the eastern half of the near side. The first quarter Moon rises around 9 am, is overhead at 6 pm, and sets about 9 pm.

The Moon continues moving in its orbit, rising 50 minutes later each day, and shifting the times it rises, is overhead, and sets by 50 minutes. After two weeks, the Moon is full and halfway through its orbit. So instead of rising at sunrise with the Sun, the full Moon rises at sunset, is overhead at midnight, and sets at 6 am.

Three weeks after new Moon, the Moon is in last quarter phase, with only the western side of the near side showing. It rises at midnight, is overhead at 6 am, and sets at noon. As it moves ever eastward, it turns into the waning crescent “C-shaped” Moon that rises around 3 am, is overhead at 9 am, and sets around 3 pm. This is not the Moon seen out the window when putting a child to bed!

The waning crescent Moon is a C shape (viewed from the northern hemisphere of Earth). It rises about 3 am (in the east), is highest around 9 am (due south), and sets about 3 pm (in the west). This is the only crescent Moon that may appear outside the window in the early morning hours. Note the small dark Crater Grimaldi near the equator. Observers in the southern hemisphere see this image “upside down,” in a backwards C shape. [NASA 2015 Photo]

Next time you read a children’s book with a Moon in the sky, check that the phase and direction of the Moon are correct for the time of day (or night) in the story. If not, let the child know, and then take them outside to see the real Moon for themselves!

Share Space for the Holidays

Give a gift that encourages a child to read and possibly sparks a life-long interest! Many studies show that children’s success in school correlates highly with the number of books in the home. For the younger children (kindergarten to grade 4) on your list, I recommend the pop-up book, To the Moon and Back: my Apollo 11 Adventure that I coauthored with Buzz Aldrin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing this year. For middle school (and gifted upper elementary) students, I recommend Welcome to Mars which won the Best STEM book award and its new companion, Welcome to the Moon which is available in print or eBook formats.

For high school and college students considering a space career and adults interested in biographies of women and insiders’ stories of the space program, I suggest my memoir, A Passion for Space: the Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller. To order copies of my books, visit my website Book Orders page which has PayPal/credit card info for autographed books and links to Amazon for discounted copies and eBooks. And Thank You!

Teachers, librarians, and event organizers, please consider me for Author Visits in 2020!

Lumpy Lunar Gravity

Marianne Dyson, September 2019

The Moon’s gravity is lumpy. Areas where mass is concentrated have stronger gravity such as where impacts have compressed the ground. These mass concentrations, called mascons, pull spacecraft forward, back, left, right, and down—making most low lunar orbits unstable.

NASA launched the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission in 2011 to map the location and strength of mascons. GRAIL consisted of twin satellites named Ebb and Flow that were placed in a low lunar orbit of only 34 miles. The distance between the two satellites varied slightly as they flew over areas of greater or lesser gravity caused by masses hidden under mountains and craters.

Large mascons were found underneath all the biggest impact craters on both the near and far sides. (Unlike the Sea of Rains and Serenity (the “eyes” of the Moon), the Sea of Tranquility where Apollo 11 landed didn’t form by impact, has no ring around it, and GRAIL showed no mascon under it. )

This map based on GRAIL data shows that the Moon’s crust is up to 37 miles (60 km) thick (white) on the far side. Impacts compressed and thinned the crust under large impact craters (blue and purple). The Sea of Rains, Serenity, and Crises form a row of low spots across the northern near side (left image). The crust is so thin at the Sea of Crises and the Moscow Sea (upper far side-right image) that olivine (purple stars), a mineral from the Moon’s mantle mapped by Kaguya is exposed on the surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPGP

Because of mascons, the Lunar Prospector spacecraft (1998-99) had to do a maneuver every two months to stay in a 60-mile (100 km) polar orbit, and once a month to stay at 20 miles (30 km) above the surface. Luckily future missions have some better long-term “parking” options.

Frozen Orbits

Apollo 16 released two subsatellites into lunar orbits. PFS-1 stayed in orbit for one and a half years. PFS-2 crashed after 35 days. Scientists soon discovered that mascons lured PFS-2 to its early demise. PFS-1 avoided the same fate because its orbit was inclined (at 28 versus PFS-1 at 11 degrees) so that it spent less time passing over mascons. (Inclination is the angle that the orbit plane makes with the equator.) Their different fates led to the identification of four stable or “frozen” orbits with inclinations of 27, 50, 76, and 86 degrees. These orbits require less fuel to maintain.

A first base on the Moon will likely be placed near the south lunar pole because of deep ice deposits (for fuel and life support) as well as tall mountains that offer almost continuous sunlight (for power). Therefore, the 86-degree frozen orbit offers a reasonable parking spot for return vehicles. The disadvantage of parking there is that launch windows from those orbits to Earth occur only about every two weeks.

Moon Direct

Instead of parking near the Moon, Earth return vehicles can remain in Earth orbits. This Moon Direct  plan is explained by Robert Zubrin in his book, The Case for Space. Astronauts would ride commercial rockets to Earth orbit and catch their shuttle (called a Lunar Excursion Vehicle, LEV) from there to the Moon. LEV then fly directly to the surface of the Moon with no rendezvous in lunar orbit on the way out or back. The LEV can be resupplied with fuel in Earth orbit (using lunar water) and support multiple roundtrips.

NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station is not planned to be in lunar orbit at all. Instead, it is slated for an ellipse around a place in space called Lagrange Point 2 (L2, above the far side) and never come any closer to the surface than about a lunar diameter. Zubrin and NASA’s former Administrator and others consider this an unfortunate choice.  From the surface of the Moon, it actually takes more fuel to reach L2 than it does to reach Earth orbit. It also requires fuel to “park” anything there and can only be accessed once a week. Some have suggested that the Gateway move instead to an Earth-Moon cycling obit (to the Moon and back on a regular schedule) and serve as a fuel depot.

Lumpy lunar gravity requires some creative solutions for parking Earth return vehicles while working on the surface. The main purpose for a first lunar base, in my opinion, is to process lunar water into fuel. This lunar “gas station” will enable easier access to all other destinations in space, including Earth, any Gateway stations, and missions to Mars. A lunar gas station will also hopefully lead to affordable flights for those of us who want to experience lumpy gravity for ourselves!

Writing & Speaking about Space

There’s an article about me in my hometown newspaper, The Canton Repository:

To order copies of my books, visit my website Book Orders page. And Thank You!

Teachers, librarians, and event organizers, please consider me for Author Visits.

Apollo 11, a view from Summer Camp

Marianne Dyson, July 2019

I was a teenager at summer camp when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon 50 years ago this month. Below is the story of that day as recorded in my memoir.

Marianne and "Red" in 1969 at Rambling Acres. Photo courtesy Marianne Dyson

Marianne and “Red” in 1969 at Rambling Acres. Photo courtesy Marianne Dyson

Begin excerpt from A Passion for Space copyright Marianne Dyson–

July 20, 1969, Ohio

“Girls! Girls!” someone hollered from outside the big red barn. I was at Rambling Acres Horseback-Riding Camp, near Canton, Ohio. “Put your brooms away and come up to the house! They’ve landed on the Moon!”

I didn’t need a second invitation. I’d enthusiastically followed the space program since first grade when John Glenn had orbited the Earth. I was 14 now, and I loved space even more than horses. The previous spring, I’d even written and hand printed a 60-page book, “The Apollo Program” for my eighth-grade English class.

I dashed from the stall, latching the gate behind me, and ran up the dusty road to the camp owner’s house. “Wait up!” my best friend Chrisse hollered as she scampered up the road behind me, followed by the other girls.

The owner, Mrs. Noll, insisted we brush dust and straw off each other’s clothes and remove our dirty shoes before entering her house. Then we filed into her living room and settled down cross-legged on the carpet, facing the television set. The TV was a stand-alone piece of furniture, a box on legs about three feet tall with “rabbit ears” antenna. The picture was in black and white.

The familiar face of CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite appeared on the screen. In his deep voice, he explained that Mission Control in Houston had given Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the “go” to exit their spacecraft. The men had been scheduled to sleep but were too keyed up after the exciting first landing on the Moon.

I was keyed up, too. It was the first day of camp, and I’d just met five new girls. We had plenty to talk about while we waited for the astronauts to leave the lunar lander. “Which one do you think is the cutest?” Sue asked me as we loaded our plates for dinner.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, snatching a roll. “They’re married!”

Sue frowned and then sighed as she scooped beans onto her plate. “Wouldn’t it be dreamy to marry an astronaut?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. Then I added silently, “But even better if you could be one!”

We finished dinner, and the astronauts still hadn’t emerged from their ship. We wondered what they were having for dinner. (I found out later, bacon cubes. Yuk!) We trotted back to the barn for evening chores. I brushed the horse who shared my nickname, Red. Then we got our showers and returned to Mrs. Noll’s house.

The television spurted static-filled voices of the crew talking with Mission Control. What was taking so long? Why didn’t they just open the door and hop out? Bedtime came and went. Luckily, Mrs. Noll let us stay up for this historic occasion.

Finally, six hours after Apollo 11 landed, the ghostly black and white “live from the Moon” image flickered on the screen. At 10:39 p.m. Eastern time, Armstrong spoke the now-famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he stepped backwards off the ladder onto the lunar surface. I remember thinking how I’d like to follow in his footsteps.

But in 1969, there was no such thing as a female astronaut. No woman in my family had even gone to college. Yet, the previous winter, I’d written in my diary, “I wish very much to be able to be an astronaut. I’m sorry I’m a girl, but I’ll have to try harder then.”

As I gazed up at the half-full Moon that July night, I marveled that there were men up there looking back at me. If those men could walk on the Moon, then maybe a skinny red-headed girl from a small town in Ohio could find a way to go to college and one day work for NASA.

–End excerpt from A Passion for Space, copyright Marianne Dyson—

Just ten years after the Moon landing, I was hired by NASA to become one of the first female flight controllers. In 1982, I had the privilege of working at a console in the historic Mission Control room (during the fifth Space Shuttle flight) that has now been restored to the way it looked in 1969.

While at summer camp, I could never have imagined that 50 years later, I’d not only have worked in Mission Control alongside some of the “unsung heroes” of Apollo and the first female astronauts, but I’d also coauthored two children’s books with Buzz Aldrin and be releasing a new book, Welcome to the Moon, commissioned by Buzz’s son, Andrew, to help inspire a new generation of lunar explorers. (See below.)

One thing I also could not have imagined back then is that 50 years would pass without a woman setting foot on the Moon. So as I gaze up at the Moon this July and celebrate the historic achievement, I’ll be thinking about what more I can do to help young people acquire that “can-do” Apollo spirit that will motivate them to harvest the unlimited resources and exciting opportunities space still has to offer.

Writing about Space

Apollo 11 lifted off at 9:32 EDT on July 16, 1969. The Eagle landed on July 20 and lifted off the Moon on July 21.

So, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first trip to the Moon, at 9 am on July 16, the Amazon eBook of Welcome to the Moon (by Marianne Dyson and Lindsey Cousins with a foreword by Buzz Aldrin’s son Andrew), drops from $9.98 to 99 cents and stays that price until 5 PM on July 21 when they lifted off of the Moon. Autographed print copies can be ordered through Marianne’s website. All proceeds benefit STEM education via the Aldrin Family Foundation and ShareSpace Education.

To the Moon and Back: my Apollo 11 Adventure by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne Dyson.

Share the story of Apollo with the children in your life! Order To the Moon and Back: my Apollo 11 Adventure, by Buzz Aldrin and Marianne Dyson with pop-ups by Bruce Foster.

Not sure Apollo or other space programs are worth it? Read my oped, 10 Ways the Space Program has Benefited America, in the June 2019 copy of The Ripon Forum magazine.

Speaking about Space

July 25, 1:30-4 PM, event: Two Space Authors & an Astronaut. Join Marianne Dyson, Melanie Chrismer, and a surprise astronaut (sorry, not Buzz!) at Evelyn Meador Library, 2400 North Meyer Ave, Seabrook, TX 77596, 281-474-9142. I’ll use models and share excerpts from my books to show how Apollo went to the Moon and Back. Books may be offered for sale by the Friends of the Library. Free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Seabrook.

Luna 13 a Solid Success

Author Marianne Dyson’s
May 2019 Science Snacks Newsletter

Hello, and a special welcome to new subscribers.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo, I thought I’d devote this Science Snack to some little-known lunar science performed by Soviet scientists in preparation for their own planned human landings on the Moon. The following is mostly an excerpt from my new book, Welcome to the Moon, which will be released June 17 from the Aldrin Family Foundation. (See book ordering information below.)

Buzz Aldrin tested soil hardness with this boot print. The length of the shadows reveal this print is less than an inch deep. (NASA/B. Aldrin)

One of the first questions that scientists had to answer is How Hard is it? “It” being the lunar surface! How strong do the legs of a lunar lander need to be? Will the foot pads sink deep into fluffy powder, break rocks into glasslike shards, or smack into solid stone? To find out, Russian engineers devised an experiment for Luna 13 to test the hardness of the lunar surface.

Like its predecessors, at an altitude of 46 miles, Luna 13 inflated airbags and fired its landing rockets. When it was 16 feet above the surface, the engines shut down as a sensor contacted the ground (a method still employed by Soyuz capsules). The landing capsule, in its airbag cocoon, was ejected and bounced several times before coming to rest in the Ocean of Storms.

After bouncing to a stop, Luna 13’s airbag deflated, and two booms sprang out from the body of the spacecraft. One boom contained a small solid rocket, pointed down. The rocket shot a titanium cone penetrator (with a diameter of 1.4”) into the ground. A pin slid along a groove in the side of the casing to measure how deep it went. The engineers had tested this penetrator on 14 different surfaces on Earth, including dust and concrete, and in a vacuum chamber ahead of time. Depending on the surface material, the penetrator could drill down two inches.

On Christmas Eve of 1966, the engineers got the gift of data from the Moon. The penetrator dove in 1.7 inches. The team concluded that the surface was volcanic rock (basalt) covered by a layer of powder.

Spacecraft cameras revealed rocks scattered on the surface. Of 181 counted, most were pebbles. Only three were larger than four inches and all less than eight inches in diameter. The experiment gave the engineers confidence they could safely land a cosmonaut on this surface.

To learn more about the historical and current science of the Moon in “layman’s” terms (written for gifted middle-school students), order your copy of Welcome to the Moon
via my Book Orders page. (And Thank You!)

Writing about Space

To share what the first journey to the Moon was like, Buzz and I teamed up with pop-up artist Bruce Foster to create To the Moon and Back: my Apollo 11 Adventure. We hope you’ll share this historical American story with the whole family.

I’m pleased to announce that my fact article, In Defense of the Planet, won the AnLab Readers’ poll! It is available FREE on the Analog website.

Speaking about Space

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.

Friday May 31, WriteFest Weekend Festival, Anderson-Clarke Center (6100 S. Main St. Houston, 77005), Rice University. The weekend festival includes panels, presentations, agent pitch sessions, and a book fair. Look for me on panels at 2:45 and 4 pm.

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

Miles and Miles? Judging Distance in Space

Marianne Dyson, April 2019

On Apollo 14, Alan Shepard famously hit the first golf ball on the Moon. Because of the stiff space suit, he had to hit one-handed. After several tries, he sent it off camera and claimed it went “Miles and miles and miles.” But did it really go that far?

Judging distance in space is tricky. Studies have shown that even on Earth, people routinely underestimate horizontal distances by ten percent. On the other hand, heights are usually overestimated by as much as 30 percent, especially when looking down or from a distance. (A pyramid appears steeper from a distance than it does up close.)

NASA AS14-67-9367.
Credit: NASA AS14-67-9367.

Does the Apollo 14 lander seem closer than 650 feet (two football fields) or taller than 10’7”? The near horizon, sharp shadows, and a tendency to underestimate distance and overestimate height of objects makes judging distances  difficult on the Moon. 

A study conducted on space station astronauts shows these effects are exaggerated in space. Astronauts underestimated distances by as much as 35 percent, even for objects at close range. Astronauts with long arms perceived targets within reach that were out of range. They also perceived objects to be taller than on Earth. This effect may be in part because people use the height of their eyes above the ground to provide scale—and there is no floor when floating in space. [Reference: Distance and Size Perception in Astronauts during Long-Duration Spaceflight]

On the surface of the Moon, many of the cues used to judge distance, such as trees and trucks, are missing. The lack of air also makes objects appear sharper and thus closer—adding to the tendency to underestimate distance and size of objects. Finally, the Moon is a smaller world than Earth, so the horizon is much closer. From a height of about six feet, the horizon is about 1.5 miles away (compared to about 2.8 miles on Earth). Combining all these effects means that what first appears to be a small nearby rock is actually a distant boulder.

Astronauts also have difficulty predicting the motions of objects in space. During a space shuttle mission, catching balls moving at constant speeds was difficult. People are used to balls accelerating as they fall on Earth. So astronauts think they are moving faster than actual and reach for the balls too soon (and miss the catch!). [Reference: Does the brain model Newton’s laws?]

So did Shepard’s ball go miles and miles and miles? [Watch video.] The record for a golf drive (Mike Austin, 1974) on Earth is 515 yards/0.3 miles. Some people have speculated that because of the Moon’s low gravity and lack of air, a golf ball hit that hard might sail more than two miles. Considering Shepard was likely underestimating the distance by up to a third, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ball went a mile—but not more than 1.5 miles since it didn’t disappear over the horizon.

On a more serious note, distortions in perceived distance, height, and motions could have grave consequences during space missions. A poor sense of closing speed has been cited as a contributing factor in a collision with a docking port on the Mir space station in 1997. [Reference: Shuttle-Mir’s lessons for the ISS]

More studies on how people judge distances and react in space will help us better understand our ingrained biases when it comes to judging distances in space.  Laser range finders and future AI lunar golf advisers may even help us figure out how much of a handicap to give an astronaut in a stiff space suit!

Writing about Space

I’m thrilled to announce my newest space book! Watch my website Book Orders page for Welcome to the Moon ordering information.

A Summer 2019 Release!

My fact article about a practice drill for what to do if an asteroid threatens Earth, In Defense of the Planet, is a finalist in the AnLab Readers’ poll. It is available FREE on the Analog website until the winners are announced at the Nebula Awards in May.

Speaking about Space

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, May 11, Comicpalooza, GRB convention center, Houston. I’m on two panels in the Literary Track (upstairs rooms).  From 3-4 PM, Worldbuilding Tips and Tricks: How to Create Believable Worlds, and from 6-7 PM, Writing Historical Fantasy—Getting the Details Right!

Thursday, May 23, Bay Area Writers League, Clear Lake Park, Houston, 7 pm. “Beyond Self-Publishing: Becoming a Publisher. What are the financial, legal, personnel, quality, quantity, and time considerations of creating books for companies or individuals?

Friday May 31, WriteFest Weekend Festival, Anderson-Clarke Center (6100 S. Main St. Houston, 77005), Rice University. The weekend festival includes panels, presentations, agent pitch sessions, and a book fair. Look for me on panels and at the book fair. Register early for the best price ($95 to $185 one day only & $180-$375 F-Sun).

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

If Apollo Happened Today

Marianne Dyson, December 2018

Considering that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo, and that NASA has contracted with Firefly Aerospace and Intuitive Machines to provide new lander vehicles, I thought you all might enjoy this article I wrote that was originally published in Ad Astra in 2013.

Every year at space conference parties, enthusiasts have pondered the question: If we flew an Apollo mission to the Moon with today’s technology, how would it be different? One enthusiast, five-time shuttle astronaut Jeff Hoffman, PhD, who is now a professor at MIT, assigned a couple of graduate students to find a definitive answer.

The students, Alex Buck and Austin Nicholas, presented their findings at the Brown University-Vernadsky Institute-MIT Microsymposium 54 held the Sunday before the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston in March 2013. Though Dr. Hoffman wasn’t able to attend (he answered questions via telecom), Apollo 15 Moonwalker Dave Scott was present to enthusiastically endorse their work and encourage the space community to act on it. 

The study focused on using the basic Apollo architecture of a command and service module (CSM) to launch from and return to Earth, connected to a lunar module (LM) to go to and from the lunar surface with modifications made possible by current technology.

Technology upgrades to the lunar lander included higher efficiency propellants, lightweight materials for the structure, and state-of-the-art electronics for computing, avionics, and communications. The electronics provide “on the order of a billion-fold increase in terms of reduced power consumption and increased computing capability,” the students said. They also replaced the Apollo-era batteries with modern fuel cells that produce water as a useful byproduct.

The results were astounding. “We could cut up to 40 percent of the lunar module mass while still maintaining the same payload capability of the original lunar module.”

        Landing Vehicle Comparison


Apollo LM

HALOs Lunar Lander

Payload Mass 500 kg 2300 kg 1200 kg
Sample Return Mass 100 kg 350 kg 700 kg
Crew to Surface 2 3 3
Surface Days 3 7 14

One problem with switching to cryogenic fuels for the Human Architecture for Lunar Operations (HALOs) lander is that the fuel tanks, which are between the descent engines and the crew cabin, are, like the space shuttle external tank, enormous. The students noted, “This makes surface operations very difficult because it puts the crew habitat and the ascent stage and payload really high above the surface.” So the young engineers asked, “What if you didn’t have to land on top of the descent stage?” Why not eject the descent stage a few kilometers above the surface and finish the landing with the ascent stage? They found the cost in propellant is minimal, and the two-ton descent stage provides the bonus of a fresh impact crater for study about 5 km (3 mi) from the HALOs lander.

Next, the students looked at landing constraints. “All of the Apollo landing sites were on the Nearside and in the equatorial region,” the students said. “If we want to get some increased return out of a future landing program, it wouldn’t really make sense to go back to all those same spots.” But, “to reach high-latitude sites near the pole requires a lot of plane change to come in from Earth and return to Earth,” they said.

An elliptical polar “parking” orbit for the CSM solves the problem. “Plane change maneuvers have a fuel cost proportional to the speed at which you’re going when you do the maneuver,” the students noted. Like comets speed up when close to the Sun and slow down farther away, “that speed is lower the farther away you are in your orbit. So making the orbit highly elliptical reduces the fuel cost of those maneuvers and thus the mass of the entire system.”

Because these elliptical orbits are so efficient, using them can save 30-50 percent of launch mass compared to not using them.

However, “We don’t have a single launch vehicle that can launch a monolithic Earth departure stage to take this much mass to the Moon,” the students said. “So you have to lift the system in several pieces and assemble them in Earth orbit.” They assumed one Delta 4 Heavy and two Falcon Heavies, and used a SpaceX Dragon capsule for the CSM. The different parts would then be assembled after an Earth orbit rendezvous (EOM), something that has become a routine part of space station operations.

The CSM and LM are attached to a Lunar Orbit Insertion and Descent (LOID) stage (that would be ejected just before landing). The LOID puts the CSM into an elliptical lunar orbit about one by 10 lunar radii. “The CSM stays there while the LM goes to the Moon.”

The HALOs plan requires three launches to place the Earth Departure Stages (EDS), lunar orbit insertion and descent (LOID) stage, the lunar lander (LL), and crew and service module (CSM, SM) into orbit. (Image credit: MIT, 2013)

Unlike Apollo, all three crewmembers would land. How long they stay depends on how much luggage they bring, and how many souvenirs they take home. “If you want to do a seven-day surface mission, you can bring a payload with you to the surface of over 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs) and return 350 kg (770 lbs),” the students said. The total mission from launch to landing would last about two weeks.

“For a 14-day surface stay, you can bring just over 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs) to the surface and return 700 kg (1,500 lbs) back to Earth.” The increased sample return is based on the steady collection rate of 50 kg/day (110 lbs/day). The total mission duration would be about three weeks.

Luggage might include an Apollo rover at 210 kg (460 lbs) with an 8 km (5 mi) range, or a souped-up Constellation pressurized chariot at 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs) with a 100 km (62 mi) range. An Apollo lunar surface experiment package (ALSEP) would take up 166 kg (365 lbs).

After lunar surface operations, the LM rendezvous with the CSM for return to Earth. (As in Apollo, the LM is discarded after use, but the students said future studies could examine the possibility of reusing the LM by “parking it at a gravitational semi-stable point such as L2.) The CSM parachutes into the ocean like the Apollo capsules did.

“We think you can go back to the Moon with people without needing a super-heavy launch vehicle,” the students concluded. “We can do that while improving our payload capability and surface stay duration. And, we allowed the capability of putting humans and payload anywhere on the Moon.”

When asked where they’d personally like to go, the students answered with a smile, “Mars!”

Holiday Space Gift Ideas

Perfect stocking stuffer that benefits the International Women in Aviation and Space Museum: Women in Aviation and Space Playing Cards! Yours truly is the Ace of Clubs.

For high school and up, give a positive vision of the future, a gift membership in the National Space Society. Read my article, “Chinese Planetary Exploration Plans” in the 2018-4 (current) issue of Ad Astra magazine.

For future astronauts and lunar pioneers, get a copy of To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book coauthored with Buzz Aldrin with art by Bruce Foster, and 2017 Best STEM Book, Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet.

For middle school and up, consider a gift print or electronic subscription to Analog Science Fiction magazine. My science fact article, “In Defense of the Planet,” is in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue. Also consider a copy of my stories, most previously published in Analog, Fly Me to the Moon.

China: First to the Far Side

Marianne Dyson, November 2018

No spacecraft has ever landed on the lunar far side. The only human-made object on the far side currently is NASA’s Ranger 4 that crashed east of Korolev crater (about 15 degrees south of the equator) in April 1962. But that is about to change!

If all goes well this December, the Chinese Chang’E-4 (named after a mythological Moon goddess) will earn the title of first to the far side. This spacecraft is a lander/rover combination similar to the impressive 2013 Chinese lunar mission called Chang’E-3. Its Yutu (rabbit) rover successfully explored the Bay of Rainbows (Moon’s left “eyebrow”) and returned exciting new scientific data about the lunar surface and subsurface.

The far side of the Moon is never visible from Earth, making direct communications impossible. Therefore, to communicate with the spacecraft and rover on the surface, the Chinese deployed a relay satellite called Queqia (meaning “magpie bridge” from Chinese folklore) earlier this year. Since June, it has been in a 28-day orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point, which is about 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) beyond the Moon.

Chang’E-4’s landing area will be in Von Kármán Crater which is near the center of the far side and about 45 degrees south of the lunar equator. This crater lies on top what may be the most ancient preserved impact in the solar system, called the South Pole Aitkin (SPA) Basin. From orbit around the Moon, the SPA Basin appears as a large dark bruise that is more than 8 km (5 mi) deep and has a diameter of 2500 km (1550 mi) which is about a fourth of the Moon’s circumference. [Ref: NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter]

Von Karman Crater
The rectangle shows the landing area selected for Chang’E-4, an area about 55 by 25 km (34 x 15 mi.) wide within Von Kármán crater on the lunar far side. Ba Jie is the small (about 3 km/1.8 mi) crater to the west of the landing zone. [Image credit: LROC WAC Global Mosaic, NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University, rectangle is plotted based on Wu W R, et al., 2017]
The floor of Von Kármán crater was selected because it is relatively flat, with no more than about 197 feet (60 meters) of elevation change in topography. The rover will map the thickness of the regolith (lunar soil) in this area, which should help researchers to date the age of Von Kármán’s formation and anchor a geological timeline for much of the lunar far side.

Several countries, though not the United States, are actively involved in Chang’E-4. Germany is providing a lunar neutron and radiation dose detector for the lander, Sweden is contributing a neutral atom detector for the rover, and the Netherlands provided a low-frequency radio spectrometer for the Queqia relay satellite.

Dr. Jun Huang of the Planetary Sciences Institute, China University of Geosciences in Wuhan noted that one of the public education experiments on the lander will concern studying a tiny ecosystem including vegetables and worms. These items will be the first non-human living things (other than bacteria left behind on spacecraft) to reach the surface of the Moon.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about this first exploration of the lunar far side is that the Chinese have embarked on a well-planned step-by-step approach to building space capabilities that will directly lead to human space settlements. After Chang’E-4 comes Chang’E-5, an ambitious lunar sample return.

Chinese Lunar Research Station
CR1 and CR2 show two possible locations for the Chinese Research Station near Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole. [Image credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences, General Office of Lunar and Deep Space Exploration, presented at Microsymposium 59, March 17, 2018 by Dr. Chun Lai Li.]
After that, they will use robotic missions to further explore the lunar far side south polar region. Their 10-year plan, which they have followed very closely, has these missions launching in 2023 with humans arriving as soon as 2030. While NASA’s attention is focused on space stations in high lunar orbits, the Chinese may become not only the first to land a spacecraft on the far side, but humans, too.

Writing about Space

My article, “Chinese Planetary Exploration Plans” with more detail about the Chinese space program is in the 2018-4 (current) issue of Ad Astra magazine. To get your copy, join NSS!

To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book coauthored with Buzz Aldrin with art by Bruce Foster, is available for now from Amazon. Get one for all the kids, big and small, in your family!

My science fact article, “In Defense of the Planet,” is in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of Analog. Paper or eBook subscriptions available.

The Right Stuff to be a Flight Director

Marianne Dyson, October 2018

Recently NASA announced the first woman, Holly Ridings, to be selected as Chief of the Flight Director’s Office. Flight directors lead the team of flight controllers in Mission Control. The Chief Flight Director is their boss. To reach this position, a person must demonstrate a high level of integrity: like Randy Stone (1944-2013) who similarly rose up from flight controller to flight director to chief flight director (and eventually led Mission Operations). I’d like to share his story via an excerpt from my memoir.

BEGIN EXCERPT (omissions marked with three dots … )

Diane [Freeman] and I were on the Ascent, or Silver Team, for STS-1. Our Flight Director was Neil Hutchinson who expected only the best and no excuses. And well he should. If something were going to break, it’d most likely happen during the dynamic ascent phase.

About a week before launch, Mission Operations Director Gene Kranz called the Silver Team into the auditorium in Building 30. His speech wasn’t the “go team” speech that I’d expected. It was more of a warning and a blessing mixed into one. He reminded us that the space shuttle was the most complex vehicle ever designed by man. “Things break and fail,” he said bluntly. “But,” he added, “You won’t fail.” He said that each of us had been trained more thoroughly for this flight than any team in history. Our managers and the crew were counting on us to make the right calls at the right time. He said he trusted us and that we should in turn trust each other and trust our training. He left us with the sobering absolution that “If the mission fails, it won’t be because of something you did.”

We filed out of the auditorium quietly, each of us lost in thought. No one had ever flown such an unwieldy vehicle, an airplane with stubby little wings strapped to a giant tank with rockets bolted onto the sides. Did we really know what we were doing? Apparently, Mr. Kranz felt that we did, as much as anyone could in a test program. After all, if we knew everything about how this vehicle would fly, we wouldn’t need test flights. He’d expressed the ultimate confidence in us without any false pretenses. He’d sat in on all the long sims. He’d seen us wrestle with failures and find ways to work around them. He knew every one of us by name–had questioned us in briefings, in meetings, and seen us let off steam at social events. He trusted us to do everything humanly possible to prevent or mitigate the consequences of any failures.

Even though I was just a lowly Timeline 2, I felt an immense responsibility to justify Mr. Kranz’s confidence in me. This was no game or simulation. Two men I’d worked with for more than two years were going to eat steak and eggs for breakfast, suit up, and climb aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. The procedures I’d written for transitioning the computers, for opening the payload bay doors, for what to do if the FES [Flash Evaporator System] or Freon loops, or the primary computers failed, were stowed onboard. My name was on the inside cover of those books. Though others had reviewed and approved them, I felt responsible for those procedures.

I was too keyed up to sleep the night before the launch, scheduled for 45 minutes after sunrise, Florida time, on Friday, April 10. ….  I wore a patriotic white jacket and a blue and white striped shirt. I proudly put my STS-1 and my silver team pins on the lapel of my jacket. I headed out, briefcase and sack lunch in hand. …

Once at my console, I fished a small instamatic camera out of my briefcase. We weren’t supposed to have cameras, but I hoped no one would mind if I took a few snapshots in the back room. I popped the square flashbulb on top. I took a photo of the row of controllers, with Diane in front. I handed the camera to Diane to take one of me. Unknown to us in those days of film cameras, all these pictures blurred. Afraid a manager might yell at me, I put the camera away. …

Marianne Dyson, 1981
Marianne Dyson during STS-1 launch abort, 1981

Like in football games where the clock is stopped for time-outs, the countdown clock stops at certain times in the prelaunch preparations while controllers check data. During the hold at T-2 hours and 4 minutes, Young and Crippen were strapped into their ejection seats. If anything happened during the launch or the latter part of entry (below about 100,000 feet), those seats would blow them out of the cockpit. This capability was only available during the first four test flights and was the reason the crew size was limited to two astronauts.

Even though the Launch Control Center at Kennedy was in charge until the vehicle cleared the launch tower, Houston Flight had to give a “go” for the launch to occur. Hutchinson wouldn’t give that go unless he got a go from each member of the Silver Team. The countdown proceeded until the T-20-minute hold. Everything was going great, and we all refreshed our coffee and made final trips to the restroom.

When I plugged my headset back in, I heard a heated discussion on the data processing system loop. As DPS Randy Stone (1944-2013) related in his oral history session, “When we came out of the T-minus-twenty-minute hold, we had four good primary computers, but the backup computer couldn’t see two of the flight control strings in the vehicle. Clearly it was unacceptable to fly your first flight when the two systems didn’t match,” he said. …

Stone said, “My back room was analyzing the data, and … they came to me on the loop and said, ‘There is nothing wrong with the backup. The problem is with the primary computer system. It’s not sending data.’”

I heard Stone call the Flight Director, “Flight, DPS.”

“Go, DPS,” Hutchinson said.

“We want to transition everything back to OPS-9.”

OPS-9 was the prelaunch mode for the computers. So they did this and Stone said, “The computers all looked good, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, if we come out of this hold and it works, am I go to fly?’ I’ve talked to my back room, and Gerry Knori and Jim Hill and Bill Lychwick all said, ‘We don’t understand it. We don’t want to fly today.’”

By now the countdown had progressed to T-9-minutes and was on hold for ten minutes. The weather was beautiful. The astronauts were strapped in and ready. Hundreds of thousands of people, including politicians and celebrities, were waiting and watching. And so was Mr. Kranz who’d reminded us all of the seriousness of our responsibilities. The decision rested heavily on Stone’s shoulders.

While he contemplated the computer issues, one of the fuel cells showed abnormal acid levels. The countdown was halted. The fuel cell was quickly determined to be okay, and the countdown was set to resume after the hold.

Stone said, “I made a decision with the help of the folks in the back room that it is not the right day to go fly. So I got on the flight loop. … I said, ‘Flight, I don’t care what happens when we come out of the T-minus-nine-minute hold. DPS is no go for launch.’ And man, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. I mean, it went from a lot of buzz to quiet.”

On the Flight loop, Hutchinson asked, “Are you sure you are no go for launch?”

Stone said, “Yes, sir. We do not understand what happened here. If it works this next time, I can’t guarantee it’s going to work through ascent, and I can’t guarantee it’s going to work when we bring these computers back alive to do entry. I am no go for launch.”

When we came out of the hold, the computers still didn’t match up. But even if they had, Stone had already made his decision, and so had Hutchinson. Would the managers support this decision to scrub the launch? It was an expensive choice. The eyes of the world were on us, and the launch had been slipped again and again. But a flight controller had trusted his training and made a difficult call, knowing that even worse consequences might have resulted if he hadn’t.

The team at KSC and in Houston worked for three hours unsuccessfully to trace the source of the computer problem. Finally, the Launch Director halted the countdown clock and declared a scrub at just before 10 a. m. Young and Crippen, who had been lying on their backs for six hours, were helped out of the cockpit.

Stone said, “My claim to fame is I was the guy that was no go for launch on STS-1 before we ever found out if it was okay or was going to work when we came out of the hold again. And truly, I believe that was a turning point in my decision-making process where I was confident enough to say no in an environment when everybody else wanted to say yes.”

After the flight, the Center Director Chris Kraft, Jr. pulled Stone aside and told him that he’d made the right call, scrubbing the launch. About three weeks later, Stone was selected to become a flight director. …

We soon learned that the problem with the computers was a timing error that caused them not to sync up with the backup machine. …. IBM fixed the flaw in the software after the first flight so it couldn’t happen again.


So please join me in congratulating Holly Ridings on her selection as Chief of the Flight Directors Office. She is an inspiration to all.

Writing about Space

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

My science fact article, “In Defense of the Planet,” is in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of Analog. Get your subscription now!

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.

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, book signing 12-12:30 at the NatGeo Cengage Booth #408 at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Reno, Nevada.

October 27, Saturday, 10-2. Free & Open to the Public: NASA Johnson Space Center Open House. Look for copies of To the Moon and Back at the JSC Employees Exchange Store either at the tent by the Saturn V or in Building 3 cafeteria.