The man who killed Pluto grew up in my hometown.
Strangely enough, I’m kinda proud of that.
I’ve been privileged to hear him speak twice, both times getting autographs — one in his book and one on a nine-planet solar system litho on which he X’d out Pluto.
Brown is an excellent speaker, both extremely knowledgeable in the subject matter but also an interesting and dynamic speaker. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is written in the same way. I could practically hear Brown speaking as I read because the written stories are presented much like stories told in his presentations.
The book is not just about Pluto or the discoveries that led to Pluto’s deplanetization. Brown blends in much of what was going on in his personal life at the time, namely meeting and marrying his wife (for which he later named a moon — can’t get much more romantic than that), and the birth of their daughter Lilah. These personal aspects of Brown’s life I find to be very relevant to what happened with the planets, and I’m glad he included them.
How I Killed Pluto is not a scientific volume but rather a story, and in it is described the many emotions and feelings of this time in Brown’s life. In that way, how could he possibly exclude that he was falling in love, getting married and having a daughter while discovering planets as his day job (well, technically night job).
The book follows Brown’s journey from his early interest in astronomy, to how it came about that he started searching for planets, through the many technological issues and advances that at times both helped and hindered his search. It also follows the controversy that resulted when Brown discovered what he hoped, initially, would be the solar system’s 10th planet. This discovery caused the biggest astronomy shake up in decades, and ultimately resulted in the redefinition of a planet.
This book and it’s story was interest of me mainly because of Brown’s connection to my hometown and because of hearing his lectures. However the subject of Pluto was also interesting to me because a few years ago I wrote the student article “What Is Pluto?” for NASA. I experienced a little bit of the controversy myself, having to carefully select the correct words and phrases as to not upset the Pluto-lovers who were not happy about its demotion and yet accurately inform the student audience for which I was writing about Pluto, it’s history and it’s controversy.
As a word person, I also find it quite funny that since all of this the English language has adopted a whole new word: plutoed, which means to demote or devalue someone or something. Plutoed was even named the 2006 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.
See why I think it’s cool that Mike Brown hails of Huntsville? A guy who grew up in the same place that I did — in the same place that my kids are growing up now — discovered new objects in space that led to the redefinition of a planet, a worldwide controversy, and the coining of a new word that became the Word of the Year!
I can only aspire to be a fraction as cool as that.
Finally, after two years and three tries I finished reading Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story (a.k.a “David’s book”). I started it shortly after it came out but I didn’t have a lot of time to read back then. So I put it aside for a while. I picked it back up a second time but had personal things going on at the time and once again put it aside.
I decided about a month ago that to be “proper” girlfriend to David I need to finish reading his book. Also, I wanted to know “the rest of the story,” to quote Paul Harvey. I had read a little more than half way and had stopped with the second crew just getting settled in. The best parts were just coming up!
I wish I had finished it the first or second times around. In fact, I wish I had thought to offer to read the proof way back when, before it was published. But wishes or no, I’m glad to now have finally read the whole story.
When he first told me, ~4 years ago, that he was coauthoring a book about Skylab I made what I think is a common mistake and when talking to him about it I referred to his book about Spacelab.
I feel bad that I didn’t know anything about Skylab — what it did or that even existed — not really for David’s sake (although a little) but just as an American, that I had missed out on learning about an important part of our country’s history in spaceflight. Cant change any of that, so I’m just glad now that I do.
Did you know there was a space station before the space station we have now? I think a lot of people (especially in my generation and younger) don’t know that Skylab was the nation’s first space station.
The launch of the Skylab space station was the last launch of the mighty Saturn V rocket.
Three, three-men crews ventured to and lived in the habitat, learning what happens when people are in space for weeks and months. They did science and observed the sun and were the first ones to test out what happened when people lived and worked in space. It was the precursor to the International Space Station, in a lot of ways, yet as the book points out, the gap between the two programs, during which time we were focusing on developing and flying the Space Shuttle, was too great for ISS to benefit much from Skylab’s lessons.
The book is well-written by David and two of the Skylab astronauts, Owen Garriott and Joe Kerwin. It has insights from many of the other Skylab residents, including excerpts from Garriott’s and astronaut Alan Bean’s flight journals. The book has perspectives also from those in mission training, mission control, flight directors, flight surgeons, scientists who had experiments onboard, newspaper headlines and NASA press releases, and so on. It’s a very complete picture of the program from inception and development, to the days onboard, to Skylab’s ultimate demise (burning up in Earth’s atmosphere). It’s informative and entertaining and thorough.
I really should’ve read it before writing Bold They Rise with David. Reading Homesteading gave me a lot of insight into how he crafts a book-size story; that insight could’ve been helpful when we were writing together. Yet, I may not have recognized it if I’d read it before since recognizing it now was only because I saw and read how he did it with the shuttle book.
I’m sorry, David, that it took me this long to finish reading Homesteading. It’s a wonderfully-told story that needed to be told. I’m proud of your accomplishments and for the opportunity to have partnered with you on your second book.
Astronaut Doug Wheelock gave a presentation at work this week about his time on the International Space Station and as the station’s commander. He was a great story teller and had all kinds of humorous stories. But the thing that stood out most was his one regret. His only regret was the three or four days that he got too busy and forgot to look out the window.
His advice that he had just told the current ISS crew prior to his presentation was “don’t let a day go by that you don’t look out the window.”
The view of Earth from space must be spectacular and breath-taking. The images certainly are; I can only imagine how much better it is in 3D. Wouldn’t you just love to lounge there like astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the above photo (taken by Doug Wheelock) literally watching the world go by? It would be a struggle, I imagine, to keep the astronauts from doing that all the time because it would so enjoyable.
During the research and writing of Bold They Rise (the space shuttle book David and I wrote, due out next year) and in present-day astronaut interviews, astronaut after astronaut name both viewing and photographing Earth as a favorite space pastime.
But like here, life up there is busy too. Work, meals, exercise, housekeeping, downtime, and so on. Wheelock said on the handful of days he didn’t look out at Earth he worked all day and when he went to bed realized “I didn’t even look out the window today.”
What struck me is — don’t we do the same down here? Sometimes the view of Earth is pretty spectacular from right where we are. We don’t have to be in space to appreciate it. But we miss it all because we just go to work, go about our business, and go to bed.
Great advice, Doug. To astronauts on Earthlings alike.
My co-worker and fellow blogger (David) shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is the night sky.
There’s a planetarium in my backyard. In my front yard too. On a clear night, I walk outside to take out the trash or check the mail and the sky is sprinkled with sparkling diamonds. It’s just gorgeous!
I remember one night a few years ago — I walked out, looked up, and was just amazed all the stars I could see. I literally thought, “This is just like being inside a planetarium.” In a way, that’s kinda sad. Sad that I think the real thing resembles the man-made replica rather than walking into the planetarium and admiring how close it comes to the night sky. But now I know better and I encourage my boys whenever possible to look up and appreciate and enjoy the gift of the stars and the gift of living in a place far enough away from city lights to see them.