Let’s Launch a Book


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I am SO looking forward to Saturday’s book event with astronauts Hoot Gibson and Rhea Seddon, and I want to tell you why.

First, though, do you guys know who Hoot Gibson and Rhea Seddon are? There’s multiple bios on the web but the gist is this: They were part of the first class of astronauts selected specifically for the space shuttle program. Seddon is one of the first six women chosen by NASA to be astronauts, which is quite an honor. Hoot Gibson is her husband. They met and married while in the astronaut corps — the first astronaut couple, actually — raised a family and are still together, all while pursuing pretty demanding careers, not just as astronauts but after leaving the corps, Seddon returned to her career as a medical doctor and Gibson as a pilot.

Do you feel like you know a little more about these two now? Good. Are you starting to catch on to why I’m so excited? Even better.

So, here’s some of the things that excites me about having these two astronauts in particular talking and signing books with us:

First, Rhea Seddon doesn’t do a lot of speaking events — has anyone reading this heard her speak before? — I haven’t, so this will be new to me. Her website http://www.rheaseddon.com is fascinating so I have high hopes for what she has to say.

Two, she and Hoot are doing this talk together, which is another rarity. Hoot does a lot of public speaking, but having these two together is such a treat!

Three — These guys lived the story we tell in Bold They Rise. They were in the first class of space shuttle astronauts. They were on the development teams that developed the shuttle hardware and software. They experienced the first flights. They lost friends when Challenger exploded. We just tell the story in Bold They Rise, but these two astronauts lived the story we tell. We can re-tell stories we’ve read about. They can tell stories they remember. Big difference. I can’t wait to hear their recollections.

Four — when I talked with their representative about having them come talk at the event, I offered to send to Hoot a complimentary copy of Bold The Rise so they could be familiar with the book. But the woman I was working with said she believed he already had a copy of the book, that when they first talked about our event he had heard of Bold They Rise, had placed a pre-order some time ago, and had just been notified that his copy had shipped. How about that?!?

If you’re in the Huntsville area I hope you’ll come out. The talk is included with regular admission the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, which is graciously loaning us their facility and will be handling book sales. Books will be available for purchase. NOTE: Astronaut signing will only be available to book holders purchasing books at the event.

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Book Review: Homesteading Space


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.

Oops.

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.

Take Time to Look Out the Window


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.

Launching Rockets


The weather this past weekend was absolutely gorgeous, and we took advantage if it by launching rockets. We tried to launch a few of David’s model rockets back in November, after coming back from not seeing the space shuttle launch, but we had problems with old batteries and old engines and ended up with a scrub ourselves.

This past Sunday was the most beautiful day we’ve had since then, so we took the opportunity while we had it and managed to get three rockets off the ground — off the ground and in the air. I say “we” like I or the boys had anything to do with the success of launch day. I mainly helped kept the boys out of the way and take this cool picture to document the experience. David did all the hard work like having built the models in the first place, installing the engines, setting up the launch pads and firing the engines. We all, however, helped with recovery and we all shared in the “ooohs” and “ahhhs.”

This past week at work I was given an unexpected opportunity to go back down to Florida next week to see another attempt to launch the same mission that didn’t launch for us in November. So David, the boys and I, as well as a few other co-workers, will be going down to the Cape mid-week for that. I’m hoping our successful troubleshooting and launch this past week bodes well for the coming week’s shuttle launch.

Gala


In an uncanny twist of events I had the opportunity last year to attend the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s annual gala. This event is attended by everybody who’s anybody in the world of space exploration, from rocket scientists to moonwalkers to authors of books about space (I’ll get back to that point in a minute). Ok, so “everybody who’s anybody” might be a tad of an overstatement, but it’s still quite the star-studded event. For me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I had a fabulous time pretending to part of a world to which I really don’t belong.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, in another strange twist of events I was fortunate enough to go again this year as the guest of my co-worker and soon-to-be co-author David. (Again, more on that in a minute.)

One of the things that made this year’s event cool for me, personally, was that the night’s events crossed my NASA world with my chosen career, journalism. One of the people receiving an award that night was Hugh Downs of television journalism fame. I remember watching Hugh on 20/20 when I was a kid. Yes, I’ve been a news junkie for quite a long time. So to see him in person was quite the highlight! I particularly enjoyed the nice video message from 20/20 co-anchor Barbara Walters. Let’s just say there were quite a few things in there about people believing you and giving you chances to do great things that I could relate to. ;)

The gala really is one fancy shin-dig, complete with more silverware than you know what to do with and classy table decor. At each place setting was a rocket lava lamp that we got to keep at the end of the night.

Last year I sat in the “media” area which was kind of on the outskirts of the dining area. I watched most of the on-stage speeches and award presentations on the screens spread throughout the center. This year our seats were directly in front of the stage, one row back from the “VIP” area. Directly in front of us were the mayors of Huntsville and Madison. One table over was the astronaut table. Hugh Downs table was also just one table away. So this year’s supremo seating was quite awesome. This is why I said everybody who’s anybody includes authors of space books because David ended up being quite the VIP himself. Last year a photo of the cover of David’s book, Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story, was one of the items revealed as new additions to the museum. The photo was flown to the International Space Station with Richard Garriott, son of Homesteading co-author and Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott. Two little-known facts about this item: the photo was printed at Target, a fact Target-lovers like I can be proud of, and on the back of the photo are several sits of initials, including mine.

This year there were no David-related space artifacts revealed but he was still mentioned in a big way as one of the evening’s special guests. He was mentioned at the first of the list, in fact, and another quite famous author in attendance wasn’t mentioned at all, so I was happy for him to bask a little in his own glory.

The mood at the gala was a little bittersweet, which is in itself is quite memorable, because as this event was celebrating the history of human spaceflight, the future of human spaceflight was (and still is) uncertain. In the days leading up to the gala, rumors were circulating that the president’s budget proposal may cut part or all of the Constellation and Ares programs that were to take humans back to the moon. Here we were, among past and present rocket scientists and astronauts, dining underneath the mighty Saturn V rocket that took humans to the moon the first time, pondering what the future may hold for humans in space. It felt like a very historic moment, and those of us who were there were very aware that we were not only celebrating history but doing so at a time when history is actively being made. Quite surreal to be there at this moment in time, and really to just be there at all. Thanks, David.