Let’s Launch a Book


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.

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.


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.

Pillownaut Visits Huntsville

A year or so ago I wrote a feature for work on Heather Archuletta. She was participating in a NASA bed rest study and I asked the main point of contact for the article if I could interview one of the participants for the feature. They put me in touch with Heather, and she was such a delight to work with! When our article came out Heather loved it and wrote about it on her blog, Pillownaut.

This past summer when I went weightless Heather found out about it and wrote about that on her blog too. We’ve stayed in touch off and on and eventually found each other on Facebook. Heather had seen two of three existing Saturn V rockets — the one at Kennedy Space Center and the one at Johnson Space Center — so I gave her hard time that she had to come to Huntsville sometime and see our Saturn V because it’s the best! (OK, so I’m a little partial, but it is rather spectacular.)

A few weeks ago Heather emailed that she’d like to stop in Huntsville as part of a road trip she was making, and if I had time we should meet up.

So this past Monday she was here and I got to plan a few things to show her. It turns out the Space & Rocket Center, where our Saturn V is displayed, was closed on Monday, but that’s OK because I sent an email to a colleague there and he agreed to let us in and show us around. Awesome! Craig, another person Heather knew here at Marshall, had a contact in test stands and arranged for us to take a driving tour of Marshall’s test stand area, including getting pretty close to the historic Dynamic Test Stand. (I had not been in the test stand area since taking a public tour as a teenager so that was quite a treat!) We also took Heather on a tour of the Payload Operations Integration Center.

We ate lunch at the center cafeteria and Heather shopped in the center’s space shop. It was a jam-packed day for all of us, but I was so glad she got to see the many things that make our center and city proud. She’s gonna write all about it (complete with pictures of us and Craig) on Pillownaut so I’ll post a link when that goes up. Below are a few pics from our tours.