Launch of a Satellite I Babysat for Over 8400 Miles

Ten years ago today — December 29, 2002 (GMT) — the Nimiq 2 communications satellite launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a Proton rocket. Before that, though, it had to get there …

(Antonov AN-124 ‘Condor’ ready to on- or off-load cargo. Image by Mike Young, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Nimiq 2 was a Canadian satellite, built for Telesat by U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin and launched by ILS — International Launch Services — on a Russian booster. I got involved in the program as a space technology security monitor, responsible for making sure no U.S. technology or satellite design methodology was transferred to the foreign companies.

As part of the monitoring effort, I had the task of escorting the satellite from the San Jose, California, factory to Baikonur. The spacecraft was loaded onto a Russian Antonov AN-124 cargo aircraft, and I rode with it for the entire trip — including eating Thanksgiving tuna-and-crackers en route.

Because the spacecraft and its support equipment made the aircraft so heavy, we could not fly directly to Baikonur. Instead, we made the trip in several hops, stopping for fuel each time:

  • San Jose to Winnipeg, Canada (1490.11 miles / 2398.1 km)
  • Winnipeg to Goose Bay, Canada (1605.93 miles / 2584.49 km)
  • Goose Bay to Shannon, Ireland (2118.3 miles / 3409.07 km)
  • Shannon to Ulyanovsk, Russia (2320.05 miles / 3733.76 km)
  • Ulyanovsk to Baikonur (909.67 miles / 1463.98 km)

Most of the stopovers were short, except for the stop in Shannon where the aircrew enjoyed the RON (rendezvous overnight) in a local hotel while I got to stay aboard the aircraft with the satellite. So much for my first trip to Ireland! I never strayed from the tarmac at the Shannon airport.

Once we arrived at Baikonur, I spent the early part of December 2002 observing the launch preparations, including mating the satellite to the Proton rocket and enclosing it in the payload fairing. Some of that experience went into my short story, “The Rocket Seamstress,” which was published in the literary magazine Zahir in 2007. (The story is now available on Anthology Builder.)

I did not stay at Baikonur long enough to see the Nimiq 2 launch, however. My boss flew in to take over monitoring the final prep and the launch itself, and I flew home (via Moscow and a couple other stops) in time for Christmas. But it was good to know that I had a part in the first commercial launch of a Proton with the Breeze-M upper stage.

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The Final — No, the Most Recent — Lunar Mission

Forty years ago today — December 7, 1972 — Apollo 17 lifted off aboard a Saturn V rocket out of Cape Canaveral as the last Apollo lunar mission.

(Gene Cernan, the most recent man to walk on the Moon. NASA image.)

Astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt comprised the Apollo 17 crew. On their first day in space, the crew took the iconic “Blue Marble” photograph with a hand-held Hasselblad camera.

Cernan and Schmitt landed the Lunar Module “Challenger” in the Taurus-Littrow region of the Moon on December 11. Evans stayed in lunar orbit aboard the Command and Service Module “America.”

Apollo 17 focused on surveying surface features and sampling geological materials in a region selected because it would yield both older and younger samples than previous Apollo missions, and featured Schmitt as the first scientist to land on the Moon. Schmitt and Cernan drove the lunar rover a total of 30.5 kilometers during their 75-hour stay on the Moon, and collected 110.4 kilograms (243 pounds) of lunar material.

When Cernan climbed aboard the Lunar Module to depart the moon, he said, “We leave as we came and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”* Usually he is referred to as the last man to walk on the Moon, but I prefer to think of him as the most recent man to walk on the Moon.

And even though I won’t get to be the next person to walk on the Moon, I hope someday to see another person walk on the Moon, and Mars, and even other worlds.

*Shameless plug: I made that sentiment a key part of my short story, “Memorial at Copernicus.”

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Analog Magazine, November 2012

Yes, that really is my name on the cover of the November issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact, which goes on sale next week.

And yes, I am still stunned every time I look at it:

It seems so strange, seeing my name there. I am honored, and humbled, and overwhelmed.

My novelette, “SEAGULLs, Jack-o-Lanterns, and Interstitial Spaces,” began as my entry in the Codex Writers Group Halloween contest. The story prompt was a set of quotes from five different sources, following a meme that had been making the rounds during National Book Week of selecting certain lines from specified pages of nearby books. Just to be obstinate, I used each of the sources in some way, even if only a phrase or a name.

Finally, yes, I am also stunned because the story has a fetching illustration by Vincent Di Fate, one of the all-time-great SF&F artists. Last year he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, which is part of the EMP Museum in Seattle.

The whole table of contents is listed in this SFScope post.

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My Story, The Second Engineer, in Asimov's Science Fiction

if you want to read my novelette, “The Second Engineer,” it’s in the October-November issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction which goes on sale next week. Ask for it at your local bookseller.

The history of this story demonstrates how s-l-o-w-l-y I write. It began as an entry in a contest to write a short story in a weekend. I didn’t finish the story that weekend; in fact, it took almost 18 months — and wise council at a con — to produce the version that was a “Writers of the Future” semi-finalist, and another few months of subsequent clean-up to get to this version.

For the contest, the story prompts were, “Think of a human body part and a physical object that should never, ever come into contact. Write a story about the day when they do,” and selections from three poems, one of which was Sylvia Plath’s “Tale of a Tub” which includes the lines “when the window, / blind with steam, will not admit the dark.” I can’t remember how my brain went from there to here … but there is a window in the story that won’t admit the dark.

The entire table of contents is laid out in this SFScope post.

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Space History Today: Scott Carpenter and Mercury-Atlas 7

A half-century ago today — May 24, 1962 — astronaut M. Scott Carpenter became the second American to orbit the Earth when he launched from Cape Canaveral.

(Mercury Atlas 7 launch. NASA image.)

Mercury Atlas 7, also known as Aurora 7, carried Carpenter on three orbits before returning him to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean.

During the mission, Carpenter solved a mystery that had occurred on John Glenn’s earlier spaceflight. Glenn reported seeing what he described as “fire flies,” and Carpenter reported the same thing after he “accidentally tapped the wall of the spacecraft with his hand.” This led analysts to conclude that the “fire flies” were particles of frost dislodged from the reaction control system.


The pilot was originally planned to be Donald K. Slayton but was changed to be M. Scott Carpenter after a medical examination of Slayton revealed an irregularity in his heartbeat.

“Deke” Slayton is an important historical figure in my alternate history story, “Memorial at Copernicus”, from the August 2010 issue of Redstone Science Fiction. You can listen to the story here, if you like.

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Retreating … to Write

Beginning about midday, I’m taking myself on a writing retreat. As we used to say in mobile C2, I’ll be at an “undisclosed location.” (Thank goodness for Marriott Rewards points.)

(TYPEWRITER by HeavenlyCabins, on Flickr, via Creative Commons.)

Over the next couple of days, my goal is to write the improved opening I thought of for my novel. Wish me luck.

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Analog's July/August Issue

I’ve had my copy for a couple of weeks, but the new issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact that includes my short story, “The Song of Uullioll,” should be available on newsstands soon. (So to speak; I don’t suppose there are many actual newsstands anymore.)

Yesterday the good folks over at SF Scope posted the table of contents for the issue.

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New Stories Accepted by Asimov's and Analog

May Day was very good to me! For the first time in my writing career, I received two short story contracts on the same day.

The contracts are signed and will shortly be in the mail, so I feel as if it’s safe to broadcast the details.

After a minor rewrite a couple of weeks ago, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine accepted my novelette “The Second Engineer.” I posted news of the story acceptance on Facebook, but didn’t identify the magazine because I didn’t want to get ahead of the paperwork. So yesterday the contract showed up in my e-mail …

… along with a contract from Analog Science Fiction & Fact for my novelette “SEAGULLs, Jack-o-Lanterns, and Interstitial Spaces.”

So on the same day I got contracts for my second story for Asimov’s and my third story for Analog. My head is still spinning.

On a Related Subject: My short story “The Song of Uullioll” is in the July/August issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact, which has been mailed to subscribers and should be on newsstands soon. (I’ll post the cover when I get the image file for my web site.)

Color me overwhelmed!


P.S. I understand “The Second Engineer” is scheduled to appear in the October/November issue of Asimov’s. GWR

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My Story in Asimov’s and My StellarCon Schedule

My near future military science fiction short story “Sensitive, Compartmented” is in the April/May double issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Subscribers have been sent their copies (at least, I got my subscription copy), so it should show up on newsstands and the web site soon.

(Look for this cover to get my latest short story.)

Also, this weekend I’ll be a guest at StellarCon in High Point, NC. StellarCon is sponsored by the Science Fiction Fantasy Federation of UNC-Greensboro, and this year’s Guest of Honor is bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss.

Here’s what I’ll be doing at the Con:


  • 5 p.m. – “Hard Science Fiction” panel
  • 8 p.m. – Panel on “Short Stories and Publication”
  • 9 p.m. – Filk


  • Noon – “Character Building” panel
  • 4 p.m. – Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 8:30 p.m. – Reading
  • 9 p.m. – More Filk (though I likely will have run out of songs)

I’m not sure yet what I’m going to read at my reading. Nor am I sure what I’m going to sing at my reading. I should probably figure that out.

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Last Titan-IIIB Launch … and the Latest Asimov's

Twenty-five years ago today — February 12, 1987 — a Titan-IIIB launched from Vandenberg AFB carrying a Satellite Data System (SDS) spacecraft.

(Undated Titan-IIIB [34B] launch. Image from Lee Brandon-Cremer via Wikimedia Commons. Almost certainly this was originally a USAF photograph.)

According to the National Space Science Data Cnter, SDS satellites operated in highly elliptical orbits and

served as a communications link between the Air Force Satellite Control Facility at Sunnyvale, CA, and 7 remote tracking stations located at Vandenberg AFB, Hawaii, Guam, Nahe Island, Greenland, the UK, and Boston.

This is significant to me because I know the tracking station in Greenland well. Many years later I commanded it: callsign POGO, the Thule Tracking Station.

According to this Wikipedia page, this was the last launch of the Titan-IIIB series. This particular vehicle was one of the -34B variants.

At the time of that launch, I was stationed at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB, helping prepare for a static test of a full-scale solid rocket motor in support of the Titan-34D “recovery” program. But that’s another story.

And speaking of stories: yesterday my contributor’s copies of the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction arrived, and there on page 72 is my story, “Sensitive, Compartmented.”

So … space history that relates in part to my own USAF experience, and a new short story. That makes for a pretty good weekend.

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