A Lunar Ranger and the Sea of Clouds

Forty five years ago today — March 21, 1965 — the lunar probe Ranger-9 launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas-Agena rocket. It was the last of the Ranger series of lunar spacecraft.

(First Ranger-9 image, showing Mare Nubium. NASA image.)

Ranger-9 took over 5800 photographs of the lunar surface before it impacted on the moon on March 24. The first photograph it took (above) was of Mare Nubium, as described below:

The first Ranger 9 image of the Moon, taken with the A camera from a distance of 2378 km. The image is centered on the Mare Nubium region of the Moon, which extends to the bottom of the image. At upper left is southeastern Oceanus Procellarum. The two craters with the central peaks at right are Alphonsus, diameter 108 km, and below it Arzachel, diameter 96 km. The crater near the center at about 8:00 is 60 km Bullialdus. The frame is approximately 1050 km across and north is at 12:30. The final impact point of Ranger 9 is in the Alphonsus crater, midway between the central peak and rim at about 1:30.

Source: Ranger-9 image page.

Mare Nubium, which dominates the lower part of that image, means “Sea of Clouds” — and friends may recall that the novel I’ve been shopping around is entitled WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS. So I particularly like this bit of space history.

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New Year, New Free Downloads Available

Happy 2010, folks! Hope your New Year has started off well.

I’ve been meaning to make some new items available for download on my GrayMan Writes web site, and today seemed like a good day to do it.

First, a new essay: “An Unsolicited Proposal for the Secretary of Education.” Here’s the opening:

We often treat education in the United States as a utility; i.e., we take it for granted the way we take for granted that the lights will work when we flip a switch. As long as it appears to be working, most of us give little thought to education, and it only takes a little interruption to arouse a great deal of attention. The Department of Education could and should help this vital national “utility” run better and produce uniformly excellent results, but to do so it should do more than collect and disseminate research, and more than dole out Federal funds for various programs.

With that in mind, we offer this proposal for how the Department of Education could lead by example: the Department of Education should establish, staff, and operate a charter school in metropolitan D.C. and make it the best school in the country….

The full essay is at this link.

Second, some free fiction: a historical short story entitled, “The Surfman.” The market for historical short fiction is almost nonexistent, but hopefully folks who like historical fiction will be able to find it on the web site. Here’s how it begins:

Several hundred yards off Long Beach Island, New Jersey, the small freighter should have been slipping along the wavetops headed who-knows-where. Her captain must’ve been drunk or incompetent to have hit the shoals in broad daylight with a favorable tide, but that didn’t matter to Silas Jacobs. It didn’t so much matter that the ship had ten or twelve sailors on board, and most couldn’t swim a lick; deep ocean sailors were like that. What mattered to Silas was that the ocean was trying to kill them….

If you want to read the story, you can download it here.

Both of these downloads are licensed under Creative Commons, so you can feel free to share them with anyone — all I ask is that you include the right attribution.

And I hope you have a terrific New Year!

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Space History: The Moon, Then and Now

Forty years ago today — November 14, 1969 — astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Alan L. Bean, and Richard F. Gordon, Jr., blasted off atop Saturn V rocket SA-507 on Apollo-12, the second lunar landing mission. President Richard Nixon attended, and became the first U.S. President to attend a launch.

(Apollo-12 launch. NASA image.)

On the ascent, the Saturn V was hit by lightning while it passed through a low cloud. This was the first such event in the program; the electrical discharge passed through the Saturn vehicle to the ground. After NASA confirmed the lightning had done no damage, the crew proceeded to the Moon.

(Apollo-12 mission logo. NASA image.)

While Gordon orbited in the Command Module “Yankee Clipper,” Conrad and Bean descended to the lunar surface on the 19th of November in the Lunar Module “Intrepid.” They landed on Oceanus Procellarum, the “Ocean of Storms,” and began their excursions. The mission included several milestones:

  • First time the surface crew went out on two EVA periods.
  • Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) deployed for the first time.
  • First time a geologist planned lunar surface activities in real time.
  • First-ever return of spacecraft parts from the lunar surface: from the Surveyor-3 lander.
  • First multi-spectral imagery of lunar terrain from lunar orbit.

That was then, and this is now: If you didn’t catch the news from NASA yesterday, the recent LCROSS mission confirmed the presence of water in the shadowed crater Cabeus at the Moon’s south pole. This is great news for future lunar exploration — and for those of us who have written stories about lunar exploration!

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Water on the Moon, Slush on the Desk

I was very excited to see the news about the latest results from lunar survey missions about the presence of water on the moon.

(Moon Mineralogy Mapper composite image. Click to enlarge. Left: Sunlight reflected off the near side of the moon. Right: Infrared image showing water and hydroxl molecule signatures near the poles. “The blue arrow indicates Goldschmidt crater, a large feldspar-rich region with a higher water and hydroxyl signature.” NASA image.)

The full story is here, but here are the highlights:

The observations were made by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3 (“M-cubed”), aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and NASA’s Epoxi spacecraft have confirmed the find….

“When we say ‘water on the Moon,’ we are not talking about lakes, oceans or even puddles,” explained Carle Pieters, M3’s principal investigator from Brown University, Providence, R.I. “Water on the Moon means molecules of water and hydroxyl that interact with molecules of rock and dust specifically in the top millimeters of the Moon’s surface.

I have a personal reason for being excited about this finding, and since so few people look at this blog I assume all of you already know what that reason is. So let’s move on to the slush on my desk.

Literary slush — unsolicited manuscripts, proposals, and queries — moves on and off my desk in waves. Reading it can be mind-numbing, but it can also be interesting and sometimes even entertaining. It’s not often a source of inspiration, but my writing friend Jim Hines wrote an ode to the slush pile entitled “Slush Reading, Seuss Style” that is absolutely fantastic. Check it out!

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Of X-Planes and Moon Rocks

Fifty years ago today — September 17, 1959 — Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight in an X-15, dropped off the wing of NASA’s B-52 flying out of Edwards AFB, CA.

(Cutaway drawing of the X-15. NASA Photo E62-7893.)

Here’s a NASA story commemorating the first flight, and a nice feature on Crossfield and his career.

And forty years ago today, the Smithsonian Institution unveiled the first lunar rock ever put on public display: brought back by Apollo-11, of course. Today I wonder if we have the national will to go back to the moon, or to go anywhere; the recent Augustine Panel noted that it’s technically feasible, but by damn it better be technically feasible by the 2020s if we did it back in the 1960s. It’s all a matter of money, and whether we see it as a cost or as an investment.

For the moment we have to content ourselves with the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission, due to smash into crater Cabeus-A in about three weeks to try to verify if the hydrogen concentrations detected on the moon are in the form of water ice.

I hope LCROSS finds water, and more than expected . . . but even if it doesn’t, that’s only one spot in one crater. It will take other investigations to prove whether the moon is completely devoid of water. (Why I care: The characters in my novel collect ice that’s been dredged up microgram by microgram out of the bottom of Faustini crater, and since Faustini was on the “short list” of possible LCROSS impact points [according to a graphic shown during the 11 September press conference] I think my fictional world is still plausible for now.)

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Problems in the Search for Lunar Ice

Last week controllers lost contact with the Indian lunar probe Chandrayaan-1, which was about to embark on a new series of observations in conjunction with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Now those radar observations won’t happen, as explained in this New Scientist article.

That sets back the search for ice in lunar craters, which will be vital to future lunar outposts. But this passage especially caught my eye:

Chandrayaan-1 flew over “a lot of little craters that looked like they had ice” and mapped 95 per cent of the polar regions before its mission ended,

according to Stewart Nozette of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. That sounds encouraging.

And provided that LCROSS — the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite — doesn’t experience another in-flight emergency, we should get a closer look at the contents of one crater in just a few weeks.

But no matter what any of these probes reveal: in the world of my novel, WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS, the colonists retrieve ice from the permanently shaded floor of Faustini Crater.

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Pioneer-11's Saturnian Encounter — PLUS, A Scavenger Hunt

Thirty years ago today — September 1, 1979 — Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to fly by Saturn. It flew past Saturn’s rings, passing 13,000 miles above the planet’s cloud tops.

(Pioneer-11 image of Saturn during its approach to the planet on August 26, 1979, from a distance of 1,768,422 miles. Saturn’s moon Titan is visible in the upper left. NASA image.)


Dragon*Con is coming!

For those of you who may be interested, Anthology Builder is sponsoring a scavenger hunt at the con. Nancy Fulda, the founder and high potentate of Anthology Builder — where, as the name implies, you can build your own anthology of (mostly science fiction and fantasy) short stories — produced a series of badges which con-goers can collect and display to win a free anthology. Details of the scavenger hunt are on this page, and here’s the badge for yours truly — not sure why the first version stopped working —

(Click to enlarge.)

— made to come as close as possible to the grandmother who is the lead character in “The Rocket Seamstress,” my story on the site.

So if you’re going to Dragon*Con, look for the badges … and if you’re not, pop on over and see all the stories that are available on Anthology Builder.

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Latest Results: Courting Literary Agents

After four months of trying to find literary representation, my scorecard looks like this:

  • 53 agents queried
  • 5 requested partials or additional information
  • 2 full manuscripts sent
  • 35 rejections

Of the 18 agents who still have my query, I expect I will never hear from many of them: some are very clear in their guidelines that they only contact people whose work they want to see. So that “rejection” number is low, but I have no way to know how low.

I never knew there were so many agents, and of course I’m only contacting those who represent science fiction and fantasy — a very small subset of the whole literary field. I still have a long list of agents I haven’t queried yet, but I admit that I’m starting to get discouraged. But I keep hoping that one day an agent will like my near-future science fiction story of survival and sacrifice on the moon, even though science fiction is lagging behind fantasy these days, and like it enough to take into those publishers who don’t accept unagented manuscripts.

And until then … we keep knocking on the metaphorical door.

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My Guest Spot on the Magical Words Blog

Yesterday I had the honor of being the guest blogger at the “Magical Words” blog. My entry was called, “Some Writers Make My Job Easy, And I Hate Them For It.”

“Hate” is really too strong a word for my feeling; yes, it’s in the title, but it’s hyperbole. If you make my job too easy, I won’t actually hate you; in fact, I probably won’t invest much emotional energy in even disliking you. In truth, we might get along as people, outside the strictly business relationship — offer to buy me a drink at Dragon*Con in a couple of weeks and I won’t turn up my nose at you — but if you make my job too easy then I’m likely to dismiss you as a writer.

I’m very grateful to Misty Massey, Faith Hunter, and David B. Coe for letting me join them on their blog. Hope you enjoy it!

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Elusive Success, and Believing In Our Work

A literary agent whom I hoped to query with my novel posted this message on Twitter yesterday:

Straight SF is very very hard to sell right now.

I wrote back that I hope I’m first in line when that trend changes.

I believe I’ve written a good book: it’s certainly the best book I could write at this time, and several early readers gave me very tough critiques that made it even better. I’ve got a great cover quote from a bestselling author, and have done everything I know how to do to increase its chances of success. Yet it is very possible that the current market will not accept a near-future, realistic, essentially hopeful SF story about colonists struggling to survive on the moon.

The uncertainty of succeeding with this novel makes me wonder . . .

In the grand if not the grandest scheme of things, does it matter, the success of a single person in any field of endeavor? What inventor or artist or thinker, if disease or injury or other calamity had prevented their accomplishments, would not have been replaced eventually? If not by a similar or even identical art (more likely in the realm of science than in any other), then by one that would be equally admired, equally revered?

So runs the train of thought headlong to disaster.

No — we must believe that our works have value for the moment and more than the moment. We must labor as if what we produce will make a difference on some scale — if not the universal, on the global scale; if not global, continental; if not continental, local; if not local, personal, even if limited to ourselves.

And so, onward.

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