8,000 tons of Space Debris Threaten Modern Life #space

Our daily lives on Earth depend on satellites in space. Weather forecasting, telecommunications, GPS, and increasingly the internet too. But defunct craft, discards from old launches, and smashed debris from collisions are filling the skies. Even astronauts on the International Space Station have to conduct special maneuvers to avoid larger chunks or hide out in their docked Soyuz spacecraft until junk passes by. The sky once seemed so vast, but today, we’ve cluttered it up with millions of pieces of trash.

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We may even be limiting our ability to travel into space.

Spacecraft to clean up the mess are being designed and tested. Here’s one international effort about to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ultimately, such craft will attempt to attach to dead satellites and push them toward Earth to burn up in the atmosphere. Eek! I hope they take the size of whatever survives to crash on land into consideration. But first comes a test using two devices:

Using a magnetic docking technology, the servicer will release and try to “rendezvous” with the client, which will act as a mock piece of space junk [and] carry out this catch and release process repeatedly over the course of six months. NPR

What a great basis for science fiction, don’t you think? I’m currently writing a story that launches newly minted pilot Winnie Bravo to clean up space junk. She’s based on the Moon, and there’s more than orbiting debris to worry about. Her space adventure turns deadly. The book will be released later this year, but you don’t have to hold your breath waiting! Subscribe today to my newsletter and I’ll keep you posted, but I’ll never sell your address or pester you with spam (promise, I’m too busy writing.)

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7 More Minutes of Terror! Mars Perseverance Rover to Land – Be Ready #Mars2020 #Mars

Only one week to go! On Feb. 18, 2021, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover (aka Percy) makes its final descent to the Red Planet, landing via a sky crane. Mars is too far away for mission controllers to help; the car-sized craft’s programming is all it has to rely on. The maneuver’s been used before, in the “seven minutes of terror” that we all endured when Curiosity landed. But still, I’ll be holding my breath (with a few gasps interrupting the seven minutes.)

Here’s what NASA has planned:

The mission will explore Jezero crater, which scientists speculate was a 250 m (820 ft) deep lake about 3.9 billion to 3.5 billion years ago. Jezero today features a prominent river delta where water flowing through it deposited much sediment over the eons, which is “extremely good at preserving biosignatures”. The sediments in the delta likely include carbonates and hydrated silica, known to preserve microscopic fossils on Earth for billions of years. Wikipedia

NASA has a great resource site: download lots of information, learn how to participate and watch the mission, and there are activities for students. The first interplanetary drone helicopter is aboard this mission, and I can’t wait to find out how that works out.

Until humans land on Mars in real-life, we make-do with science fiction. Join settlers in the first, near-future colony. Struggle for survival. Battle the deadly planet and sometimes each other. Set on the real-Mars as science knows the planet, my stories are full of action and suspense mixed with a vision of how you might one day live your life on the Red Planet. Click now and read the individual books at Amazon and other favorite stores, or get the value-priced box set, also available at Amazon and other favorite stores.

Holidays are Here – Get Ready With Free Reads You Can Share #scifibooks #giftideas

The 2020 holiday season is going to be… different. You can find and share good reads – how’s that for love at a safe distance? Subscribe now to my newsletter and you, your friends, and family can join me on Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and more: throughout December receive free eBooks in favorite formats (Kindle, EPUB, PDF and more) plus something special for signing up now.

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Click here now – right this minute – and subscribe so you don’t miss out. Happier Holidays!

Disturbing Scifi from the 1960s #sciencefiction #mentalhealthcare #scifi

I recently read a story by Philip K. Dick, a scifi author from the Golden Age. Buck Rogers it ain’t!

Science ficiton book cover - Martian Time SlipDick explored philosophical, social, and political themes, with stories dominated by monopolistic corporations, alternative universes, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. wikipedia

I read every word, all the way through, but “fun” is not the right description.  Mild spoilers follow.

The book comes from 1964. I think the right approach today is to view the story as the alternative history of a Mars colony in 1950s. Mars is barely habitable in shirt sleeves, with sparse plants and animals and a nearly-extinct race of Martians. Colonists use mimeograph machines and secretaries take dictation with a pad and pencil. Fascinating robotic teachers indoctrinate children in proper earthly culture.

Less adorably, one of the main characters makes remarks that are homophobic, misogynistic, and racist. He’s the villain, and casually cruel to everyone, but this can be off-putting. He uses the n-word to describe Martians who apparently look very much like African Saan people (another term for these people, Bushmen, is sometimes considered derogatory, depending on the usage.) There’s a brief suggestion that Martians and Humans were both seeded by some alien intelligence and so are related.

Despite the Martian setting, the story is about schizophrenia, which has become much more common on Mars than it is in real-life today. That term and “autism” are both used, and Dick presents his scifi interpretation of them – those effected experience multiple times in the past and future, which prevents them from relating to “normal” people. The visions these people experience (and we get to see through their eyes) are gruesome and apocalyptic, even for people with mundane lives. Dick gives a striking feel for such disconnects with repeated scenes, sometimes out of sequence, from different characters in the scene. The story shows sympathy for it’s characters, even the unsavory ones.

While it’s not an action-packed tale, terrible things happen in this story. There is guilt and shame from the father of an autistic boy. There is infidelity. There is suicide, and given Dick’s own dark life experiences, I wonder if this comes from something more real than imagination. That will keep me thinking about the book for a long time.

Cover of scifi magazine Galaxy

Dick wrote the cover story for this edition

I know a lot has changed in American culture since Dick wrote his story. I suspect a lot has changed in our understanding of schizophrenia and autism too, but I have no idea how readers familiar with these conditions will feel about the story. Please leave a comment and let me know.

The book, republished in 2012, is popular on Amazon and has 4 stars, where several reviewers find it’s look at mental illness to be kindly and sympathetic.

BTW, you know Dick’s work. The movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report are based on his writings.