Archive for the 'Man in Space' Category

Sep 09 2017

RIP Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

Jerry Pournelle passed away in his sleep yesterday. I heard about it this morning. I considered him a friend, and I will miss him.

I first read Jerry’s science fiction back when he was writing for Analog Science Fiction magazine, and later had the opportunity to work with him at Byte magazine. Byte flew me out to his Chaos Manor to get him up to speed on their new BIX system, a computer conferencing system based on my CoSy software. That didn’t take long, he was a very bright man, and we spent much of the afternoon into the evening in his study, discussing science fiction, space, fandom, and other common interests. As we were both headed to San Francisco the next day (he for a book signing, me to show BIX to the McGraw-Hill office there) he invited me to an after-party at his hotel. That’s where I met Larry Niven, Bob Silverberg, and Poul Anderson, among others.

I later worked with him, Niven, Anderson and a number of other writers, scientists and astronauts as part of the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy. We (mostly he) helped get the DC-X project started — reusable, vertical-takeoff-and-landing rocket technology that SpaceX built on (indirectly) for their Falcon launcher.

Jerry and me in 1993 at White Sands for the first public (2nd actual) flight of DC-X (Jerry and me in 1993 at White Sands for the first public (2nd actual) flight of DC-X. Gods I was young.)

Jerry also inspired me, by example, to start selling my writing, both non-fiction and later fiction. In fact, through a series of events I won’t go into here (but involving the Council, L5 and an International Space Development Conference) he led to me meeting the woman I later married. When we had twin boys, we briefly (very briefly) considered naming them Jerry and Larry.

His passing isn’t a complete surprise; he was getting on in years and he had had health issues in recent years, but it is still sad to see him gone. His last public appearance was at the recent DragonCon, and now I really regret not making sufficient effort to attend it. My condolences go out to his family, who were all very gracious when I visited his home.

He inspired a lot of people, writers, scientists, and others. And while his opinions may have annoyed many, a large number of those still respected the man. He will be missed.

Ad astra, Jerry.

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Apr 12 2011

Fifty years in space

Published by under Man in Space

It was fifty years ago today,
Major Yuri taught man how to play,
We’ve been going up and down for a while,
And it’s guaranteed to raise a smile…

Okay, Lennon & McCartney I am not, and Major Yuri Gagarin was no Sergeant Pepper. But on April 12, 1961, the USSR launched Yuri Gagarin to become the first person in space and the first person to orbit the Earth — a feat that the US, in the person of John Glenn, would not duplicate until February 20, 1962. (The US did launch two manned but sub-orbital flights before that, Shepard on May 5, 1961 and Grissom on July 21, 1961.)

It kicked the Space Race into high gear. President Kennedy would make his “before this decade is out” speech on May 25, three weeks after Shepard’s flight. (His “we choose to go to the Moon…not because it is easy, but because it is hard” speech came later, and we seem to have lost much of that spirit.)

A lot has happened in that fifty years. We sent men around the Moon less than eight years later, landing them on there just eight years, three months and eight days after Gagarin’s flight. (Question: does anyone here realistically think we could land men on the Moon eight years from today? Granted, the Apollo program (in different form) was already on the books back then, but we still had to invent most of the technology.)

On the upside, we’ve had people living and working in orbit almost continuously since the early 1980s, with Salyut 7, then Mir, and then ISS. Recently SpaceX, a private space company, successfully demonstrated a space capsule (Dragon) far superior to Gagarin’s Vostok or Glenn’s (and Shepard’s) Mercury, more the equivalent of a souped-up Apollo Command Module or Salyut. It was an unmanned flight, but it was pressurized (and, in an irreverent tribute to Monty Python, contained a wheel of cheese as the “passenger”) and survived reentry.

Could we get back to the Moon in eight years? Maybe, if somebody offered the contract to SpaceX, or perhaps China.

My friend and fellow author Brad Torgersen is putting together an anthology of original stories, RETRO, themed around different directions the space program could have taken if things had gone a little differently. Russia on the Moon first? Mars by the 1980s? A base on the Moon? I’m contributing both a story and a non-fiction article, and I’m looking forward to reading what the other invitees come up with. Stay tuned for a announcement of the, ahem, launch date.

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