Boys Playing with Balsa Wood: First Man Grapples with Darkness in the Heart of Space

I watch space movies not because it is easy but because it is hard. I watch them to remind myself that my country used to do great things, the same way that I read the work of Black authors, Latinx authors, Indigenous authors, Asian-American authors, to remind myself that my country has always been a son of a bitch.

First Man is the rare space exploration movie to honestly confront both of those sides of America. It’s been criticized by some people for not being patriotic enough (because it doesn’t focus on the moment Neil Armstrong planted an American flag on the moon) but it’s actually a complicated work that explores the idea of patriotism and masculinity, and the way those can become entangled. What results is a film that is by far the most interesting, and harrowing, film I’ve ever seen about the U.S. space program....

Sorry to Crush Your Dreams, But We’re Not Colonizing Space Anytime Soon

Mae and Ira Freeman’s 1959 children’s picture book You Will Go To the Moon promised a glorious near future of crewed spaceflight, as did later books like G. Harry Stine’s The Third Industrial Revolution and Gerard K. O’Neill’s The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. Alas, almost sixty years later, it seems as if the Freeman book would have been more accurately titled You Will Die On the Earth, of Old Age If You Are Lucky, But Perhaps Of Violence Or An Easily Preventable Disease. Also, All Of Your Pets Will Die. Which would not have been half as heartening, but might have earned it a Newbery.

Why didn’t we colonize space?

Perhaps because some of the early space hype was unconvincing when regarded with any attitude other than fanboy enthusiasm. And perhaps because there weren’t any compelling reasons (political, economic, scientific) for significant human presence beyond low Earth ...

Five Ways Science Has Made the Solar System a More Interesting Place

It may sometimes seem as if science does nothing but harsh SF’s vibe: “No stealth in space,” “Mars is nigh-impossible to terraform with on-site resources,” “relativity and its speed of light limit has stood up to eleven plus decades of intense testing,” and “all getting bitten by a radioactive spider does is raise a small welt and give one a very slightly increased chance of cancer.” BUT…science gives as well as takes. Here are five examples of ways in which the Solar System as we currently understand it is way more awesome than the Solar System of my youth.

Even limiting oneself to “potential abodes of life (natural or introduced by us)”, the Solar System is far more welcoming than it seemed 40 years ago. Granted, it helps that I grew up in that window between Mariner 2, which ushered in eighteen years of increasingly gloomy revelations about the ...

Rocket Men and Grieving Girls: On The Myth of the American Astronaut

For forty years, media about the space program held to a rigidly binary public image: astronauts were the manliest men who ever manned. They were test pilots, physically tough, able to scoff at pain, laughing in the face of death as they flew into space all in the name of beating the Russkies to the moon. They were backed by close-knit teams of engineers—white men with crewcuts, black plastic glasses, white shirts tucked into black slacks, pocket protectors, and slide rules. Men who barked numbers at each other, along with sentences like “Work the problem, people!” and “We’re not losing an American in space!” and who would, maybe, well up just a little bit when their flyboys finally came back on the comms. They were just as tough and just as manly, but like, nerd-manly.

There was no room in these capsules or HQs for women. The ...

Among The Stars: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

Picture this: It’s the 1960s. Earth was flattened by a meteor, and humanity’s time is ticking as temperatures rise and catastrophic climate change looms like a spectre. A young, world-famous astronaut, pilot, and mathematician bounds through the tunnels of Bradbury, a human-populated moonbase with Mars on her mind. It’s a gorgeous, electrifying concept executed flawlessly by Mary Robinette Kowal.

The Fated Sky is the second volume in a prequel duology to Kowal’s Hugo Award-winning novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” The first volume, The Calculating Stars, which I enjoyed tremendously, introduced readers to a young Elma York, who readers met in the novelette as the titular “Lady Astronaut of Mars,” and tells the story of her involvement in humanity’s reach for the stars after a catastrophic meteor strike wipes out most of the United State’s eastern seaboard. One of the reasons “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Astronaut Ladies

Mary Robinette Kowal’s novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” won the 2014 Hugo Award in its category. Now Tor Books brings us a pair of novels about Elma York’s life before her final mission: even before Mars.

The simplest way to describe Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and its sequel, The Fated Sky, is as an alternative history of the American space programme. But that’s not all it is: it’s a story about a young Jewish woman with an anxiety disorder using all the tools at her disposal to gain a place for herself in the astronaut programme, and building coalitions with other women to bring them with her. (It’s also a story about how that young woman, Elma York, benefits from white privilege and puts her foot in it with thoughtless bigoted assumptions, and how she keeps trying to learn better.)

In 1952, ...

Happy Moon Landing Day!

Today marks the 48th anniversary of humankind landing on the moon… and Tor.com’s 9th birthday! To celebrate, we’re looking back at our Moon Landing Day series—we invited authors, artists, critics, and fans in the science fiction community to share with us what they were doing on July 20, 1969, and how it informed their relationship with science fiction. Check out personal remembrances from C.J. Cherryh, Larry Niven, Frederik Pohl, Jo Walton, and more!

Five Books That Make Epic Drama Out of Space-Faring History

Space travel has always been an operatic exercise. Igniting millions of pounds of explosive fuel inside a machine carrying a crew of human beings and flinging rocket and living payload into the void at thousands of miles per hour is not the stuff of chamber music. It’s a big, crashing, multi-part symphony of noise and light and life and drama. Some books, however, capture that power more than others. It was the narrative pyrotechnics of space that drew me to write Apollo 13 with astronaut Jim Lovell and, now, to return to that great trove of space tales with Apollo 8. I can, of course, hardly be objective about the five books that best turn space history into dramas. So leaving it to others to judge my own, here are the five that have thrilled me most.  

A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin

The great sweep of ...

This Exoplanet May Have an Atmosphere; Could It Support Life?

It seems as though we’ve been finding exoplanets left and right—from Proxima b to the TRAPPIST-1 system’s multiple Earth-sized planets—but what we’ve really been looking for is a planet with an atmosphere. It’s likely that Proxima b’s atmosphere has been stripped away by its host star, and we’re not quite sure of what’s happening with the TRAPPIST-1 planets yet. But now, it looks as though we’ve discovered a planet with an atmosphere. Just 40 light years away, the rocky planet LHS 1140b orbits the red giant star LHS 1140, and it appears to retain its atmosphere. Our sun, a yellow dwarf, is much hotter and smaller than red dwarf LHS 1140, which makes it okay that LHS 1140b is much close to its star than Earth is to the Sun. In fact, it’s better than okay—LHS 1140b is smack dab in the middle of the habitable zone, which ...

Why the Next SpaceX Launch Is Important

SpaceX is constantly making headlines, so to say that the next launch is important seems disingenuous; after all, between supplying our astronauts on the ISS and successfully landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket, it seems as though every launch is important. Which certainly is the case. There’s nothing easy or routine about spaceflight, after all. But SpaceX’s next launch, currently scheduled for Thursday, March 30, a 6:27 PM EDT, is different. It’s historic. And if it’s successful, it’s going to shape the trajectory of things to come. Tomorrow, SpaceX plans on flying a reused first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time. Rockets usually work in stages to optimize weight and fuel calculations; the more weight you have, the more fuel required to drag it up out of Earth’s atmosphere. And let’s not forget that fuel itself is the most significant component of a ...

NASA Might Make High-Speed Space “Internet” a Reality

lunarlaser As NASA looks more towards exploring our solar system (and beyond) and sending astronauts to Mars, they’re also rethinking the way we will communicate with spacecraft, satellites, and astronauts. Currently, NASA uses radio-frequency (RF) signals to communicate with space. These radio waves are a reliable, tested technology, but they have their downsides for deep space. First, signals degrade en route to the Earth; by the time we receive them, the quality has eroded. Second, they require giant radio receivers on the ground to receive these transmissions. Third, the quality of the signal severely affects data transfer speeds and bandwith. This is why NASA is studying new communication technology, and it may have found it with the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD). This new technology, still in the testing phases, uses lasers for communication. Currently radio transmissions only provide a limited bandwith for spacecraft to send data, which is why they ...

This Star Is Orbiting a Black Hole at 1% of the Speed of Light

Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss 47 Tucanae X9 is a star system located almost 15,000 light years away. Scientists have been studying it for years—since 1989—but this week they found something shocking: the system’s star is incredibly close to a black hole and orbits it at an extraordinary speed. When the system was first discovered, scientists believed it consisted of a white dwarf star pulling material from a sister star, likely a yellow dwarf (like our Sun). White dwarf stars are incredibly dense (think the mass of the sun, but the size of the Earth), and as a result they often feed off fellow stars in binary star systems. This is called a cataclysmic variable star. That’s what astronomers thought was happening in the 47 Tucanae system. However, in 2015, astronomers discovered they were wrong: the white dwarf star wasn’t siphoning off a fellow star. It was actually orbiting a black hole, and that black ...

Sleeps With Monsters: The Power of Community in Hidden Figures

hiddenfigures01

Long after the rest of the world, I’ve finally managed to see Hidden Figures.

As a film, it deserves its accolades. Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson deliver extraordinarily powerful performances, ably framed by Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner. It follows some of the conventions of a biopic, but manages to marry biopic with the pacing of an action film for a smooth, elegant and taut narrative that combines to tell a triumphant story about science, courage, and perseverance. And it is beautifully shot.

As critics, we know—or we ought to know—that how we react to a piece of art, what we say about it, and how we frame our response, says as much about ourselves as the work in question. So when my first reaction to Hidden Figures is to see it as a really interesting film about power, and about ...

Sleeps With Monsters: The Power of Community in Hidden Figures

hiddenfigures01

Long after the rest of the world, I’ve finally managed to see Hidden Figures.

As a film, it deserves its accolades. Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson deliver extraordinarily powerful performances, ably framed by Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner. It follows some of the conventions of a biopic, but manages to marry biopic with the pacing of an action film for a smooth, elegant and taut narrative that combines to tell a triumphant story about science, courage, and perseverance. And it is beautifully shot.

As critics, we know—or we ought to know—that how we react to a piece of art, what we say about it, and how we frame our response, says as much about ourselves as the work in question. So when my first reaction to Hidden Figures is to see it as a really interesting film about power, and about ...

Astronomers Find 7 Earth-Sized Exoplanets Orbiting One Star

nasa-exoplanet Today, NASA and the ESO announced that astronomers have discovered seven earth-sized planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1. The star system is located about 40 light years away. Last August, scientists made headlines when they announced the discovery of Proxima b, a rocky Earth-sized planet located within the habitable zone of a nearby star, Proxima Centauri. The “habitable zone” is the distance a planet needs to be from a star in order to support liquid water. Too far, and all the water on the planet will be ice. Too close, and any water will boil off the surface. The size and composition of Proxima b was also important; the majority of the planets we’d found until then had been gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn. Because these planets are larger, they are easier to detect through the transit method. Exoplanets are too small to find through direct observation. Instead, scientists ...

India Launches a Record-Breaking 104 Satellites on One Rocket

isro_pslv-c37_rocket_launch_1487152328171 You’d be forgiven if you had no idea India had a space program; it’s still in its fledgling stages, but it’s come incredibly far in a short amount of time. Yesterday, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history, launching a record-breaking 104 satellites aboard a single rocket. The origins of the Indian space program date back to the 1920s and 30s, but the ISRO in its current form was established in 1969. The first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was launched into space aboard a Russian rocket in 1975. The aim was to give the ISRO experience in building and launching a satellite. In 1980, the first Indian rocket carrying an Indian-made satellite, Rohini, was launched; this was also an experimental satellite. Rohini’s successful launch made India the sixth country in the world with the technology to launch craft into space. The year 1984 saw the first Indian citizen soar into ...

India Launches a Record-Breaking 104 Satellites on One Rocket

isro_pslv-c37_rocket_launch_1487152328171 You’d be forgiven if you had no idea India had a space program; it’s still in its fledgling stages, but it’s come incredibly far in a short amount of time. Yesterday, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history, launching a record-breaking 104 satellites aboard a single rocket. The origins of the Indian space program date back to the 1920s and 30s, but the ISRO in its current form was established in 1969. The first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was launched into space aboard a Russian rocket in 1975. The aim was to give the ISRO experience in building and launching a satellite. In 1980, the first Indian rocket carrying an Indian-made satellite, Rohini, was launched; this was also an experimental satellite. Rohini’s successful launch made India the sixth country in the world with the technology to launch craft into space. The year 1984 saw the first Indian citizen soar into ...

5 Books to Read If You Loved Hidden Figures

hiddenfigures-readinglist You probably haven’t heard of Hidden Figures. It’s not a big deal, just a small movie about black women who worked as human computers at NASA in the 1950s and 1960s. It certainly doesn’t have “Oscar worthy” discussion surrounding it, and there’s no way it’s currently the biggest movie in the United States. Oh, who am I kidding, Hidden Figures is all of those things, and for great reason! This movie that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of black women to our space program (and the amazing book that it’s based on) is winning acclaim right and left. If you loved this movie, and would like to know more about women who worked on the space program or contributed to space science (and have since been lost to history), check out these amazing books.


Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to ...

rocketgirls
mercury13
rocketgirl-morgan
glassuniverse
womenscience

Announcing Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Credit: Cecilia Weightman Dave Hutchinson’s work has been shortlisted for many awards, including The John W Campbell Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the Kitschies, the Arthur C Clarke Award, and more. We are thrilled to be able to bring you his new novella, Acadie.
They keep on running, but the original humans keep on chasing.

Dave said:
“It’s actually come as something of a surprise to find myself writing and publishing short fiction again after a very long layoff, and it’s a joy and an honour to be working with Tor.com, which for quite some time has been on my bingo card of places I most wanted to publish.”
Acadie was acquired by Tor.com’s senior editor, Lee Harris, who said:
“The scale of the story and the quality of the writing had me hooked right from the very start. I could not be happier to be publishing this book.”

Acadie ...

Announcing Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Credit: Cecilia Weightman Dave Hutchinson’s work has been shortlisted for many awards, including The John W Campbell Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the Kitschies, the Arthur C Clarke Award, and more. We are thrilled to be able to bring you his new novella, Acadie.
They keep on running, but the original humans keep on chasing.

Dave said:
“It’s actually come as something of a surprise to find myself writing and publishing short fiction again after a very long layoff, and it’s a joy and an honour to be working with Tor.com, which for quite some time has been on my bingo card of places I most wanted to publish.”
Acadie was acquired by Tor.com’s senior editor, Lee Harris, who said:
“The scale of the story and the quality of the writing had me hooked right from the very start. I could not be happier to be publishing this book.”

Acadie ...