Starship Century Symposium: Geoffrey Landis

Geoffrey Landis

Geoffrey Landis

[This post is part of a series about the Starship Century Symposium held May 21-22, 2013.]

Geoffrey Landis is a scientist at the NASA John Glenn Research Center working on Mars missions and on developing advanced concepts and technology for future space missions — interstellar propulsion, solar power and photovoltaics. Landis, supported by his scientific background, also writes hard sf and is the winner of a Nebula Award, two Hugo Awards – plus two Rhysling Awards for his poetry.

Landis opened by echoing a mantra of earlier speakers — Starflight requires producing and controlling vast levels of energy resources – ice and 3He harvested from the outer Solar System.

“The Moon was easy,” he teased, then said seriously, “It was the hardest technical project ever accomplished.” But the chemical rockets that took us there aren’t good enough for missions to the farther reaches of the Solar System, and certainly not for starflight.

Landis argued that the next thing we need is the spaceship equivalent of a pickup truck capable of hauling cargo for a wide variety of jobs – thus the title of his presentation, “Workhorse of the Solar System – The Nuclear Rocket and Beyond.”

Chemical fuels run up against the “rocket equation,” which dictates that as you go faster, it takes exponentially more fuel.  Missions to the distant reaches of the Solar System really need an energy source that is more energetic per unit of mass like nuclear, or an energy source you don’t have to carry on board (microwave, laser).

He added that ion thrusters have been successful for some missions, but electronic propulsion scales poorly to high thrust, requiring large amounts of power.

NASA tested a NERVA (Nuclear Energy for Rocket Vehicle Applications) NTR engine in the 1960s. All the requirements for a human mission to Mars were demonstrated, but it wasn’t pursued at that time.

Landis extolled the simplicity of nuclear rockets. The nuclear reactor produces heat. If you pass a gas over that heated reactor core, the gas heats up – and you can expand heated gas out a nozzle to produce thrust. A nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) is far simpler than nuclear generators used to generate electricity.

Hydrogen has been used because its atoms are the lightest and move the fastest when heated. But because of its low density large tanks are required to hold hydrogen fuel.

Another advantage of choosing hydrogen is that water is abundant in the outer Solar System. “Water is rocket fuel ore,” he noted. And once you get far from the Sun, “Water is just another type of rock.” So a nuclear rocket could be refueled using hydrogen generated from rocks harvested among the Trojan Asteroids or short period comets.

Landis devoted some time to the limits on NERVA’s efficiency inherent in the high-temperature sensitivity of the materials available to build the rocket. He mentioned several hypothetical ways to get higher temps without melting the reactor, suggesting “it’s an engineering problem,” so may eventually be overcome.

Lastly he outlined a manned mission to Callisto, a moon of Jupiter, that was studied in NASA’s Revolution Concepts for Human Outer Planet Exploration (HOPE). Two reasons for choosing Callisto are that it is believed to have water ice, and is far enough from Jupiter to be subject to only 0.01 rem a day. A surface base might be built there that would produce fuel for further exploration of the Solar System.

These developments are prerequisites to creating the energy economy needed to support interstellar missions.

[Note: Landis acknowledged Stanley Borowski of NASA for some material used in the presentation.

[The Starship Century anthology, Symposium edition, is currently available in paperback for $28 — click here.]  

How To Buy the Starship Century Anthology

Starship CenturyThe Starship Century anthology, Symposium edition, is currently available in paperback for $28 — click here.  (The ebook edition is coming in August.)

Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon is a 340-page partnership between authors from both science and fiction writing backgrounds to illustrate what it will take to travel to another star within the next century.

Edited by Gregory Benford, New York Times bestselling science fiction author, and James Benford, leading expert on space propulsion, Starship Century includes science fiction by Neal Stephenson, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, John Cramer, Richard A. Lovett, and Allen Steele, as well as scientific articles by Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Robert Zubrin, Peter Schwartz, Martin Rees, Ian Crawford, James Benford, Geoffrey Landis, Paul Davies and Adam Crowl.
This groundbreaking anthology of science and science fiction is based on findings and discussions of the 100-Year Starship Symposium held in 2011. In it, top scientists tackle the opportunities for our long-term future in space. Alongside them, science fiction authors explore the dream and the possibilities.

Bradbury’s Favorite Bookshop

Steven Paul Leiva, who organized the incredible Ray Bradbury Week in Los Angeles in 2010, and helped persuade the Los Angeles City Council to name a downtown intersection by the Central Library “Ray Bradbury Square,” has written Searching for Ray Bradbury, a short collection of his essays about his friend and colleague.

One of these pieces, Leiva’s “Ray Bradbury’s Favorite Bookshop”, was recently published on The Huffington Post:

When a great American author recommends a bookstore to you, you would be well-advised to listen. When he does it with enthusiasm and passion, which was the only way Ray Bradbury ever did anything, you would be well-advised not just to listen, but to take note — in indelible ink on acid free paper, on any recording device you have handy, and by any method of mnemonics you practice.

“Steve, you and Amanda must come to my book signing next Wednesday. But not just for me, it’s at one of the best bookstores ever, Mystery & Imagination in Glendale, great name, huh? It’s from Poe!”

Bradbury regularly appeared at Mystery & Imagination Bookstore for signings, and fans thronged to his annual birthday celebrations there.

Naturally, Mystery & Imagination hosted the launch party for Leiva’s own collection this past May 26.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]
Ray Bradbury's 89th birthday party

Crowd at bookstore

Crowd at Mystery & Imagination Bookstore for Ray Bradbury’s 88th Birthday in 2008.

Bo Derek wishes Ray Bradbury a happy 90th birthday in 2009.

Bo Derek wishes Ray Bradbury a happy 90th birthday in 2009.

Pete Atkins and Dennis Etchison outside Mystery & Imagination Bookstore

Pete Atkins and Dennis Etchison outside Mystery & Imagination Bookstore

Starship Century Symposium: Patti Grace Smith

[This post is part of a series about the Starship Century Symposium held May 21-22, 2013.]

Patti Grace Smith

Patti Grace Smith

Patti Grace Smith formerly served as Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation for the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. For eleven years she headed the area responsible for licensing, regulating, and promoting U.S. commercial space transportation.

Speakers at the Starship Century Symposium generally dealt with a yet-to-be created future they have extrapolated from current science, whereas Smith, a former Department of Transportation official, focused on today’s commercial space industry. If the others gave us storyboards, Patti Grace Smith gave us high definition photos.

“Space is an attitude,” said Smith, who credited Elizabeth Dole for getting the commercial space office placed in the Department of Transportation.

The FAA forecasts there will be 291 commercial space launches in the global market from 2012-2021.
Reusable suborbital

Builders of Suborbital Reusable Vehicles (SRV) are taking reservations – Virgin Galactic wants to start flying its 6-seater SpaceShipTwo before the end of the year.

Drawing on DOT’s 2012 report Suborbital Reusable Vehicles: A 10-Year Forecast of Market Demand [PDF file], Smith said the average price per seat for a ride to the threshold of space is estimated at $123,000. Armadillo, Virgin Galactic and XCOR reported 925 total reservations as of June 2012.

A survey of high-wealth individuals suggests there are enough customers willing to pay current prices (between $95,000 and $200,000) to keep up a sustained demand for suborbital flight.

No cargo prices (other than satellite deployment costs on an XCOR Lynx Mark III) have been announced, though some providers say cargo costs align with seat costs for their vehicles.


Smith, noting that when in government service she was especially concerned with domestic business opportunities, said U.S. launch providers will need to remain competitive to win a significant portion of the future launch contracts over foreign competitors.

The government supports domestic launch providers through its policy toward risk. A launch provider is required to obtain the maximum possible liability insurance. Then, in the event of a mishap that leads to successful third-party claims in excess of the insurance requirement, the U.S. government is authorized to pay up to an additional $1.5 billion (adjusted for post-1988 inflation – approximately $2.7 billion today). The payment is not automatic and subject to Congressional appropriations. The commercial space launch provider (or other legally liable party) is responsible for any claims beyond that.

The supporting law has been extended by Congress several times since its original passage in 1988. The U.S. industry views the arrangement as a key element in its commercial competitiveness. While Smith had advocated for another 5-year extension, with the current political climate and budget constraints it has kept going with a year-to-year renewal.

Gary Hayes Passes Away

Eric and Gary Hayes and Rhiannon at Tuscon in 2005.

Eric and Gary Hayes and Rhiannon at TusCon in 2005.

Artist Gary Hayes, a Tucson, AZ fan, died of a heart attack on May 29. He and his wife, Rebecca, have been part of the local sf convention – TusCon – for many years.

Gary Hayes steampunk artHayes loved steampunk and made all kinds of gear and weaponry.

He created program book covers for TusCon and art for membership badges. Hayes worked security, too – towering 6’ 6” tall and slinging a faux machine gun, who was going to talk back to him?

Hayes and his homemade Tommy-gun also put in appearances at a local historical re-enactment called Dillinger Days, after the famous gangster.

Gary Hayes with his steampunk machine gun during Dillinger Days. Photo by Ana Ramirez

Gary Hayes with his steampunk machine gun during Dillinger Days. Photo by Ana Ramirez

[Via Mike Willmorth.]

Bradbury’s HS Yearbook

Bradbury yearbookIt’s not Ray Bradbury’s personal copy but he appears all throughout the Los Angeles High School Summer 1938 yearbook now being offered by AbeBooks for $550.

Bradbury’s high school yearbook, Volume 83 of the Blue and White, issued semi-annually, this volume published by the graduating class of Summer 1938. Bradbury’s senior picture is accompanied by the write up: “Ray Douglas Bradbury/Likes to write stories/Admired as a Thespian/Headed for literary distinction.” Bradbury is also pictured as a member of the Drama Club, the Poetry Club, and the Glee Club, and perhaps in two other, unconfirmed, group sightings.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Jack Vance (1916-2013)

Jack Vance, one of science fiction’s most respected writers, died May 26 at the age of 96.

Vance’s first published story, “The World-Thinker,” appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1945. Another sale early in his career was to 20th Century Fox, who also hired him as a screenwriter for the Captain Video television series.  Over the years Vance wrote more than sixty books in three genres, including 11 mystery novels as John Holbrook Vance and three as Ellery Queen.

While I enjoyed every Vance story I ever read, it was his five-novel Demon Princes series that really hooked me. They relate Kirth Gersen’s revenge on five notorious criminals who carried his village off to slavery when he was a child. The first three books came out in the 1960s, then he didn’t write another for 12 years. I was afraid he’d never finish. I was able to start breathing again when the last two were announced by DAW, finally appearing in 1979 and 1981.

Two traits that set Vance apart from many other writers were use of an elevated diction, and his power to create future cultures that felt deeply changed from our own by time and technology. As Sidney Coleman said in a review for F&SF, “his people are true citizens of the future, not just twentieth-century Americans in fancy dress.”

Dick Lupoff delivers Jack Vance's 2010 Hugo.

Dick Lupoff delivers Jack Vance’s 2010 Hugo.

Jack Vance was a Guest of Honor at MagiCon, the 1992 Worldcon, named a SFWA Grand Master in 1997, and recognized with a World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984. He was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.

Vance’s “The Dragon Masters” won the Hugo in 1963. His 1966 novelette “The Last Castle” won both the Hugo and Nebula.

In 2010 his autobiography This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”) won the Best Related Book Hugo.

In 1946, Vance met and married Norma Genevieve Ingold (she died in 2008).

In years gone by Frank Herbert and Poul Anderson were among Vance’s closest friends. The three jointly built a houseboat which they sailed in the Sacramento Delta. The Vances and the Herberts lived near Lake Chapala in Mexico together for a period.

[Thanks to Sam Long and John King Tarpinian for the story.]

My Dad, Rod Serling

SerlingsAnne Serling is interviewed about her memoir As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling in the May 29 issue of the LA Times.

Not only did your father have physical issues because of the wounds he suffered in World War II, he also had nightmares of his experience in combat.

He absolutely did. I vividly remember him having nightmares and when I would ask him what happened he said, “I dreamed the Japanese were coming at me.” Back then post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t even a term.

He always planned to go into teaching kids physical education, but because he had been so traumatized by the war, he switched to language and literature. He was quoted saying he needed to get it off of his gut and out of his system.

Part of the soundtrack for her promo video comes from Mike Wallace’s interview with Rod Serling, first aired in 1959. The most eerie thing in the interview has nothing to do with Twilight Zone — it’s seeing both men puffing away on cigarettes behind the opening title.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

BSFS 50 in the News

Ron Bounds and David Ettlin.

Ron Bounds and David Ettlin.

Last weekend’s Balticon prompted a lookback at the Baltimore SF Society’s 50th anniversary celebration in the Baltimore Post-Examiner.

David Ettlin distinctly remembers the winter day in 1961 when he first encountered Jack Chalker.

“We were stuck for nine hours in a snowbound BaltimoreCity transit bus.  Though we had never met, both Jack and I were students at CityCollege.  He saw me reading one of those double-sided Ace science fiction books and struck up a conversation.  Jack told me about an entire world of science fiction fandom I didn’t even know existed.”

Ettlin was hooked.  What started as an extended conversation between two strangers on a snowbound transit bus grew to a small coterie of friends who bounced between informal basement get-togethers in Baltimore and more structured meetings in Washington, D.C.  Returning from D.C. New Year’s Eve in 1962, in the back of a Trailways bus, the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) was born.

Quite a few past and present fans are reference in the article, with quotes from Ettlin, Ron Bounds, Patti Kinlock and mentions of Jack L. Chalker, Mark Owings, Roger Zelazny, Jerry Jacks, Kim Weston, Alexander Harris, John Zaharick, Sarah Pinsker, Karlo Yeager, Eric Yount, and Ben Wang.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]

Good For a Laugh

At this risk of this blog becoming a Bussard ramjet of Star Trek parodies, I offer one more — a British commercial compiled from a few choice moments of Classic Trek.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the link.]