Impressions from AIAA Space 2018, Part 3

This is my third of three summaries of what I observed at the AIAA Space 2018 Forum (the other posts can be found here and here). This isn’t necessarily the last posting on this conference…I might write later about my overall impressions of the space business in a separate entry in a week or two. However, these entries are long enough (this entry runs over 3,300 words, my apologies), so let’s get to it. Continue reading “Impressions from AIAA Space 2018, Part 3”

Impressions from AIAA Space 2018, Part 1

It’s been around 10 years since I last attended a conference for the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the professional association for aerospace engineers. I attended the AIAA Space 2018 Forum this week, and it felt like a different experience from when I was a NASA contractor 2006-2012. I also wasn’t attending as a reporter or for a job, just Bart Leahy, AIAA Member and interested space geek. Part of that could be my age, part of it was a reflection of what’s happening in the space business now. Exciting times to be in the business or just observing it as an interested member of the public. What follows are some of my notes from the various sessions for your reference. Continue reading “Impressions from AIAA Space 2018, Part 1”

Reflections on Jerry Pournelle

I saw in the midst of all the hurricane-related news this morning that science fiction author, technologist, and political advocate¬†Jerry Pournelle has passed away. I am saddened by this, though not greatly surprised, as Dr. Pournelle has been in ill health for a while now. Still, he shaped a great deal of my thinking and post-formal education, and so I’d like to take a few minutes to share my thoughts on the man. Continue reading “Reflections on Jerry Pournelle”

Book Review: Space Architecture for Engineers and Architects

space-architecture-coverThis is the¬†second review I’ve written of¬†a book by the author, Sandra H√§uplik-Meusburger (hereafter SHM), and the third review I’ve written on this topic because it interests me. Space Architecture for Engineers and Architects: Designing and Planning Beyond Earth¬†is similar to SHM’s¬†last book,¬†Architecture for Astronauts, in that it covers the still-in-its-infancy discipline of space architecture. And like her previous output, this book is a worthwhile addition to the aerospace’s collective knowledge. Continue reading “Book Review: Space Architecture for Engineers and Architects”

Zero G and I Feel Fine

A large number of my friends on Facebook are, like me, enthusiasts about human spaceflight. Therefore, naturally, the death of the first American in orbit (and the last of the “Original 7” American astronauts), John H. Glenn, Jr., produced a lot of mourning and sadness. I have to confess, Senator Glenn’s mission was before my time, but I honor his memory.

Three orbits around the world: it seems almost trivial now, when we’ve got astronauts circling the Earth for 150 days at a clip (and approximately 16 orbits a day). But at the time, Yuri Gagarin had flown around the world once and Gherman Titov had done it 17 times. So space was new in the early 1960s. And, as the book by Tom Wolfe pointed out, “Our boys always blow it” and “Our rockets always blow up.” Being an astronaut or a cosmonaut was a big deal and a high-risk proposition, especially since the odds of your dying in an experimental vehicle were high.

By 1962, the United States had put up two astronauts in the Mercury capsule aboard the Redstone rocket. The missions had gone suborbital, meaning that they had essentially gone up and down without circling the Earth. John Glenn, a United States Marine who had fought in World War II and Korea, was a test pilot with an ego as big as any of the Original Seven. His only difference was in lifestyle and public perception: he was not a hell raiser, fast car driver, or skirt chaser. He was as wholesome as one can get and still fly sh!t-hot airplanes across the country.

NASA chose Glenn for the first orbital flight because he was the next one in the mission pilot rotation. No doubt the agency was nervous about putting Glenn on the Atlas, which at the time had a less-than-reliable flight record. But send him they did, and Glenn went aboard willingly. Glenn was a Marine, as patriotic as they come, and he took his position as an astronaut seriously. The Mercury 6 spacecraft did not function perfectly, and Glenn had to¬†end his mission early after the ground control staff got an erroneous signal that the retrorocket package–which held the spacecraft heat shield in place–had jettisoned prematurely.¬†Friendship 7 and its pilot¬†survived, and Glenn returned to Earth a hero.

Much like the Soviet Union’s treatment of Yuri Gagarin, the United States was leery of launching their biggest¬†space hero into the great beyond again, and so Glenn was effectively grounded. Instead, he sought greener pastures. He left NASA, ran for the Senate, lost, but later won and served multiple terms (1974-1999).

Here’s what I wrote for the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW) about Glenn’s accomplishments:

The TVIW community expresses its sadness at the death of John Glenn, America’s first orbital explorer. Respected as a Marine pilot in World War 2 and Korea, a Navy test pilot at Patuxent River, and a NASA astronaut, he also served his country as a U.S. Senator and as the oldest person to fly in orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Glenn expressed America’s sense of bravery and wonder in a dangerous time. His three orbits aboard Friendship 7 also represented this nation’s first steps into sustained human presence beyond the Earth. The steps might seem small now, but at the time Glenn’s mission represented a true exploration of a new frontier. That indomitable spirit of adventure will be remembered and needed as humanity expands into the solar system and, eventually, beyond.

I still believe that. As a Senator, Glenn was as much a partisan as anyone in his party, and I’m not going to lie and say that I agreed with him. But his accomplishments¬†and his bravery–at a time we needed both–command my respect as much as the other Original Seven and the Apollo Program men who walked on the Moon. America has lost a hero to time (Glenn was 95 years old). However, as long as we honor the virtues and technical virtuosity¬†that men like Glenn demonstrated, we have something to aspire to, and we enlarge what we mean when we think of ourselves as human beings.

The exploration and settlement of space are among the most difficult things human beings have accomplished or ever will accomplish. It is right that we recognize and honor the people who perform the activity and make it possible. Ad Astra, sir.

The Abundance Mentality and Helping Others

My professional blog,¬†Heroic Technical Writing, is a public education service. My goal was and is to honestly help people seeking advice about the business¬†of technical writing. I’m not interested in putting up a pay wall, though I might write a book at some point. That’s about as far as my selfishness goes here.

Most of the time, I write blogs¬†for a generalized technical writing community of students and professionals who check out my writing from all over the world. Every month or two, a reader contacts me directly asking for specific advice about their particular situation. What’s amusing to me is that a lot of the people who contact me directly all have the same intention:¬†they want my job!

I understand that passion–I had it for years and it took me nearly 25 years to finally achieve it, so I appreciate that people think I have some magic formula for helping them¬†reach the same destination.


There are a couple of ironic twists to the advice I release¬†out into the world like a kid blowing soap bubbles¬†in the park. The first amusing part is that I no longer earn my living as a space writer, and haven’t since I was downsized out of my full-time job (through no fault of mine or my employer’s, I hasten to add)¬†in 2013. I do¬†some space work, but that’s not my¬†primary source of income. The other thing¬†that amuses me is that as I offer advice or even suggest points of contact, it occurs to me that I am creating a cadre of potential competitors for future work.

I still offer the help. Part of it is because I genuinely want to help. Also,¬†I suppose I’m confident enough in my abilities that I feel I could get specific work if I pursued it (I’m on a contract right now, so there hasn’t been a big rush). And the last reason why I keep helping is that I’m trying to develop what some folks call an “abundance mentality,” as opposed to a scarcity mentality.

Scarcity vs. abundance 

A person¬†with a scarcity mentality sees the world as a zero-sum game: if I get a job, someone else will not get it. Or they think, as I suggested above, that helping others get a job in my field creates my pool of competitors and reduces my chances. There are, in fact, only so many full-time “space writers” out there–and I know or have met many¬†of the best in the business. Surely I can’t afford to flood the market with proteges who might take the food out of my rice bowl! The scarcity mindset says, “I need to¬†protect¬†what’s mine!”

That’s one perspective. The abundance mindset, however, says that people can create their own jobs and careers. People thinking this way believe that the economic pie can and will continue to expand and that people can create their own special niches as the professional ecosystem diversifies and grows. The abundance mindset says, “There will always be more opportunity!”

And¬†space is an expanding field (no pun intended). It¬†isn’t just NASA or the Defense Department anymore. There¬†is now a small but steadily growing entrepreneurial¬†sector with companies starting to compete not just for launch vehicles but also satellites, space stations, asteroid-mining equipment, and other types of hardware. The sooner those private-sector companies reach and expand¬†their respective customer bases, the sooner we’ll see additional¬†start-ups¬†to support the markets that the primary space companies create. And as the space market expands, there will also be more opportunities for government to settle¬†in along the edges, should you wish to work in the civil service.

Thinking differently about your path

The point being, to be a writer in¬†the space industry, you don’t have to be working directly for NASA or one of its contractors, though that’s still a good option when the jobs are available. Likewise, if you’re not a space enthusiast but care deeply about animals, hunger, or nuclear power, there are alternative ways to support those causes that don’t require you to be right on¬†the front lines. I also know people whose actual job descriptions are nowhere close to scientist or engineer, but because they work at NASA, they take immense pride in “doing their part” for the space program.

No one needs to follow the exact path I did to get a job as a space writer–in fact, I highly recommend that you don’t:¬†chose an easier route! However,¬†there are many ways to serve a cause that you believe in, and having an abundance mentality allows you to be¬†open to multiple possibilities and multiple ways of reaching your preferred destination. And you might find something along the way toward your goal that you like even better.

So if you are a seeker of advice, fear not: I will continue to give¬†whatever wisdom I can offer. If you manage to get the same type of job I have, fantastic! Space is a difficult business and it¬†could use all the good communicators it¬†can find. Just remember to say thank you if I helped and to¬†pay it forward if you get to a point¬†where you’re able to help others. Think abundantly!