Thursday, February 21, 2019

Excerpt from Homer Hickam's novel CRATER about the fate of the Apollo 11 Landing Site

         Crater walked out of the dustlock into the most amazing place he’d ever seen, the main corridor of the bustling marketplace of the moon’s largest town. Maria was still dealing with the Armstrong City clerks and inspectors who’d emerged from the airlock to register the convoy, tax the heel-3 canisters aboard, and assist in their further transport. She also had to attend to the handling of Captain Teller’s body, including seeing his family. Crater wanted to see Teller’s family, too, but there was an urgent message for him to go to the Medaris Mining company offices and meet a representative sent from the Colonel. In the dustlock, the Armstrong City dusties insisted that he remove his Deep Space BCP suit with the explanation that the biotechnology had not been approved by the city health department. Crater didn’t mind removing it—the sheath was pretty dusty, after all—and the hot water showers afterwards felt very good.
         He headed for the company office but before he got there, the Sheriff of Moontown appeared out of the crowd, took him by the arm, and turned him around. “We have to be careful, Crater! There may be assassins.”
         Crater was surprised to see the sheriff. “How did you get here?”
         “Jumpcar,” he said. “The Colonel had a visitor and I hitched a ride.”
         That sounded awfully convenient to Crater, but the sheriff seemed sincere. So he let himself be led to a ticket counter which had a sign that said See the Site of Humankind’s First Landing on the Moon. There were photos of the American astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin for sale along with other souvenirs, including models of the Apollo capsule and the Eagle lander. The sheriff handed over an adequate number of johncredits and the clerk handed back two paper tickets. “Let’s hurry. We don’t want to miss the tram,” the sheriff said.
         The sheriff pointed at a dustlock which said Tours to Tranquility Base Landing Site. They went through it, emerging into a pressurized tram filled with tourists. “Welcome,” the tour guide said. “I hope you enjoy your excursion to Tranquility Base.”
         The sheriff pointed at two empty seats and he and Crater sat down. The tram pulled out, following a well-used track, while the tour guide announced that only one mile away was the landing site of Apollo 11, the place where humans first walked on an “astronomical body.” Calling the moon an “astronomical body” was something of an insult to Crater but he didn’t say anything, just looked out the window at the boring view which was mostly devoid of craters or anything else other than a mildly sloping plain of pebbly dust. Before long, the bus arrived at the famous landing site which was lit up by big spotlights. The tourists immediately started to take pictures.
         Crater gazed with some wonder at the truncated base of the landing craft called Eagle. Beside it was the American flag on a staff stuck into the dust. The flag was a recreation, of course, since the original flag had been knocked down when the upper half of the Eagle had taken off and, over the years, bleached white by the relentless sun.
         The tour guide had already exhausted his spiel on how close Armstrong had come to aborting the mission because of an overworked guidance computer, and how the brave American had landed anyway, completing the promise of the long-dead and little known President Kennedy who had ordered the landing to occur before the Russians could get to it.
         The guide was Russian so he proceeded to tell the tourists that, of course, the Russians had launched the world’s first earth satellite called Sputnik, and also launched the first person into space whose name was Yuri Gagarin. He also went on to say that during the civil war, poor Gagarin’s body had gone missing from the Kremlin during an attack by Siberian revolutionaries, but that was neither here nor there.
         The tour guide next turned to what had happened to the Apollo 11 landing site in the years following the landing. He mentioned the outrage in the provinces comprising the old United States of America that had occurred when a Chinese robot on tracks had barged into the site and destroyed many of the footprints while also knocking over some of the experiments left behind. A mission by the Independent States of America, which claimed the Apollo sites since it included among its member states Texas, Florida, and Alabama—where much of the Apollo hardware had been designed and built—studied the site to see if it could be reconstructed. One of its interesting findings was that it wasn’t the Chinese who had destroyed Armstrong’s famous “first step for man, giant leap for mankind” boot print but Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who had inadvertently stepped on it as he climbed off the ladder of the landing craft.
         While the tourists clicked their photos, the sheriff said, “I have your ticket for the elevator and the Cycler.”
         “I hope whatever is in that package is worth Captain Teller’s life,” Crater said.
         The sheriff took a moment, then said, “I guess nothing’s worth that.”
         “The crowhoppers were after me.”
         The sheriff looked incredulous. “You shouldn’t take these things so personally. The Colonel has many enemies. There might be any number of reasons why his convoy was attacked.”
         “Then why did you mention assassins?”
         The sheriff shrugged. “I’m a cautious man.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Answers to questions from an Iranian engineering student

NOTE: I was asked by an Iranian engineering student to please answer some questions for a magazine at his university. I agreed. The Iranian people are, in my opinion, pretty wonderful. I was happy to answer his questions and hope that the future of Iran will find it once more a free and open society.

- Homer Hickam

Dear Mr. Hickam, this written interview’s aim is to know you better and introduce you to our university as a successful writer and engineer, working in NASA.We would appreciate your consideration over these questions.
Best regards

    Could you introduce yourself , please?  (I know there are many introductions of you in Wikipedia and other websites, but I want to know how you introduce yourself.)

**** I am Homer Hickam, the author of many best-selling books, both fiction and non-fiction. This includes My Dream of Stars, the memoir of Anousheh Ansari. I was raised in the small coal mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather on both sides of the family were coal miners. My ancestors first came to North America in the early 1700's so we've been here for a long time. By DNA, I am English, Irish, German, Danish, Spanish, and even a little bit African American. I graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Industrial Engineering in 1964, served in the army during the Vietnam War, worked for the Army Missile Command in Alabama, the 7th Army Training Command in Germany, and then for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I am best known for my memoir Rocket Boys that was made into the movie October Sky. I am also an avid amateur paleontologist with two T.rexes to my credit, a scuba instructor, and own homes and property in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Honduras. I spend most of my time at our home in Alabama. I am the chairman of the board of the Space and Rocket Center where Space Camp is located. I am 76 years old. I am married but have no children. Our volunteer work includes working for organizations that take care of cats and dogs needing adoption.

    Lets start asking you about your masterpiece "Rocket Boys" . when did you begin writing it and what did encourage you to write?

* I think the answer is : "When Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine challenged me to write an article of 1,500 words overnight, an artifact of my boyhood days was sitting on my desk as a paperweight and caught my eye. It was a rocket nozzle built in the machine shops of Coalwood, West Virginia. My dad had saved it for me during all those years and when he died, I got it back. I, therefore, wrote an article about those events, something I hadn’t thought about for years. When it was published shortly afterwards, my phone almost melted down from calls from New York publishers and Hollywood. Was I, they asked, going to write a book about this? Well, I said, I am now!"

**** That answer is a good summation. However, I had already written another well-received book in 1989 titled Torpedo Junction, the true story of the battle against the German U-boats along the American coasts during World War II so I was already well known to book publishers. That made it easier to get Rocket Boys published.

    I read somewhere that you said : The book and the movie (October Sky) are different. how much do you think they are different?and why did Hollywood change the real story?
( sorry but because of boycott we can't find your books up to 1000 Miles far away here. and we just watched the movie. the price of "rocket boys" book for buying from Europe is about expenditures a month of my family. so how ever i like to read your books ,but i can’t.)

**** I don't like to point out the differences if you've only seen the film. Otherwise, it might seem disappointing to you. A screenplay is a much different art form than a book. A movie has only 90 minutes or so to tell a story while a writer can take as long as he/she likes to write a novel or memoir. Inevitably, there are differences. I suppose the main one with Rocket Boys and October Sky is that our rockets were much more sophisticated than shown and also it took three years of development work where the movie made it over a much shorter period. Also, the science fairs were not our motivating factor. It was only when we were nearing high school graduation we decided to enter the fairs because our teacher Miss Riley wanted us to try. There were no scholarships but we all went to college, either by first going into the military to get a scholarship or, in my case, by my parents helping me and by me working in the coal mines during summers to raise extra money.

    As far as I know you published your newest book about your family's alligator Albert by the name of "carrying Albert home". so after this , what is your next book about? is there any next one?

**** There will be a next one. I can't talk about it yet. Publishers don't like that.

    People are not interested of space stories as much as some years ago.Now they prefer reading stories about quantum physics more than space-related subjects in scientific genre. do you have any plans to use this field (quantum physics) and its mysteries in your next book?

**** No.

    Let me ask about NASA. How difficult and how fantastic can it to be work in NASA?

**** When I worked for NASA, every day I woke up and said to myself, "Oh boy! I get to go to work at NASA today!" I enjoyed the work very much. I spent many months in Japan training the first Japanese astronauts, worked as a diver in the neutral buoyancy simulator, wore the suit to practice underwater the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions before the astronauts tried the procedures, and helped design the Spacelab and set up all the astronaut training still being used for the International Space Station. It was a lot of fun.

    By your opinion which field of aerospace will make the future of this science?

**** For the aero part of aerospace, I think supersonic passenger and freight transports of some kind are inevitable but I'm not sure how that will evolve. As for space, artificial intelligence will become very important. I also foresee the moon as the most important of space destinations for humans and, eventually, we will see mining there. I wrote a trio of young adult books about what life will be like on the moon. They are titled Crater, Crescent, and The Lunar Rescue Company. Space medicine is just in its infancy so much work to be done there. Ultimately, I hope to see plumbers, carpenters, electricians, miners, and lots of blue collar workers in space living, working, and raising their families. It is my further hope that a new civilization and culture will rise there. I don't expect it to be perfect. I expect it to be rough, pioneering, and at times desperate but ultimately triumphant.

    What was the most surprising thing you had ever encountered in your engineering carrier?

**** That I never used a slide rule! I surely used one a lot in college. You won't have that experience, I'm sure.

    Have you ever participated in or been the manager of a project which is related to guns and war machines in NASA? or you just working on the shuttle's mission and peaceful things? what's your feeling about it?

**** I am a Vietnam veteran of the 4th Infantry Division and was there during 1967-68, the bloodiest time of the entire war. It convinced me war is never the answer to anything except misery and more war. I am not a pacifist but war is no video game. It's an awful and cruel and miserable thing and people get hurt, experience excruciating pain, and if they don't die, carry the scars for the rest of their lives. After the war, I worked for the U.S. Army as a civilian engineer but not on weapons but mostly computers and programming and such. While I worked for NASA, I never worked on anything of a military nature. NASA is a civilian organization by law.

    Which part of you is bigger? writer part or engineer part? could you explain more, please?

**** Now, writer. Then, engineer. I always wanted to be both and managed to accomplish my dreams of success in both fields. I never saw any conflict between them. To be a good engineer, you really must also learn to write well. One of the requirements of engineering is being able to express your ideas, both written and through speaking, in such a way to convince others you are going in the correct direction. Engineering is rarely an individual process. Nearly always, you are part of a team and have to learn how to be a good leader and also a good follower. However, an engineer must always question what is being done, especially if he sees a better way... and there is nearly ALWAYS a better way.

    At first, I wanted to ask you whether "do you still see your Rocket boys friends?" , But then I found out you have an anniversary event, called " Rocket boys festival" in September2019 . Would you explain it more please?

**** Yes. Please go to for more information on that. There were actually six rocket boys. Five of us are still alive. Quentin rarely comes to the festival but Roy Lee, O'Dell, and Billy (not in the movie) usually show up. It's always good to see them.

    Lets talk about a wonderful woman, whom you wrote the book "My dream" about her, Anousheh Ansari. How do you know her? And what encouraged you to write this book?

(I will be so thankful if you tell us a good memory about Anousheh Ansari.)

**** Ah, Anousheh! One of my favorite people in the world. I read somewhere she was only a few days from being launched to the space station so, on a whim, I sent her an email wishing her luck and she wrote back! When she got back from space, she contacted me, we met and I asked her if she'd like to write her memoir and, if so, could I help her with it. She said yes. She's a wonderful person. I will include a couple of photos of us. One is in front of the grave of Miss Baker, a famous monkey who flew into space. The other is in my Huntsville neighborhood trying out some devices called Trikkes which are good exercise!

    At last, what would you say to young aerospace engineering students as an advice in starting this way!

**** It's good to hitch your wagon to a healthy horse. In other words, choose wisely your employer and then try to get an experienced engineer that you respect to mentor you. Listen more than you talk at first. If you can, eventually you'll want to lead your own company. But always never forget, especially in aerospace, your duty to the people who will fly aboard your machines. Keep them safe but get them there!

thank you very much for spending time with us.

**** Hope this was helpful. Please give my best to your family and friends.