Saturday Special: Careers in Outer Space

Careers in Outer Space is woefully out of date now, having come out ten years ago, but it’s notable in that it’s the first of several books I did for Rosen Publishers (I haven’t done one for a while, but I hope to do more in the future). Also, of course, it was on a topic near and dear to my science-fictiony heart: space travel.

Another interesting side note: the reason I ended up doing this book was because I had read that Josepha Sherman was editing at Rosen. I contacted her because I kind of knew her: she had been editing at Walker & Co. back in the early 1990s, where I had sent her my YA SF novel The Minstrel (based on the short story I posted here a few weeks ago). She had responded saying she couldn’t take it as is but would be happy to look at it again if I wanted to make some revisions. Naturally, I made some revisions, and sent it back. And then…(sigh)…as she explained in public during a panel at the WorldCon in Winnipeg in 1994, I’d done just what the book needed and she was “ready to make an offer”…only the publisher died, and the new publisher decided Walker was getting out of publishing science fiction. And so The Minstrel went back into the trunk and still  hasn’t found a publisher to this day (although if nothing else I will undoubtedly revise it and bring it out as an ebook some day).

Still, perhaps that connection helped, and Josepha offered me Careers in Outer Space, which I was glad to take on. She left Rosen very shortly thereafter, alas.

Although the book as a whole is dated, the intro and the first chapter, featuring a very brief history of spaceflight, are still pretty good. Enjoy!


Careers in Outer Space

By Edward Willett


“Space:  the final frontier.”  The famous opening words of Star Trek are more than just a great way to start a television show–they’re also an accurate description of what lies beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Space really is the final frontier.  Most of Earth has been explored and mapped; people live just about everywhere it’s possible for people to live.  But beyond Earth there’s a whole universe to study, explore–and even colonize.

In fact, we’ve already begun.  Today thousands of men and women work in fields that are related to the exploration of space.  A lucky few are astronauts, the ones who actually travel into space.  Many more work on the ground, building the rockets that take the astronauts into space, designing satellites to study space–and the Earth from space–or training delicate instruments on the farthest reaches of the universe to learn everything they can about what’s out there.

Very few people will ever travel into space.  Maybe you’ll be one of them.  But even if you’re not, if you’re interested in space, you can find a career that will let you pursue your passion without ever leaving the ground.

Chapter 1: A Brief History of Space Exploration

Space exploration didn’t begin with the launch of the first man into space.  In a sense, it began the first time some unknown ancient human looked up at the stars and wondered what they were.

The ancient Greeks spent a lot of time wondering about the universe and how it was put together.  Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 B.C., developed the common idea that the Earth was the center of the universe, and everyone pretty much accepted that for centuries to come–until 1543, in fact.  That’s when a Polish astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, published a book suggesting that the Earth (and the other planets) go around the sun, instead of the other way around.  More than 60 years later, a German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, published another book demonstrating mathematically that the planets did in fact circle the sun.

At about the same time, the first telescopes were invented, and in 1632, Galileo Galilei, one of the first astronomers to use the telescope in his work, published his evidence for Copernicus’s idea.  The Roman Catholic church was not amused, because Galileo’s work seemed to contradict the Bible, and so the church forced Galileo to withdraw his statements.

But Galileo was right, of course, and in 1687 Isaac Newton published a very famous book called Principia, which explained how gravity holds the universe together.

With that basic understanding of the universe in place, astronomers began to learn more and more about the stars and planets that filled it.  Writers like Jules Verne, who wrote From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, even began to imagine traveling in space.

But the 20th century was to be the one in which humans were finally able to send machines and eventually themselves into space.  Russia’s Konstantin Tsolikovsky put forward the idea of using liquid-fueled rockets in space travel in 1903, and in the 1920s, the American Robert Goddard conducted experiments with liquid-fuelled rockets that proved Tsolikovsky was on to something.

The Second World War brought great advances in rocket technology, culminating in the V-2, which Nazi Germany used to bombard London.  After the War, many of the German scientists ended up in the Soviet Union and the United States, where they continued their research, beginning with captured V-2 rockets.

Then, in 1957, the Soviet Union put the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit, followed shortly by the first animal, a dog named Laika.  The United States tried frantically to catch up, but suffered a series of embarrassing launch failures before finally launching its own satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958.

The two countries, who were already rivals in international politics, became locked in a race to see who could outdo the other in space.  The Soviet Union got off to a head start by launching the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit in 1961.  The U.S.’s first astronaut into space (though he didn’t go into orbit) was Alan Shepard, later that same year; and then President John F. Kennedy upped the stakes by proclaiming the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

The U.S. succeeded in doing just that; Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, became the first man to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.  In all, six Apollo missions landed on the moon over the next three years.

After that, the focus shifted to Earth orbit for manned space flight; but robots, which had already traveled to Mars and other planets in the 1960s, were sent to the farthest reaches of the solar system.  The U.S.’s Viking 1 and Viking 2 landed on Mars in 1976 and the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft sent back fantastic pictures of Jupiter, Saturn and other distant planets.

The first space shuttle was launched in 1981; five years later, the space shuttle Challenger exploded less than two minutes after launch, killing all seven crew members. For a time there were no shuttle launches, but in the 1990s shuttle flights have once again come to seem almost routine, taking place every few months to launch satellites and conduct experiments–and, in the past few years, to begin construction of the International Space Station, the current focus of manned space flight.

Meanwhile, here on Earth astronomers continue to make astounding discoveries about the universe, using tools ranging from giant radio telescopes on the ground to the Hubble Space Telescope, an orbiting observatory that provides images far more detailed than any Earth-based telescope can manage.

Robots, too, continue to explore the solar system, even landing and roving around Mars–the planet which many people would like to see humans land on within the next 20 or 30 years.

And just as the American West went from being wild to being civilized and citified, so space is beginning to attract, not only explorers, but people who see it as a place of opportunity.  Today there are telecommunications companies that launch and own their own satellites, companies with plans for hotels in space, even a company that hopes to launch its own roving robot to the moon.

All of these programs require talented, skilled and dedicated people.  In the pages of this book, you’ll learn about many different space-related careers–and what you can do now to begin working toward a life in this exciting, fascinating field.

Important dates in space

March 16, 1926 — Robert Goddard launches the world’s first successful liquid-fueled rocket, in Auburn, Massachusetts.

October 3, 1942 – The first German V-2 rocket is successfully launched.

1946 – The U.S. and the Soviet Union begin their space research programs by experimenting with captured German V-2s–with the help of captured German rocket scientists.

April, 1955 – The Soviet Union announces plans to explore the moon and devise an Earth-orbiting satellite.

July 29, 1955 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces plans to launch U.S. satellites.

October 4, 1957 – The Soviets launch the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.

November 4, 1957 – The Soviets launch Sputnik 2, carrying a dog, Laika, the first animal to orbit the Earth.

January 31, 1958 – The U.S. launches its first satellite, Explorer 1.

October 1, 1958 – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) begins operation.

January 2, 1959 – The Soviets launch the Luna 1 space probe, the first human-made object to fly past the moon. A follow-up probe crash-lands on the moon; another sends back pictures of the moon’s far side.

April 9, 1959 – The U.S. introduces its first seven astronauts.

April 12, 1961 – Soviet Yuri Gagarin is the first person in space, orbiting the Earth in a 108-minute flight.

May 5, 1961 – Astronaut Alan Shepard is the first American in space, completing a 15-minute suborbital flight.

Feb. 20, 1962 – John Glenn is the first American to orbit Earth.

June 16, 1963 – Soviet Valentina Tereshkova is the first woman in space, orbiting Earth in Vostok 6.

March 18, 1965 – Soviet Alexei Leonov is the first person to walk in space.

June 3, 1965 – Ed White makes the first U.S. space walk.

July 14, 1965 – The U.S. probe Mariner 4 transmits the first close-range images of Mars back to Earth.

February 3, 1966 – The Soviet Luna 9 probe makes the first soft landing on the moon.

June 2, 1966 – The U.S. Surveyor 1 probe lands on the moon.

January 27, 1967 – Astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed during a test of Apollo 1.

April 24, 1967 – Soviet Vladimir Komarov dies when Soyuz 1 crashes during re-entry.

December 21, 1968 – The Apollo 8 crew, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, are the first humans to orbit the moon.

July 20, 1969 – Astronaut Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 becomes the first person to walk on the moon.

April 11, 1970 – The crew of Apollo 13 narrowly escapes death after an explosion.

April 19, 1971 – The Salyut 1 space station is launched by the Soviets. Its first team of cosmonauts dies during re-entry in June.

December 2, 1971 – The Soviet Union’s Mars 3 makes the first soft landing on Mars.

December 7, 1972 – Apollo 17 becomes the last mission to visit the Moon to date.

May 14, 1973 – Skylab, America’s first space station, is launched. It remains in orbit for six years.

July 17, 1975 – Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19 dock in space, the first international collaboration.

July 20, 1976 – The U.S. Viking 1 orbits Mars and lands a craft on its surface that conducts soil analysis. Viking 2 repeats the feat in September.

February 18, 1977 – NASA begins testing the space shuttle.

April 12, 1981 – John Young and Robert Crippen fly the first space shuttle, Columbia, into orbit.

November 12, 1981 – Columbia’s second flight marks the first time any spacecraft has returned to space.

June 13, 1983 – The Pioneer 10 space probe becomes the first manmade object to leave the solar system.

June 18, 1983 – Sally Ride is the first U.S. woman in space.

August 30, 1983 – Guion Bluford is the first African-American astronaut to fly in space.

February 7, 1984 – Bruce McCandless takes the first untethered space walk.

January 28, 1986 – Space shuttle Challenger explodes after launch, killing its crew.

February 20, 1986 – The Soviets launch the core of their Mir space station.

September 29, 1988 – The first space shuttle since the Challenger disaster is launched.

April 25, 1990 – The shuttle deploys the Hubble Space Telescope. Its mirror proves to be faulty.

December 4-10, 1993 – Astronauts capture and repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

February 3, 1994 – Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev is the first Russian to be launched in a U.S. space shuttle.

March 14, 1995 – Norman Thagard is first American to be launched on a Russian rocket.

March 25, 1995 – Cosmonaut Valery Polyakov sets a space-endurance record of 437 days, 18 hours aboard Mir.

September 7, 1996 – American Shannon Lucid sets an endurance record for women in space with a 188-day mission aboard Mir.

June 25, 1997 – The U.S. Sojourner Rover becomes the first vehicle to roam Mars.

October 29, 1998 – John Glenn, 77, is the oldest person to visit space, 36 years after his first flight.

November 20, 1998 – Russia launches Zarya, the first element of the International Space Station.

December 4, 1998 – The first U.S. module of the International Space Station, Unity, is attached to Zarya.

November 2, 2000 – The first permanent crew boards the International Space Station.

March 23, 2001 – The 15-year-old Russian space station Mir returns to Earth in a controlled descent, splashing into the Pacific Ocean.

April 28, 2001 – American Dennis Tito is the first space tourist, paying the Russian government $20 million for a six-day trip to the International Space Station.

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