Sunday, June 26, 2011

When You Wish Upon A Star - Launch Pad 2011 - Prologue

I've always wanted to take a class in astronomy. I got star-struck at an early age, reading picture books with paintings of views from other planets, of how the solar system formed out of dust, (not to mention dinosaurs, but that's another topic). Of course, back in the 50s, these pictures were not only few and far between but were based on pre-spaceflight observations and a lot of conjecture. But cool they were.

So, life goes on. Neither high school nor college physics satisfies that "amazing cosmos" itch. More life, including a writing career in which I get to make this stuff up, what I don't scrounge from my own pitiful research or pick out of the brains of assorted aerospace engineers, of whom quite a number pass through my world. Somehow, in the back of my mind, lay the thought that someday I'd get a chance to study this properly. With someone who could also answer my questions about specific situations or plot-unfoldments or world designs. Life was not cooperating; the nearest community college is a 45 minute drive each way, I don't do well late at night, and my eyes focus in a somewhat-less-than-spectacularly fashion. Amateur telescopes did not appear to be in my future.

So when I heard about this crash course in college-level astronomy just for science fiction writers, I felt more than a bit envious. I filled out the application, trying not to sound too fangirl squee-ish. Inside, I thought, They'll never pick me. In past years, they've chosen only a dozen or so.

Then this email arrived from Mike Brotherton, Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, and director of the program: "I'm pleased to offer you the chance to participate in Launch Pad 2011 this coming July 10-17." The resulting cheers were right up there with -- well, maybe not that magical first novel sale, but pretty joyful.

Since then, we "happy few" have been getting ourselves sorted and asking questions, mostly about logistics. Having read the online journal of one of the previous attenders, I thought I'd do the same. So this will be the first of a series, probably short on astronomical facts and figures that you could easily look up for yourself, but long on personal impressions. After all, my goal is not to teach academic astronomy, it's to weave good science into my stories. For me, that starts with passion, with internal emotional "ignition" and a sense of what is extremely cool and nifty.

Stay tuned!


  1. Deborah, I'm so glad you're getting to do this. I participated several years ago and it was a peak experience. Astronomy 101 with bells and whistles, in a week.

    And just for amusement value -- I visited the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis on the way.


  2. @Vonda, thank you! I think one of the subtle messages from this first phase is to aim high and not short sell your dreams.

    I suspect the dinosaur fever has struck quite a few of us in this year, so museums are high on our list of things to do in the very little spare time we'll have!

  3. Green with envy I am, and doing a happy dance for you at the same time.