Ni-hao, y’all — Jeff here, Rocket-Scientist-in-Residence here at Take Back the Sky. I’ve been offline for some time now tending to a newly arrived future Browncoat. Last week, NASA finally announced the assignments of which astronauts will be assigned to which flights aboard which independently made American spacecraft. I’m rather surprised that no one is commenting on what’s right there in the open for everyone to see, so I thought I’d offer my two cents here. Continue Reading
On March 31, the UK Firefly and Serenity podcast Sending a Wave announced that it was coming to an end after twelve years of keeping Browncoats around the world up-to-date on all the latest conjurings in the Firefly fandom throughout the ‘verse. Sending a Wave will always be very special to all of us here at Take Back the Sky, because the podcast was the first media outlet to interview Jeff and me (way back in the 2012) about our efforts to convince Elon Musk and SpaceX to name their first Crew Dragon Serenity. Not only did our interview on Sending a Wave spread the news of what we were doing to a worldwide audience, it also gave our campaign a level of legitimacy in the Browncoat community that it hadn’t had previously. This was especially crucial to the success of our first online petition to SpaceX, which ended up with thousands of signatures from every continent except Antarctica, accompanied by comments in multiple languages.
About a year later we had the pleasure of meeting Wendy Scott, co-creator and host of Sending a Wave, in person at Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con in June of 2013. At the con that weekend, Wendy interviewed me again about my work as the event coordinator of Pittsburgh’s Can’t Stop the Serenity charity screenings, and together we attended the Firefly panel that featured Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Jewel Staite and Gina Torres. Wendy is a lovely woman who is tremendously knowledgeable about science-fiction and the film industry and an absolutely fascinating person to talk to. One of my favorite things about Wendy, both as a podcast host and as a friend, is that her “BS-meter” is finely-tuned, and she’s not afraid to call anyone out if their story has the odor of a fabrication or a retcon. (If you don’t believe me, you can hear her give me a much-needed history lesson upon our first meeting in Sending a Wave Episode 93: The One with Dragons!)
When I heard about the end of Sending a Wave, I contacted Wendy to ask her if it would be okay if I achieved some closure of sorts by bringing things full circle and interviewing her about what had been great run of a groundbreaking Firefly and Serenity podcast. She graciously agreed, and on April 28 we spent nearly three hours on Skype talking about everything from the podcast itself to geek culture, science-fiction of all kinds, Joss Whedon, CSTS, the current state of the film industry and even American and European politics. As you can guess, that conversation meandered in many different directions. The following is a transcript of questions Wendy answered that were specific to Sending a Wave:
On Thursday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden announced the names of four American astronauts whom the agency has selected to crew the first Commercial Crew Program flights to the International Space Station aboard spacecraft built by the private sector–two of these four will be the crew of the first manned flight of the Dragon v2 spaceship. They are:
Douglas “Chunky” Hurley, two-time shuttle pilot, former NASA Director of Operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, and first Marine to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.
Sunita Williams, naval aviator, test pilot, avid windsurfer and snowboarder, former commander of the International Space Station, and current record holder for the most spacewalks and total time spacewalking for a woman.
Robert Behnken, Air Force flight test engineer, veteran of two shuttle missions, former Chief of the Astronaut Office, and “aquanaut” aboard the Aquarius underwater research station.
Eric Boe, Air Force colonel, test pilot, two-time shuttle pilot, veteran of 55 combat missions over the Persian Gulf, and former Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office.
Each of them boasts an impressive resume, even by astronaut standards. To call them “Big Damn Heroes,” the term of endearment favored by Browncoats and fans of Firefly, only begins to do them justice, with their track record of bravery, academic achievement, heroism, and even selfless humanitarian service.
Under the NASA Commercial Crew Services contracts awarded to Boeing and SpaceX, the first manned test flights of their craft–the CST-100 and the Dragon v2, respectively–will take place in 2017 with at least one NASA astronaut on board, with the other seats available for any number of “their people.” SpaceX have publicly stated that they intend to bring two NASA astronauts from this group.
Public statements by the astronauts themselves indicate that NASA’s current plan is to cross-train all four on both spacecraft to start, then eventually assign them to one craft or the other later on. This would be in keeping with NASA’s historic modus operandi of specialization of crew roles that formed in the days of Apollo and continued through the Shuttle era.
Interestingly, people are already referring to these men and women as “the Dragon Four” or “the Commercial Four” (I guess “CST-100” just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well), drawing comparisons to the original Mercury 7, America’s first astronauts. Upon reflection, the comparison is quite apt. Space, by definition, is a realm of “firsts”–first to walk on the moon, first to perform a spacewalk, heck, Williams is the first to run the Boston Marathon while in orbit! For all you know when you’re out in the Black, the most seemingly insignificant of acts could be a “first,” like “first to scratch one’s nose while reading email in space.” That’s what’s so wonderful about space, though: no matter how many folk we send to live out there and colonize it, each of them is entitled to a a degree of glory.
Even then, it is among the rarest, most momentous of occasions in the history of space exploration to be the first to fly a brand new class of vessel–which is exactly what the Dragon and CST-100 represent. Even more exciting is the prospect that ordinary people from the general public are picking up on this without having to be told or have it explained to them.
This announcement marks an important milestone in Take Back the Sky’s campaign to have the first manned Dragon named after Serenity, from the cult sci-fi Firefly franchise. NASA’s typical routine has always been to select and announce the crew of a mission roughly one year ahead of when they anticipate it will actually lift off the pad in order to give them time to train and rehearse. This means that we’re now entering the final phase before the engines ignite, and our remaining time to write letters and collect petition signatures is definitely limited.
In the cult favorite sci-fi-western series Firefly, the crew seek freedom and fortune among the stars aboard a craft that, we’re told, is classified as a Class III Firefly medium transport. Now, details have been announced by Space Exploration Technologies that will tell us at long last just what kind of ship her real-life counterpart will be. Continue Reading
On January 7, Duncan Law-Green made our New Year very shiny when he tweeted us to let us know about a post on rocketeers.co.uk dated April 9, 2013. The topic was a fascinating piece of fan art done by artist Federico Melillo showing a fictional commercial spaceliner named Serenity atop one of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Reusable rockets at Armstrong Field in Brownsville, Texas, waiting to be launched into the black on her maiden voyage. The artwork, which is titled “Serenity: Vehicle is in Startup,” was a commissioned piece, though the site did not say exactly who was responsible for its concept.
Although the fictional Serenity in Melillo’s artwork is a commercial spaceliner instead of a Dragon capsule, the fact remains that it demonstrates once again that there are individuals all around the world who want to see a manned spacecraft named after Joss Whedon’s fictional Firefly class transport ship. It is also interesting to note that, like those of us here at Take Back the Sky, the individual who commissioned the piece believes that it is SpaceX who will honor Mr. Whedon and Firefly in this way. As Mr. Law-Green said in his tweet: “Great minds think alike. :)” What remains, however, is the task of mobilizing great minds who think as one to act as one as well, in order to make the dream of a manned commercial spaceship named Serenity a reality.
If you count yourself among the “great minds” who think as we do, but you still haven’t contacted SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk to let him know that you want to see the next manned US spaceflight be in a spaceship named Serenity, there’s no time like the present to make it one of your New Year’s resolutions. Sign our online petition, and then write Mr. Musk a good, old-fashioned, pen-and-paper letter to let him know that there’d be no better name in the ‘verse for his first manned Dragon than Serenity. Everything you need to do that is just a click away on our Take Action page. And once you’re done, you should be sure to tell your friends who are Browncoats and space enthusiasts that they should do the same, and let them know how.
With perseverance and a little luck, we may very well see a scene very much like the fantasy painted by Federico Melillo play out for real in just a few years’ time!
Geek Pittsburgh featured Take Back the Sky in the latest blog post on their website. We’re all manner of grateful to them for boosting our signal! (Click the link above to read on.)
We are pleased to announce that Take Back the Sky has been honored as “Geek of the Week” by allgeektome.net. You can read their very shiny article by clicking on the link above. Take Back the Sky would like to express our sincere thanks to All Geek to Me for this honor and for helping to boost our signal with their great account of our interview.