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
In 2004, the Chicagoland Browncoats decided to hold a one-night banquet that was planned as a formal Sino-Western ball like the one in the Firefly episode “Shindig.” The event was such a hit that Browncoats decided not only that they would do it annually, but also that they would host it in a different city every year. This unique shindig, officially dubbed the “Browncoat Ball,” has moved from location to location, year after year, and has gradually evolved into a full weekend of social activities, sightseeing at local tourist attractions and celebrating all aspects of the Firefly and Serenity ‘verse.
Previous Browncoat Balls have been held in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Austin, Portland, Charlotte, Warwick (RI), Albuquerque, Phoenix, Greenville (SC), Virginia Beach, Salt Lake City, and most recently Gettysburg, PA. This year’s Browncoat Ball will be held August 17-19 in Washington, DC.
I attended my first (but hopefully not only) Browncoat Ball last year, and after my weekend at the Gettysburg shindig, I am convinced that every serious fan of Firefly and Serenity should make it a point to attend this event at least once. While every ball is different, I hope that the following account of my time at last year’s ball might give you some idea of what to expect if you decide to go.
For nearly six years now, our Twitter account (@TakeBacktheSky) has been participating in that Twitter tradition known as “Follow Friday.” It’s really not clear to us where the practice originated, but the idea of recommending accounts that others should follow (and perhaps having others recommend yours) was one that seemed like a valuable tool back when we first started Take Back the Sky. After all, the more times a Twitter handle shows up in the Twitterverse, the more likely folk will be to check out who’s behind it and what they’re all about. In the early days of our campaign, it’s likely that Follow Friday tweets actually did give us some valuable exposure, especially when we still had active online petitions asking Elon Musk and SpaceX to name their first Crew Dragon after Serenity.
But after careful consideration, we believe the time has come for us to end our participation in Follow Friday.
(Update: Shortly after this review was originally posted we received an email from Insight Editions with a message from the book’s editor regarding the issue of Mal’s and Zoe’s rank in the Independent Army. Here’s the explanation we received:
“In most of the flashback sequences and supplementary material, we know that Mal and Zoe were officially ranked as Sergeant and Corporal respectively during the Unification War. According to the movie, Serenity, however, Mal’s rank is listed as “Captain, Independent Army” (as seen on the Alliance files shown on the Operative’s screen at 36:38.) The “Criminal Record” on Page 9 directly reflects the Alliance’s files on Mal as shown on-screen.
From what I could piece together, this discrepancy in title was likely due to an unofficial battlefield promotion earned in the thick of it all during the Battle of Serenity Valley, when many of Mal’s superior officers were killed and he had to rise through the ranks and take command of around 2,000 troops. The promotion was one that would never be officially reflected in the Independent Army records (obviously, due to their surrender), but was just official enough to be noted in the Alliance records upon Mal’s post-battle processing. Of course, the fact that the soldiers in the pilot episode of Firefly (“Serenity”) still call Mal “Sergeant” during the Battle of Serenity Valley could also mean that Mal lied to the Alliance about his rank when captured… or that the Alliance later assumed that he was a Captain in the Independent Army based on the fact that he was widely known to be a Captain (of Serenity) after the war. Either way, the choice was made to reflect the on-screen Alliance files accurately in his “Criminal Record” section in this book.
As for Zoe’s rank, all my records seem to show her as Corporal, as reflected in her official Independent Army records on Page 21. So when she states on Page 20 that she was a lieutenant, well, I’m frankly not sure how or why that happened. I would love to say that she received a similar unofficial promotion as Mal in those final battles… but the truth is, as far as I can tell, it seems to have just been an unfortunate error that didn’t get caught along the way. My sincere apologies for the confusion.”
In recent months we’ve seen a number of new Firefly and Serenity products hit the market as 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios have expanded the amount of officially licensed merchandise that is available to fans. One of the benefits has been that there is a new wave of books that are scheduled to hit the shelves featuring brand new stories about our favorite Firefly-class transport ship and its crew. In February it was announced that Titan Books would publish a new series of original Firefly novels that will debut this October, but Browncoats won’t have to wait that long to delve into a book that takes a fresh look at Serenity and her crew.
This week Insight Editions will release Marc Sumerak’s The Serenity Handbook: The Official Crew Member’s Guide to the Firefly-Class Series 3 Ship. I recently had the opportunity to preview this impressive book, which reads like a manual that is a clever mixture of technical blueprints and crew members’ first-hand descriptions of Serenity’s features.
“Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again”
Those words are from Peter Allen’s 1974 song “Everything Old is New Again,” but in a lot of ways, they’re describing how SpaceX is approaching the way it does business today.
Let’s not be misunderstood. SpaceX is employing a lot of new technology and a lot of innovative techniques that are revolutionizing the space industry. But one of those new techniques is the reuse of the boosters and vehicles that contain its new technology, and that concept– using old rockets and spaceships for new missions– is something that is rather innovative in and of itself. Admittedly, even that isn’t a completely new idea– NASA’s Space Shuttle program relied on the same concept to a certain extent– but SpaceX is taking it to new heights.
When SpaceX launches its fifteenth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station at 5:41am EDT (9:41 UTC) on June 29, there will be a lot about CRS-15, from its Falcon 9 booster to its Dragon capsule and even the launch complex itself, that will feature something old that’s been given new purpose. The Falcon 9 that will launch CRS-15 into the black was previously flown during the TESS mission two months ago. The Dragon capsule that it will carry was used during SpaceX’s ninth resupply mission to the ISS back in 2016. And Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the place from which the mission will liftoff, has a storied history that goes all the way back to the Titan launches in the 1960’s. 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: