Category Archives: Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop


Hello Kansas SF readers: I’ll be signing some of my stories at  the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson on Tuesday Aug. 16 from 1 p.m to 2 p.m. Come say “hi” to me and other writers: Martin L. Shoemaker, C. Stuart Hardwick, Daniel J. Davis, and Steve Pantazis. I’ve never been to this space museum and am looking forward to it. Hope some of you can drop by. Here’s the press release:


Next, I’ll be in Kansas City on Wed. 8/16 through Mon. 8/22 for MidAmeriCon, the world science fiction and fantasy convention. In addition to signing some of my work, I’ll be on panels talking about dinosaurs, time travel, Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, magic, and cloning mammoths. Those are separate topics (whew!). Hope to see a bunch of you there. Here’s my Worldcon schedule:

What’s New in the World of Dinosaurs!
Thursday 1:00 – 2:00, 2205 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Dinosaurs are cool! New discoveries are being made every day as we unearth bones from the past. In a recent discovery, scientists believe that a pregnant T-Rex found in Montana may have fragments of DNA preserved in her medullary bone. What else is out there? What other news from the past is there to share?

Bennett Coles, Michael Swanwick, Mel. White, Frank Wu (M) Rosemary Claire Smith

Amateur Scientists Doing Real Science
Thursday 2:00 – 3:00, 2206 (Kansas City Convention Center)
We all know of amateur astrophysicists and their successes, but what other science is carried out by non-professionals? What can they teach us about doing science and learning about science in real life situations and in our sf-nal worlds?

Spring Schoenhuth, Rosemary Claire Smith, Renée Sieber (M)

Thursday Aug 18   03:00 PM to 04:00 PM (Kansas City Convention Center)
Launch Pad is an annual event whereby a group of invited writers, editors, and creatives learn about modern science, specifically astronomy, so that they can in turn use it in their work and inspire others. Members who have attended Launch Pad discuss how it has affected their writing and ideas.

Fonda Lee (M), Monica Valentinelli, William Ledbetter, Matthew S. Rotundo, Rosemary Claire Smith

To Clone a Mammoth
Thursday 6:00 – 7:00, 2207 (Kansas City Convention Center)
We’re trying to clone dinosaurs (because that went so well in the Jurassic Park films), but maybe we should start with something smaller. Perhaps… a mammoth! Then again, what would we do with a mammoth? Where would it live? How would we go about cloning it? What are some of the risks, real or imagined, of reviving extinct species using cloning technology?

Rosemary Claire Smith, Mel. White (M), Frank Wu, Takayuki Tatsumi, Lynette M. Burrows

Autographing: Neil Clarke, Brenda Cooper, Rebecca Moesta, Martin Shoemaker, Rosemary Claire Smith

Friday 10:00 – 11:00, Autographing Space (Kansas City Convention Center)

Rebecca Moesta, Neil Clarke, Brenda Cooper, Martin L. Shoemaker, Rosemary Claire Smith

Archaeology in SF

Saturday 2:00 – 3:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Forget Indiana Jones, learn what archaeologists really do and how science fiction and fantasy get it right and wrong.

Dana Cameron, Rhiannon Held, Jason Sanford (M), Jack McDevitt, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith

When The Magic Goes Away

Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, 3501H (Kansas City Convention Center)
In a world once filled with magic, mystery, and beauty, where the Old Magic slipped away from the forests, the gates to Faerie closed, and the last ships sailed to the west, what does it mean when the magic fades? We look at representations of coming back to the real world or letting go, and wonder why it is such a potent part of fantasy writing.

Mr. Jared Shurin (M), Heather Rose Jones, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith, Erin Wilcox, Mr. Kevin J. Anderson

Time Travel and the Search for Redemption

Sunday 1:00 – 2:00, 3501D (Kansas City Convention Center)
Much of literature involves characters’ fraught relationship with the past. They are haunted by memories or spend their lives regretting a single horrible decision.  Time travel permits the character to confront the past directly, to make literal what in mainstream fiction is only metaphorical. Join us as we discuss stories where time travel is a metaphor or device for witnessing and learning about the past or wishing to correct personal flaws and errors.

Kenneth Schneyer (M), Jack McDevitt, Jason Heller, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith




Rosie Gazing at Saturn-2

Hey this is me last week observing Saturn’s rings via a telescope atop the planetarium at the University of Wyoming, during Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. I’ve always loved that Saturn simply looks like the quintessential planet, what with those pretty rings. Plus, the International Space Station chose that time to transit right over our heads. For those who have not seen the ISS, it moves rather fast, and looks bigger than an airplane. It can be distinguished by the fact that it has a curving path and it eventually fades from view. And for the first time, I peered through a pair of night vision goggles at what I was told were satellites. How wonderful it was! But I think my favorite experience that night may have been looking at Jupiter’s moons as they were aligned much like in one of Galileo’s drawings of his own observations.

Galileo's Drawings of Jupiter's Moons

The next day, I was reminded that it is at least as important–no make that more important–that Galileo not only had the forethought and patience to make systematic observations, but also to record those observations together with dates and times. That’s what made him a scientist and enabled him to come up with his great hypothesis.

The importance of writing down those observations was brought home to me when we did a lab in which we examined data collected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft in a search for extra-solar planets. The first image I looked at had not one, but three planets! I was so excited by what I had seen that I immediately zipped on to the next image, having neglected to record how many planets I’d seen, or what star they were orbiting, or its location. Oops. I had to go back and make notes of my observations.

One really neat thing about going planet hunting is that you can do it too, even if you are not a trained astronomer with access to the equipment that you’d find at a university astronomy department. You will be helping scientists to evaluate which objects may be planets. You can easily and quickly learn to become a planet hunter from the comfort of your very own home computer via a nifty web site called Planet Hunters, which is part of Zooniverse.

Before you set out, though, be warned that it can easily absorb hours at a time. Also, it helps to work on a big, clean screen in a dark room. The idea is that we can all help in the efforts to identify new planets.

Wow, my head is spinning and that was just a sample of the neat stuff I got out of a week at astronomy camp for SF writers.


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Between lectures, labs, a planetarium show, rooftop observing of stars and the International Space Station, visiting the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO), and hanging with SF writers and astronomers, I’ve not had a great deal of time to blog. Never fear, dear readers, for it’s been a remarkable few days thus far. I’ve crammed so much new learning into my head that I feel like a forming star with all this knowledge whirling and coalescing. This was to be expected as it has been decades since my formal astronomy training took place. So much has been discovered in the intervening years! In the compressed time we had, we just scratched the surface on a lot of topics.Thankfully, I’ve gotten myself equipped with a space-station’s worth of cool resources to draw upon when I’ll need to go into greater depth on … well on lotsa stuff from the Big Bang to the end of the Universe.

I’ll go into more detail later, but for now, here is WIRO, housing a 2.3 meter telescope, which is perched at 9656 feet in altitude with gorgeous views in all directions, courtesy of awesome writer Alan Gratz.





I got a few responses about my last post discussing my upcoming attendance at Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, which blasts off just eight days from now. A couple of talented writers in different phases of their careers essentially said, “Oh, I could never do something like that because my brain isn’t good with science and math.” Those remarks reminded me of comments I’ve heard from time to time from writers who’ve told me, “I could never write a story for Analog because I don’t know enough chemistry or physics.”

Such statements always make me a little sad. I wish these hard-working, creative, and talented folks didn’t set the barrier so high for themselves. Don’t they realize that many science fiction writers focus on an area of science that has almost nothing to do with their undergraduate or graduate training in a completely different field? That’s one of the great things about human beings: we are adaptable; we can delve into whole new areas of learning and attain new proficiencies.

I’m firmly convinced that everyone—and I do mean EVERYONE—who is an intelligent, decently educated reader can, with a modicum of interest and effort, grasp much of the basics of astronomy, or other sciences, and work to improve their knowledge of these fields.

How do you get started? One way I tried to prepare for Launch Pad was by taking an on-line course given by Future Learn entitled Moons. For eight weeks, I spent some of my spare time learning a lot about the Moon, its relationship with the Earth, as well as the other moons in our solar system, of which there are hundreds of varying shapes, sizes, and compositions. The course is free, self-paced, and fascinating. After each learning module, there is an opportunity for students from all over the world to comment. It’s truly inspiring to see that people of all ages who have never had any formal science training, as well as those who know a great deal, can come together to help one another understand key concepts, as well as how those concepts play out in our solar system.

There are many other science courses that one can take on line at no cost. The time commitment can be as much or as little as one would like to put into it. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to wrap your brain around new concepts and ways of thinking.


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I received some exciting news the other week. My application for the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop has been accepted. This is a relatively new writers’ workshop, put on by astronomers, whose mission is to teach some of the basics of astronomy to science fiction writers, editors and others. The idea is that the writers chosen will enhance their understanding of stars, planets, galaxies, space travel, etc. That means their own works will be based on a stronger scientific foundation. In turn, these writers will play a role in spreading scientific literacy to their audiences, and thus encourage young people, particularly those under-represented in science, technology, engineering, and math, to go into these vital endeavors.

Getting back to me, I’m quite excited about going off to Laramie, Wyoming for a week’s worth of intensive training. I’ll get a chance to spend some time at the Wyoming Infra Red Observatory (WIRO), so how cool is that? But I’m not going there to burnish my coolness quotient. Or at least that isn’t my only reason. You see, I’ve begun several different stories for which I simply need to know a lot more about astronomy, living on and traveling between other planets and their moons, and certain basics of physics and cosmology. Oh sure, I do consult various sources to try to get up to speed on my own, and there are local educational opportunities. But Launch Pad strikes me as a great way to jump-start things.

As I proceed along this path, I intend to blog about both my advance preparation for Launch Pad over the course of the next nine weeks, my experiences once there, and eventually how Launch Pad will have influenced various stories of mine. In part, I want to ascertain that you don’t need an advanced degree in the hard sciences, or even much recent scientific training, to do all right with something like this. Take me as an example. My last formal education in physics, chemistry, biology, geology was decades ago.

So I hope you’ll all come along with me as I turn my focus to stars and planets and such.

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