Gravity Kills: Comments on the Movie from an ISS perspective


I finally broke down and saw Gravity yesterday.  I was a bit reluctant to see it, because having worked in Mission Operations for 14 years, I knew that any technical inaccuracy would jump out at me.  It’s hard to lose yourself in the moment when in  the back of your mind you know that the color of the walls is off and the sign in the background is pointing the wrong direction.  But, I wanted to give it a chance.

Gravity is highly entertaining and it is a beautiful piece of motion picture art.  Director Alfonso Cuaron will likely do more to promote the existence of the International Space Station (ISS) and the Chinese Space Station (CSS) than anything that I will do in the course of my career.  Sandra Bullock was great in the lead role and I’ll happily add this to the list of movies I want my girls to see when they get a little older.  I enjoyed George Clooney’s character and appreciated the way he approached the character.

Was the film an accurate reflection of the real world?  It was hit and miss.  The inciting incident of the movie was inspired by a real-life event that has caused ISS many headaches over the years.  Some other minor details were great – the auroras, the inverted image in the water bubble, an accurate Station Support Computer (SSC) and Portable Computer System (PCS) in the ISS – but many other things were not.  I’d like to give a little insight into how some things really work, not in an attempt to tear down the movie, but more to educate on how things really are.   The frustration I have is that many of these could have been written into the movie without changing the narrative or changing the art and had some of these things been corrected, I would have spent less time focusing on the background details and more time immersed in the story.

I’m not going to address the biggest issue – Hubble, ISS, and CSS being in the same orbit and within line of sight – that’s already been done, nor am I going to harp on the worst moment of bad science when Clooney’s character floated away.  I’m also not going to address the shuttle, the spacesuits (EMUs), the Soyuz or the CSS, I have little to no expertise in each of those.  My friend and co-worker Michael Interbartolo III is quoted in this CNN article addressing some of the shuttle issues. Instead, I’m going to focus on ISS and some of the realities of ISS operations.

Let’s start with the Soyuz. (And Mr. Clooney, it’s pronounced ‘soy-yous’ not ‘soy-yez’. You needed to channel your inner Philadelphian and repeatedly practice saying ‘yous-guys’ to help get it right.) The Soyuz is the lifeboat for the ISS; however, there is no extra. We always have enough Soyuz craft available to bring the ISS crew home and that’s it.  The movie gave the impression that the ISS had a 3-person crew and an extra Soyuz capsule to come home in.  The ISS should have had 6-crew and 2 Soyuz, each capable of returning 3 people to Earth.  Rather than having an extra lifeboat, they could’ve easily written into the script that half the ISS crew was killed, after all the ISS had already taken a bit of a beating.  I recognize you needed the Soyuz for the narrative, it’s just too bad they didn’t do it in the confines of reality.

Ms. Bullock enters the ISS via the Russian Airlock when in reality she would have been more familiar with the US Airlock.  The Russian Segment set pieces looked great and made me wonder if the Russian Space Agency cooperated with them more than NASA did, which would explain their prominence in the film.  When she doffs the spacesuit, she should have been wearing a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment although that would admittedly have been less..uh… visually appealing.

Not as attractive as a tank top and short shorts.

This is admittedly nit-picking, but these are the elements that really make a story convincing and immersive.

Now, the other big thing from an ISS perspective is the sudden raging inferno that forces our hero into the Soyuz.  My job for five years was to come up with fire cases like this in order to test the capabilities of astronauts and flight controllers.  Week after week, I and my fellow instructors would come up with devious, loosely plausible emergency scenarios that our tortured students would need to correctly address.  It was the most fun part of the job.

It was also incredibly challenging.  The engineers who designed and built ISS did a great job mitigating the risk of any potential fires.  ISS is built with materials that are designed to either not catch fire or not propagate a fire.  ISS oxygen levels are carefully regulated to ensure that the oxygen concentration stays below a certain level to reduce the risk of a fire.  The ISS is also extremely compartmentalized so that if a fire does start in one area, it won’t spread beyond that area.  In addition, when a fire does start the ISS immediately shuts down all fans and closes ventilation valves wherever possible.  This does two things. First, it stops feeding oxygen to the fire. Second, it stops toxic byproducts of the fire from spreading to other modules.  All of this means that a huge fire a la the one in Gravity was highly unlikely if not impossible.

Now, there are two things that are known fire hazards that could have made the situation more realistic.  There is an oxygen system, containing 100% oxygen, in the US airlock.  Astronauts receive special training on handling this system, because an incorrect action here could result in a catastrophic explosion.  If Bullock’s character had plugged something into this system, like say to recover from a mild case of decompression sickness from her spacewalk, then you could have done it easily.  Either that or the ISS does have a solid fuel oxygen generator, the same system that caused a dangerous fire on Mir.

So the fire as it occurred was unlikely, but there are ways to retcon it. The little detail I wish they had gotten right though was the fire extinguisher.  If memory serves, Ms. Bullock grabbed a fire extinguisher in either Node 1 or Node 2.  She should have grabbed a US fire extinguisher, instead she had what looked like a Russian fire extinguisher.


The orange ovoid is a US fire extinguisher.

The US fire extinguisher contains compressed carbon dioxide and it is propulsive, which means the little jolt she receives when firing it and thereby almost knocks herself out would have been correct if she had been using the right extinguisher.  The main difference between the US and Russian extinguishers – the Russian extinguisher discharges a sort-of soapy water instead of a gas.  Again this isn’t a big deal, but it is a detail they could have easily gotten right and not changed anything to do with the story.

The last  thing I have to address is the training aspect.  A shuttle payload specialist would almost never have been trained on the Soyuz. The only shuttle crew that I’m aware of receiving Soyuz training was the crew for STS-135.  Post Columbia accident, a protocol was enacted where the next Shuttle to launch would serve as the rescue vehicle for any shuttle that was damaged on launch or in-orbit.  With 135, that wasn’t possible.  So the plan was if the shuttle had been damaged, the crew would stay on ISS as a safe haven and mix in with the ISS crews in returning to Earth.  It would have taken us almost two years to fully return that 4-person shuttle crew to Earth if that had happened.  Because that was the rescue plan, they received some special Soyuz training.  However, they would have sat in the Soyuz right seat.  That crewmembers doesn’t have much more of a role than a living bag of sand.  They would have received no Soyuz pilot training.  No US astronaut has ever been trained to be a Soyuz pilot.  It’ll never happen.  I would have easily believed her if she had said she crashed the shuttle simulator, which I have had the pleasure of doing myself.

In the end, Gravity was highly entertaining and a gripping movie experience that looked absolutely fantastic, but it was much more space fantasy than it was hard science fiction. There were more issues than what I’ve detailed here, but I think I’ve beaten this horse enough.  I’ll happily share this movie with my girls when they’re the right age and I’ll enjoy it for what it is, but if you’ve read to this point you’ll have a little better understanding for how some of these things should have worked.


FET 230 Hours Furlough Report

Now to grow my hair out so I look like the guy from Sleepy Hollow.

Now to grow my hair out so I look like the guy from Sleepy Hollow.


Duration of Furlough: 9 days and counting

Work not done: I forgot to mention that yesterday I would have had my branch staff meeting.  What’s so important about that?  Well, once a month I get everyone in my branch together and I give out Tastykakes!  I try to recognize any notable accomplishments from the previous month.  Thus I have been deprived of the most fun thing I get to do every month – throwing food at people.

The other big thing that we’re falling behind on is training people to be flight controllers.  Five people in our branch are currently working toward certification – two in our ISE flight control group, two in our PLUTO flight control group, and 1 Daily Ops Instructor.  These five people are needed to either fill spots for people who have left or to help offload other team members.  All five will be assigned to missions as soon as they achieve certification.  The sooner this training is completed, the better off we are as an org.

Outlook for Continuing Resolution passage by Congress: Hints at a possible temporary solution are emerging; though if we’re back in the same position in a month, it’s going to royally suck.

By the way, if this kid doesn’t burst into my house when the shutdown is over, then I’m going to be incredibly disappointed. Good thing I’m used to that feeling by now.

Have I showered today? Yes. Painting makes me sweat.

Chores done: Dishes

Wife-Requested Tasks: Painted the master bathroom.  My wife considers new paint on the walls ‘exciting.’  We have different definitions for the word ‘exciting.’

Video games played: I ain’t got time for that.

Mood: Skeptical.

Republicans seem to be pushing a debt ceiling extension without re-opening the government.  Obama wants both.  I’m not convinced we’ll get there.

Furlough Fun Fact: Furloughed federal workers may seek another job, but they still fall under the ethical restrictions that normally are in place for seeking a second job while employed by the Government.

Movie of the day: Matrix

This whole situation would be a lot better theater with some special effects and bullet-time camera shoots.  For some reason the Matrix movies are on my mind today, so with that I give you the characters from the Matrix movies recast with the major players from both side of the shutdown.  In an attempt at bipartisanship, I will include a Republican and Democrat for all/most characters.

Let’s start with the bad guys:

matrix comparison 2


First, the Architect, the father of the Matrix, the one who keeps the system going and alleviates the systemic weakness due to the illusion of choice by inserting the relief valve that is Neo.  For the right, John Boehner is clearly the Architect, the one who has catered to the monsters of the far right and created the untenable situation we are now in.   For the left, Harry Reid refuses to negotiate, Boehner can either pick 17 people and restart Zion or he can destroy everything.  There is no in between.

matrix comparison 3

Now, the Merivingian, the unnecessary mouthpiece of the system who serves no real purpose other than to initiate one of the coolest car chases in film history.  For the right, only Michele Bachmann (of Republicans currently holding office) combines totally, completely crazy with complete and utter pointlessness.  Meanwhile, Sheila Jackson Lee is usually the one spewing crazy for the left, but she’s been remarkably quiet during this climactic standoff.

And finally…

matrix comparison 1

Agent Smith infects the system with himself overwriting every other person and program, infecting the Matrix with his consciousness so he can bring it all crashing down and escape this putrid system. Ted Cruz has roused his followers across the country, taking his brave stand against providing healthcare to the working poor, and he will bring the system to its knees in his bid to overcome the atrocity that is Obamacare.  Meanwhile, President Obama infects the common rabble with his giveaways of Obamaphones, food stamps, and welfare checks and turns the populace into a walking army  of Obamaphiles, unaware that they have been infected by the scourge of evil.

Now for the good guys…

Matrix comparison 5

This crotchety guy, who was more lucky than good, who believed he decided what to do with his ‘boat,’ but who was really not much more than an extra with a speaking part.  Does anyone really believe that Boehner is the one in charge on the right?  Is he really in charge of this careening ship or does that distinction really belong to the person who’s at the steering wheel?  Similarly, Nancy Pelosi has no real power here. The left can fantasize all it wants about moderate conservatives falling in line behind her, but will she actually lead us there?

matrix comparison 4


The smooth-talking Morpheus was a believer and could rally others to the cause with his inspiring rhetoric, but in the end he played second fiddle to a false hope that was really just another construct of the system.  Eric Cantor says the right things to the right, but in the end, he’s just a proxy for his current leader. President Obama inspires with his words like no one else, but the hope and change that he pitched have been constrained by a system that he either doesn’t want to change or more likely can’t change.

Matrix comparison 6

Trinity kicks ass and takes names and she will escort our hero until the bitter end, where she will die pointlessly not in a showdown with evil-doers but rather due to some rebar stuck through multiple points on her body.  Paul Ryan is dreamy and his budget proposals will cure the ills of this country, but the underlying tenants of his proposals – reductions in social security and medicare – leave him dead on the doorstep.  Harry Reid throws himself at his tormentors, he takes the abuse of the right, so that the good fight can be fought.  In the end, they will all suffer the same fate.

Which brings us to Neo…

matrix comparison 7

The One.  The only one who can stop the war against the machines  and restore humanity to its rightful place as rulers of this world- or achieve a temporary standdown in hostilities that will likely re-ignite as soon as the movie is over. Ted Cruz can fit fifty gallons in his Texas-sized ten gallon hat and he squashes liberals under the heels of his cowboy boots.  He is the one who will save us from our reckless demise.  For the left, the savior has not yet appeared, but she is out there, lurking.  She alone can stand up to the evils of corporate America and help Washington serve Main street instead of Wall Street; she will be the one.


Of course, all this is brought to you by…

matrix comparison 8


The Wachowskis, Koch brothers, and George Soros.

If you missed it:

F + 1 Day Furlough Report

F + 2 Days Furlough Report

F + 3 Days Furlough Report

F + 4 Days Furlough Report

FET 155 Hours Furlough Report

FET 203 Hours Furlough Report

How Do We Get from Here (Earth, 2012) to There (Dust, 2512)? Part III

Part I

Part II

In part I of the journey to Dust, humanity finally left the confines of Earth and planted its feet in alien soil.  In part II, we unlocked the power to travel across the stars.  In part III, the 23rd century, we will make the stars our home.  With the first steps in wormhole travel behind us, the human race can then do what it has dreamed of since the dawn of space travel – visit and live on all the worlds of our imagination.

The first extrasolar colonies will face challenges similar to those faced in the original settlement of any foreign land.  Yes, future colonies will have the benefits of modern medicine and technology to assist in their survival.  However, colonies will stay face issues with food supplies, habitats, disease, and environmental disasters that will threaten the safety of those early colonists.  Just as early American colonies collapsed so too will early extrasolar colonies.  Perhaps they’ll be wiped out by a parasitic infection.  Perhaps government bureaucracy will strangle the supply chain and the colony will collapse due to a lack of logistic support.  Perhaps the colony will be wiped out be a mega-storm the likes of which we’ve never seen on Earth.  The point is that lives will be lost and there will be plenty of people who think that this great adventure will not be worthwhile.  Just as today, the torch of exploration and colonization will be picked up by some wealthy, perhaps somewhat eccentric, enthusiasts ready to make a name for themselves by establishing a presence on another world.

While that first colony is struggling for survival, wormhole satellites will begin to arrive at other destinations in the galaxy.  The rate of expansion, while extremely slow at first, will quickly grow.  Within the first two decades of the 23rd century, humanity will gain access to another dozen solar systems.  Coupled with a burgeoning population in our native solar system, people will be eager to live on these new worlds.  People will want to leave behind the mundanity of Earth and Mars and leave for exciting frontiers.

At some point, when colonies become somewhat self-sufficient, those colonies will want autonomy.  It’s possible, probable even, that the autonomy will bring out the worst in humanity and blood will once again be shed in the name of independence.  Perhaps that’s too pessimistic and we will learn how to resolve difficult disputes without the violent revolution that has been a regular occurrence throughout history but I doubt it. Due to the pressures of a society with open communication, that conflict will be short-lived and a provisional government will be established, trade treaties will be put in place, and humanity will learn how to govern with a populace that lives light-years apart.  Thus, the First Republic of Earth will be established.

While governments evolve and people settle into their new environs, those responsible for exploration will continue to refine  their approach.  The initial beacons sent out into remote solar systems were powered by traditional propulsion.  This was to ensure safe arrival; no one wants to exit a wormhole into the middle of an asteroid field, Oort cloud, or in the path of an approaching comet.  Beacons will be placed in relatively dead regions of space, away from stars or planets which could draw in hazardous neighbors.

To speed up the rate of exploration, robotic explorers will be launched on blind jumps, travelling through wormholes that do not have a precisely calculated and calibrated exit points.  When a safe exit point is discovered, another beacon will be put in place.  Through this technique a huge interstellar highway will be constructed and journeying to other stars will be as commonplace as flying to another country.

How Do We Get from Here (Earth, 2012) to There (Dust, 2512)? Part II

Part I here.

Dust takes place on a colony of the same name established on a harsh, unforgiving world many light-years from Earth.  The single biggest hurdle that has to be overcome is how the heck do we get there?  For any story set against a backdrop of galactic exploration,  the author has to decide how the human race figures out how to travel beyond the bounds of the solar system.

There are three well-known mechanisms for this: generation ships, faster than light travel, or wormholes.  Generation ships are well within the realm of possibility but are not  conducive to my futuristic galactic Republic, so I’ll explore that topic another time.  Meanwhile the plausibility of faster-than-light travel took a blow this week, but at the moment, wormholes remain a theoretical possibility.  Do a search for wormhole experiments and you’ll find plenty of discussions on the  topic from all corners of the academic spectrum.  Currently, most of the conversation focuses on the theoretical aspects of the problem – that is is it possible to connect two different points in space-time and allow for quick transit between two points that are light-years apart?

Eventually, these discussions will move from the blackboard to the lab (which may already be happening).  Then at some point in the future, my guess here is the 22nd century, we will discover that scientific holy grail.  At that point, the frontier will be open for business.

First though, we’ll need to work on stability and safety.  The first wormholes created will be highly unstable and disappear within seconds.  They will also require tremendous amounts of energy to generate and open.  It’ll take years of experimenting and practice before we can really harness this technology.

Highly technical depiction of the wormhole transit paradigm in Dust

Then there’s the problem of knowing where that wormhole will open up.  The model that I’ve established in Dust is fairly simple, satellites have been deployed throughout the galaxy and link together to form a transit network.  A wormhole can be created between any two points in that network.  The satellites are needed to keep a stable link so that we know with certainty where the wormhole will open up.

With a stable means of transit in place, now we can actually start sending things through the wormhole.  Because the loss of human life in making scientific progress is generally frowned upon, no government will approve the use of wormholes for human travel without extensive testing.  This means the first traveler through a wormhole will be a friendly, sacrificial robot.

The difficulty with beginning to use this transit system will be getting the satellites in place.  If the only way we could accurately predict the exit point of a wormhole is to physically put a satellite in that location, then it’s going to take some time to put that satellite in place through conventional means.  Right now, the closest exoplanets that we know of are roughly 10 light years away.  Even assuming we’ve advanced conventional propulsion to the point where you can travel at roughly half the speed of light or greater, it will still take 20 years to get the first beacon in place and then another ten years for the two satellites to link up.

So when the frontier finally opens, it won’t be a gold rush at first but rather the slow trickle of molasses as humanity works to put a safe and reliable network in place.  Once that network is in place, then the fun begins and humanity will establish its first outpost beyond the boundaries of our solar system.

That won’t be the last of the struggles though, because at some point, there will be an accident and lives will be lost.  When that happens, human transit will be suspended until a root cause to the problem is found and the entire system is made safer.   Those initial flights will be fraught  with risk and it will only be after the system has proven reliable that governments will grant average citizens the opportunity to travel to distant stars.

For more on how I approached building the fictional world of Dust, please see my guest  post on the book blog Alchemy of Scrawl.

How do we get from here (Earth, 2012) to there (Dust, 2512)? (Part I)

The challenge of setting any story in the future is establishing some reasonable progression of society and its technological capabilities.  Dust takes place some 500 years in the future, so I thought it would be fun to lay out a bit of a timeline of advancements needed and milestones achieved over that time.

Sometime this year or next, I expect the discovery of the first potentially habitable planet to be announced.  Exoplanet discoveries have steadily ramped up over the past year and that will only increase as more resources are devoted to deciphering data from research projects like the Kepler telescope.  The discovery of a habitable world will no doubt spark a small mention in the national conversation, but the stark reality is we will be limited in how much we will be able to learn about this world at this time.  So we will discover the world, we will no doubt listen to it and study its atmospheric composition, but beyond that there won’t be much more we can do.

On human exploration, I have to believe that at some point in the next 2 decades some man or woman will set foot on another world in our solar system.  Whether that person will be from the United States, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, Italy, India, South Korea or any other space-faring nation is ultimately irrelevant.  What really matters is that someone will do it.  That person may set foot on that world for the noble goal of exploration, due to an attempt to instill national pride, or in some misguided cold-war-style space race, but it will be done.

When that happens, I want to believe that the final hurdle will be overcome and that the floodgates for exploration will be open.  This is naive, of course.  At a minimum, I hope we have learned lessons from the incredible accomplishments of Apollo and hopefully, we will be there for more than just a brief visit.  Of course, the real gate-opener for exploration and ultimately colonization will be to find a way to make it profitable whether it’s through mining, scientific advancement, or some other unforeseen reason.  Make it profitable and companies will come.

While this exploration of the solar system will ultimately result in advances in medicine and medical technology due to the obstacles overcome in that exploration, medical advances will continue to advance due to terrestrial research.  Within the next couple of decades, the developed world will start to have access to life-extending medications.  Even without these medications, the world population will continue to increase and the ability of the planet to support the ever-growing population will continue to be stressed.  Could the world population ever become so large that humanity is forced to try and expand to another world?  Possibly, but it’s more likely that some section of society would collapse before a solution like that would be pursued.

Eventually though, assuming there are enough well-to-do private enthusiasts and/or government funding, enough money will be poured into developing space exploration technologies that the cost-to-orbit will be lowered, advanced propulsion capabilities will be delivered, and the technical challenges related to establishing a colony on another world will be overcome.  Then finally, whether through necessity or curiosity, humanity take out an insurance policy on the Earth and begin living on another world.

Given the current rate and commitment to exploration, 50 years is probably too ambitious a time frame for this to happen.  This is where you have to recognize that even if the United States doesn’t do this, then some other country will.  With any luck, it’ll be a cooperative effort.

Once a foothold is established on another world, we will then begin the task of reforming that world into something more hospitable for us and turning it into a long-term home for our people.  Currently, these technologies and approaches are only theoretical, but we have plenty of time to turn those theories into reality.

Up next, the 22nd century…

Spaceship Design of Dust or Everything I Know about Spaceship Design I Learned from the International Space Station

In writing Dust, the first element of the setting that I defined was the Hannah, Max Cabot’s medium-class freighter that serves as the setting for a good portion of the story.  My biggest challenge when writing Dust was to not try and explain how every little thing worked in the flow of the story.  I would often have to go back and remove sections that I ultimately felt went into too much detail.  Instead, I figured I would save those details for some behind-the-scenes posts on here.

Spaceship design is something that I have been playing around with since I was about ten years old.  One year, my mom brought me home a tablet of graph paper from her civil engineering firm and I spent hours and hours drawing spaceship layouts, identifying where the ships systems were, challenging myself to come up with designs that weren’t recognizable as ships from Star Wars or Star Trek.

In college, spaceship design and function continued to dominate my creative thoughts.  It was then that I wrote the short story “The Scout” which was an attempt to write a short story where the main character was the ship itself and its journey through space.  Finally, a year after I graduated from college, I started working on the International Space Station (ISS) and I got to delve into the design of a real spaceship.

My first assignment on ISS was as an instructor for life support systems, so it should come as no surprise that the Hannnah’s systems reflect much of what I learned then.  From a life support systems perspective, the ISS is the first spacecraft that has attempted to have a close-looped system.  For a spaceship that is going to spend much of its time in space, you want an efficient system that will not waste any resources.  On ISS, an oxygen generator uses water produce oxygen and has a leftover component of hydrogen. A separate system removes carbon dioxide from the air.  The oxygen from that carbon dioxide is combined with the hydrogen from the oxygen generator to then form water, which when processed can be used to produce oxygen, and so on.  The key philosophy here is that a spaceship has to recycle everything and waste as little as possible.  The more you waste, the more you have to replenish.  ISS doesn’t have a truly closed system, but it’s taken great strides towards one.

About a third of the way through Dust, the Hannah experiences problems with rising carbon dioxide levels.  Max then embarks on a hunt to figure out why this is happening.  One of my favorite lines of Max’s is when he says that there are no mysteries on-board a spaceship.  Everything is definable; there are few variables.  Everything that happens in that closed environment has a limited set of contributors and probable outcomes.  Max knows this and immediately knows that something is amiss.

At this point, Max starts tearing apart the ship to find the source of his problem.  This reflects another lesson learned from ISS: everything breaks.  Every component on ISS has been pored over, rigorously tested, and then operated on Earth to make sure it works.  Even still, things are constantly breaking.  Before the ISS was fully complete and it didn’t have fully redundant systems, the biggest threats to having to abandon the station were that the oxygen generator would break, the carbon dioxide remover would break, or that the toilet would break.  And those three things broke with disheartening regularity in the early days of the program.

It was only natural to me then that the Hannah would constantly be having problems.  While I fully expect that in 500 years a top-of-the-line spaceship will be full of self-healing alloys, self-healing nanostructures, and other “unbreakable” components, the reality for Max is that he flies the equivalent of a 30-year-old used Winnebago.  Nothing heals itself, half the ship is replacement parts, and nothing runs for too long without breaking.  Someday, when spaceships are as ubiquitous as cars, we will have to deal with the reality that not everything is a top-of-the-line model.  When that happens, I hope the owner has a maintenance robot of their own to help with all of the repairs.

On the ISS when something breaks, the crew knows that they will be spending some time within the next couple of weeks replacing something, which means they’ll have to go digging through storage areas to find the spare parts.  Then they’ll have to spend a good deal of time cutting through clutter to get what to what they need.  Pictures of the inside of ISS, like the one below, show that the station is jam-packed with stuff.

So, my procedure says to follow the white wire...

For this, I gave Max a bit of an advantage as he gets to use a 3D printer to generate replacement parts.  I had to do something to cut out the piles of stuff that would otherwise be lining the floor.  I did however try to preserve the concept that there is no wasted space aboard the ship.  Behind every panel is some vital piece of equipment.  Throughout the story, Max is forced to worm and weasel his way into and out of tight spaces all in the name of making a living.

So through the Hannah’s systems and operation, I tried to reflect a realistic spaceship environment.  That realism though means the entire ship is one big pain-in-the-ass for Max to run by himself which is what ultimately leads Max to trying to hire on some extra help.  I could have made the ship less of a junker, but I’m confident that Max wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Dust is available in the Amazon Kindle store for $3.99 and is free for Amazon Prime members.

Introducing ‘Dust’, Now Available in the Amazon Kindle Store

Image Dust, my first published novel, is now exclusively available in the Amazon Kindle store.  Currently it is available in eBook format only, but will be available in paperback in the coming weeks.

What is Dust about?

Dust is a science fiction adventure set in deep space, hundreds of years in the future.  The story follows a young man, Nick Papagous, as he runs away from his rich, luxurious homeworld and journeys to the rough and tumble frontier.

Nick is running away from home to escape the control of his father, a top official in the Marshall Conglomerate.  The Conglomerate produces everything needed to help maintain a safe and secure society.  They serve the people and in so doing they serve the Republic.  Or so his father says.   Nick, though, has found something rotten in his father’s work and he can no longer live with the man he once admired.

Nick is forced into the employ of Max Cabot, an old, weathered freighter pilot who does supply runs to the last colony humanity has established, the colony on Dust.  Max has been on this route for ten years, trying to put his tragic past behind him.  The Republic has turned a blind eye to Dust, an inconsequential world that isn’t worth maintaining. However, Dust has plenty of secrets beneath its shifting sands, secrets that will challenge everything Nick believes.

What is my writing background?

Dust is the second novel I’ve written but the first I’ve published.  My first novel, Crusade of the Warrior King, will be released later this year.  I’ve also written many short stories, several of which are also available on, Smashwords, iBooks, and other sites.  Check the Hutt Publishing tab for details.

Who or what influences my writing?

I’ve read more science fiction novels than I can remember, but my favorites are Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Jack McDevitt’s Omega series, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  I prefer fiction that has a bit grittier feel, that has a bit of an edge to it.  I’m not a big fan of happy endings, which is probably why I like King’s work as much as I do.

I do love space opera and the grand sweeping stories of the original Star Wars trilogy or the Star Trek movies.  They’ve romanticized flying through the stars, fighting super-villains, and the rogue-ish hero.  There’s no denying the influence that movies like that or shows like the ill-fated Firefly have had on me.

I’m also a big fan of Ben Bova and his series of novels that explore the colonization of the solar system.  Bova’s fiction falls under the category of hard science fiction, rooted in real-world science wherever possible.  While I prefer adventures that allow humanity to travel from star to star, I still try to root the story in some form of reality.  I hope that some of my twelve years working for NASA on the International Space Station shine through in an entertaining manner.

I hope you enjoy the novel and I am open to any and all feedback you may have, positive or negative.  I’m also happy to answer any questions about the story.  I’ll be following this post up with a few other posts on some aspects of the story including the technology, comparisons to real space vehicles, etc.

Dust is available for $3.99 from the Amazon Kindle store and is free for Amazon Prime members who own a Kindle.  I’ll post an update when the paperback is available.  Please rate and leave feedback.  If you enjoy it, please pass it on.  I appreciate any and all support.