Category Archives: space

Club events and planetarium shows on tap for this week

The first weekend in December is heavy with club events, star parties, and planetarium shows. Here’s what’s on the calendar for the coming week:

Club gatherings

Spokane Astronomical SocietyIn December many astronomy clubs opt out of a formal meeting and instead hold a banquet or other more social gathering. The Spokane Astronomical Society plans its annual potluck dinner for 6 p.m. Friday, December 2 at the Riverview Retirement Community. A guest speaker will follow the dinner at 7:30. Dr. John Buchanan, a professor of geology at Eastern Washington University, will talk about catastrophic outburst flooding that have occurred on Earth and Mars through geologic time. He will examine how the “Ice Age Floods” in eastern Washington compare with various large floods both on Earth and Mars.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society plans its free monthly public star parties for 6 p.m. Saturday, December 3 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Poor weather will mean cancellation of the events, so watch the club’s website and social media for updates.

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 3 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather program will be about selecting gift telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy gear. (We covered that topic, too last week!) If the weather is good they’ll also put their gear into action for some celestial observing.

Planetarium shows

Planetaria have no trouble with cloudy weather! There are several shows on the docket for the week.

The University of Washington planetarium will host three free shows on Friday, December 2 at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 p.m. Reservations for all three times were snapped up quickly, but you can watch this site to see if tickets become available.

Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton will host its First Friday Sky Walk shows December 2, with a presentation every half-hour between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The shows look at what’s up in the sky for the coming month.

There are a variety of shows suitable for all ages every day at the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center. You’ll find their complete schedule on our calendar page.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

Venus and the Moon make a nice pairing on the evening of December 3. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.


Gifts for the astronomy and eclipse buff on your list

Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.

Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:

Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.

The best telescope

Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.

Your local experts

Cloud Break OpticsCloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!

Eclipse info and swag

Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.

Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.

Eclipse posterAuthor, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.

Nordgren is a professor of astronomy at the University of Redlands. He was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

AstroBox rocks

AstroBoxOur friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!

More books

Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:

Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.

Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.

Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.

Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.

Happy astro-shopping!

Purchases made through links on Seattle Astronomy support our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.


Authors pick Titan as solar system’s best place for human colony

Mars is and has long been a popular choice for human colonization should we want or need to leave Earth. But Amanda Hendrix and Charles Wohlforth say that if we’re going to go live somewhere else in the solar system, then Saturn’s moon Titan is the best choice.

Hendrix, a planetary scientist who works for the Planetary Science Institute, and Wohlforth, an award-winning science writer, have just come out with a book, Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). They talked about Titan and the book last week at Town Hall Seattle.

Why go?

“The topic really is not just getting to another planet, but living there and staying there self sufficiently forever,” Wohlforth said. The big question to answer, he noted, is why.

“We don’t, as human beings, normally do big expensive things for no reason at all,” Wohlforth said. “That led us to thinking about what would we want on another planet, or what we would be getting away from here on Earth, that would drive us to want to move to another planet.”

While humans have long had a case of wanderlust, Wohlforth said the reasons to colonize another planet go beyond that.

“Environment drives colonization; it has in the past, and we don’t always call it environment,” he said. “We call it overcrowding or we call it wealth seeking, but really in our society economics is how we talk about environment a lot of the time.”

A key to colonization, he said, is having the resources to do it and to keep it going.

“Making colonies requires technology and it also requires wealth and the ability to make money, and in our world that’s often meant that government gives private industry the money to get started,” Wohlforth said. “Colonies need a reason to exist environmentally or economically, they need major government investment to happen, and ultimately they need a way to support themselves without help from home.”

Why Titan

Hendrix said they developed five main criteria they considered when evaluating a place as a possible site for a human colony. It should have an atmosphere, a magnetosphere, manageable temperatures, a decent amount of gravity, and a hospitable landscape. Among those, she said the first two are most important, as the atmosphere and magnetosphere could shield colonists from harmful radiation.

Wohlforth and Hendrix

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix talked about their new book “Beyond Earth” Nov. 18, 2016 at Town Hall Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It was easy to winnow the list. Venus was rejected out of hand as a super hot hellhole with a poisonous atmosphere that may well be volcanically active.

“It’s really not the greatest environment for a human settlement,” Hendrix understated, “but what’s interesting about Venus is that in that thick atmosphere there is an altitude at which air that we like to breathe is stable. You could, in theory, have a floating city of balloons that are filled with air and where humans could live.”

On Mercury, Mars, or the Moon people would likely have to live underground to avoid radiation. That’s not very appealing, either.

“It’s not really what we’re going for,” Hendrix said. “We’d like to find a place in the solar system, if possible, where we can live on the ground and have a decent amount of radiation shielding.”

Jupiter has a lot of interesting moons, but the king of planets churns out huge doses of radiation and is not a very hospitable place. When you get out to Saturn, though, Titan catches the eye.

“One of the number-one reasons is that it has an Earth-like atmosphere,” Hendrix said. It’s mostly nitrogen with some methane, and is at about 1.5 times the pressure of our atmosphere on Earth. Titan has no magnetosphere of its own, but for much of its orbit it lies inside Saturn’s magnetosphere, so they can share.

“We think that for our key points of shielding from radiation by either an atmosphere or a magnetosphere, Titan is a very good place,” Hendrix said. “This really sets Titan apart from the other places that we looked at in the solar system for a long-term human colony.”

More positive features

We know a lot about Titan through data gathered on 124 fly-bys of this moon by the Cassini spacecraft. Titan has a lot of Earth-like features. It has clouds, rain, swamps, wind, and sand dunes. It has surface liquid—lakes and seas of methane and ethane. (Water would freeze.) It’s cold there, but Titan has pretty constant temperatures across seasons and latitudes.

There’s also a virtually limitless energy source on Titan. Reactions between its atmosphere, sunlight, and energy from Saturn create hydrocarbons that cover the moon’s surface. Colonists could drill down and get water from Titan’s liquid subsurface ocean, separate out the hydrogen and oxygen, giving them the chemistry needed to burn the hydrocarbons.

“You can imagine settlers on Titan having a power plant that takes in methane and water, and the output is energy and breathable oxygen,” Hendrix said. “So it could work out quite well for our colonists—plenty of energy.”

Don’t pack your bags yet

Setting up a colony on Titan would not exactly be a piece of cake, especially if you didn’t survive the trip. NASA has compiled a long list of potential health risks for astronauts, many of them related to radiation exposure, and concluded that space flights of more than a year are too risky for humans. It would take seven years to get to Titan with current technology.

“These are risks that, without some technology leaps,” Wohlforth cautioned, “we’re not going to Saturn. We simply can’t get there and have the astronauts be safe.”

The key to the trip is finding a way to go faster. Wohlforth said the commercial space sector is making some headway on this, and a NASA scientist named Sonny White is actually working on a propulsion system that uses quantum virtual particles and is also tinkering with a warp drive. That notion drew applause from the Trekkies at the talk, but Wohlforth noted that there’s a pretty good dose of skepticism out there. While warp drive may be “poppycock” as one headline writer opined, it’s not unreasonable to think that some smart engineer is out there cooking up a way to make space ships really zip.

Challenges aside, the urge to go and explore and colonize is strong. Hendrix and Wohlforth touched briefly on a lot of topics that are covered in more depth in the book—such considerations as how society might develop elsewhere, how reproduction might change in a Titan colony, and other challenges and opportunities.

“We really like Titan as a potential human colony location,” Hendrix concluded. “We think it has a lot to offer.”

You can purchase Beyond Earth by clicking the title link or book cover image above. Buying through Seattle Astronomy supports our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.


NEOWISE, Viking, and more on the calendar this week

The Seattle Astronomy calendar is packed with interesting events this week, with something going on just about every evening. Seattle gets two talks about NEOWISE, the Mars program premieres on the National Geographic Channel, and there are several other lectures of note.


NEOWISEWill an asteroid or comet one day smack into Earth again? One of the sets of eyeballs looking for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Joe Masiero, a JPL scientist with NEOWISE, will give two talks about the project this week in Seattle. He’ll speak at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 16 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the University of Washington campus. Masiero will return to the same room at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 17 for a presentation at the weekly UW astronomy colloquium. He will give an overview of the NEOWISE mission, and present some results from the latest dataset release.

Mapping the heavens

The cosmos, once viewed as stagnant, even ordinary, is now understood to be a fathomless universe, expanding at an accelerating pace, propelled by dark energy, and structured by dark matter. Theoretical astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Yale University Press, 2016), will give a talk about these ideas at 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 14 at Town Hall Seattle. Natarajan will explain the science behind some of the most puzzling cosmological topics of our time and discuss why there is so much disagreement within the science community about astronomical discoveries.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Preserving Viking

VMMEPPThe final of three Science Pub events about the Viking missions will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, November 14 at the Old World Deli in Corvallis, Oregon. Rachel Tillman, Founder and Executive Director of The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project, and others involved in the missions, will talk about Viking and its influence on technology and culture. The Science Pub is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It’s free!

If you are not able to attend this event and missed the previous ones in Portland and Eugene, fear not; Seattle Astronomy is working on a feature article about The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Stay tuned!

Eugene Astro

The Eugene Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 17 at the Science Factory planetarium. The club’s mirror-grinding group will give a presentation about how reflecting telescopes’ primary mirrors are made, complete with demonstrations of the grinding process.

Cosmos on Tap

Astronomy on Tap Seattle, November 2016This month’s Astronomy on Tap Seattle event will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 16 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. They’ll view episode five of the original Carl Sagan Cosmos series, complete with Cosmos bingo, trivia contests, prizes, and beer. Astronomers will discuss what’s changed, and what science has held up, since the series first aired.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington.

A home in the stars

Want to live on Mars? Maybe a bad idea. Planetary scientist Amanda Hendrix and science writer Charles Wohlforth have looked into space colonization, and suggest that Saturn’s moon Titan might be a better place. The authors of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016) will discuss their findings at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 18 at Town Hall Seattle. Why Titan? It has a nitrogen atmosphere, a weather cycle, and an inexhaustible supply of cheap energy. Get the full story from Hendrix and Wohlforth; grab the book in advance.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.


MARS showOK, some may want to give Mars a shot! The television mini-series Mars premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, November 14 on the National Geographic Channel (although an online stream of the opening episode has been available online for several weeks now.) Part feature film, part documentary, the series takes a look at what a Mars mission might look like in 2033, and talks with today’s experts about the development of technology and capabilities that could make such a mission a reality. Ron Howard is an executive producer of the series, which has been directed by Everardo Gout.


The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its free public nights for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather presentation will be about the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond. If the skies are clear club astronomers will break out the telescopes for some observing.

Up in the sky

There’s a “supermoon” on Monday and the Leonid meteor shower peaks this week. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.


SpaceFest at MOF tops week’s astro calendar

A three-day space fest, several star parties, some astronomy club meetings, and a chance to meet Viking mission folks are on tab for the next week of astronomy events.

SpaceFest: Ladies who LaunchThe third annual SpaceFest at the Museum of Flight kicks off Thursday for three days of exhibits and presentations. Under the theme of Ladies Who Launch, this year’s SpaceFest celebrates women astronauts, engineers, authors, and others who helped put America into space.

The days are packed with events. Highlights include a talk by South Korean Astronaut Soyeon Yi at 1 p.m. Friday, November 4, and a keynote at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, November 5 by Nathalia Holt, author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). The book is a tale of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

You can order the book by clicking the link above; purchases through the Seattle Astronomy Store help defray our operating costs and enable us to bring you great astronomy stories. Check the full schedule for the weekend on the museum’s online calendar. We plan to attend a number of the sessions, and will report back!

Viking at Portland Science Pub

VMMEPPMeet some of the folks involved with the Viking Mars missions in the mid-1970s at Science Pub Portland at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 3 at McMenamins Mission Theater in Portland. As an 11-year-old girl Rachel Tillman saved the last remaining un-flown Viking spacecraft from the scrap heap. She later became founder and is executive director of the nonprofit organization The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Tillman will speak at Science Pub Portland, along with Al Treder, who worked on Viking guidance and control; Pat DeMartine, Viking lander command sequence and simulation programmer and science team member; and Peggy Newcomb, wife of NASA Viking engineer and author John Newcomb, who passed away in March.

Suggested donation for admission is $5. Science Pub Portland is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. If you can’t make this Viking Mars Mission event, it will be repeated at Science Pub Eugene on November 10 and Science Pub Corvallis on the 14th.

Saving the planet

Ed Lu

Ed Lu. Photo: NASA

When the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online, it is expected that the discovery rate of near-Earth asteroids will increase by more than a factor of 20 over the current rate, and that the list of asteroids with a worrisome probability of hitting the Earth will also become much larger. Astronaut Ed Lu, CEO and co-founder of the B612 Foundation, will discuss the scientific as well as public policy challenges related to potential asteroid impact scenarios at this week’s University of Washington astronomy colloquium. The event will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 3 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the UW campus in Seattle.

Club meetings

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 1 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. Topics will include a review of some of the club’s new gear and a primer on Proxima b, a roughly Earth-sized planet believed to be in orbit around our nearest stellar neighbor.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 4 at the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Specific topics or guest speakers for the gathering had not been published as of this writing.

Star parties

There are three star parties on the calendar for this week. The Covington Community Park Star Party is planned for 8 p.m. Friday, November 4 at the park. The event is a joint effort of the Seattle Astronomical Society and the Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society.

The Seattle club also plans its free monthly public star parties for 6 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Cloudy weather will mean cancellation of the star parties; watch the club’s website or social media for updates.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be about spectroscopy. If the weather is clear they’ll break out the telescopes and have a look at what’s up in the night sky.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

The Taurid meteor shower peaks this Thursday and Friday. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.


Astronaut Hadfield sheds light on the darkest dark

Being afraid of the dark might be considered an indicator against a career as an astronaut. But retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield knew two things as a youngster.

“I always wanted to be an astronaut,” Hadfield said during a talk last month at Town Hall Seattle. And, as a child he was deathly afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows or under the bed in the dark at night. Hadfield has written a children’s book, The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016) aimed at helping youngsters overcome their fears. It was released on September 13, the day of his event in Seattle.

Hadfield’s interest in space was fueled by his reading list as a kid. He read Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was a big fan of the original Star Trek series and wanted to be Buck Rogers.

“It was all fantasy,” he said. “It was all science fiction. It was reading all of the different books and wanting some day to maybe be a spaceman and to go on space adventures.”

“Opening one of those books was permission to have an imagination,” Hadfield added.

The impossible becomes real

That imagination took Hadfield on many a flight around the universe in his sturdy cardboard box spaceship. It was all kind of a lark until the summer of 1969, the year he turned 10, when he watched on television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

Chris Hadfield

Astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke at Town Hall Seattle last month about his new book, The Darkest Dark, aimed at helping kids overcome their fears. Hadfield was afraid of the dark as a child. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“What I looked at was Buzz and Neil,” Hadfield recalled. “These weren’t Buck Rodgers, these weren’t James Tiberius Kirk, these weren’t actors, these weren’t fantasy. These were real people. Neil was just a guy. He and Buzz did something very brave, very dangerous, very difficult, but they did it. They succeeded.”

“On the morning of that day of July 20 it was impossible to walk on the Moon,” he noted, “and yet by bedtime Neil and Buzz had put those foot prints all around the Eagle lander.”

It was Hadfield’s a-ha moment: the impossible can really happen.

“Impossible things happen as the result of somebody having a crazy, comic-book kind of inspiration and then working extremely hard and changing who they were,” Hadfield said. Even though Canada didn’t even have a space program at the time, he devoted most of what he did in life to preparing for his dream, so some day he could “put on a (spacesuit) and go to a place where nobody had ever been before.”

Preparation beats the demons

Preparation and practice chased away Hadfield’s demons and he made it to the astronaut corps, a member of NASA’s fourteenth astronaut class, in the summer of 1992. He flew space shuttle missions in 1995 and 2001. The first thing he did after reaching orbit on that first mission was to float over and look out the window.

“It’s the darkest dark you can imagine,” Hadfield explained. “The world is separate and the rest of it goes on forever.”

“Every window on the space ship has nose prints on it because astronauts are always there just trying to see and understand the rest of the universe,” he added. “It is a magnificent, humbling experience to have the world and the universe pouring by your window and to be living in a place where magic suddenly became real.”

In 2012 and 2013 Hadfield was a member of two International Space Station missions, commander of one. He became the first Canadian to walk in space.

“It is the most incredible experience of my life to be holding on to a spaceship with one hand, to be the very first person from my country—wearing a flag that means a lot to me—to be trusted to go do this on behalf of the millions of folks who might have wanted to be up there,” Hadfield said. “To have the whole world reassuringly spinning next to me, but to look the other way, to look out into the eternity of space, to truly, absolutely see the darkest dark there is.”

Hadfield read from The Darkest Dark and took audience questions at the end of his presentation. And, as you might expect from the guy who played David Bowie tunes from space, there was a song, as Hadfield played, in its world premiere, a video and song related to the book.

Further reading

Our post about Hadfield’s 2013 visit to Seattle, in which he talked about playing guitar and other space oddities.

More books by Chris Hadfield

(Purchasing items through the Seattle Astronomy store supports
our efforts to bring you coverage of astronomy events.)


Seattle’s place in new space

Seattle is seen as a hub or epicenter of the “new space” industry, so much so that the annual NewSpace conference produced by the Space Frontier Foundation came to the city for the first time last week. The conference attracted a who’s who of the industry for networking and discussion.

John Thornquist


One question tackled at the event was why Seattle? John Thornquist, director of the state Office of Aerospace, said the state has the four essential elements that the space industry needs:

  • Businesses and a highly skilled workforce in manufacturing, software, tech, engineering, and big data
  • A culture of entrepreneurship
  • Strong university education and research
  • Support of state leaders

“We’ve been on the forefront designing and building some of the most advanced, successful commercial and military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and scientific exploration vehicles the world has ever known,” Thornquist said in welcoming remarks to the conference.

Panel: Why Seattle for new space

OK, but it’s his job to pump the state. A panel of space company leaders gave their reasons for choosing Seattle and Washington.

Fred Wilson


Fred Wilson, director of business development for Aerojet Rocketdyne, said the reason the company chose the Seattle area is simple. Its four founders were Boeing engineers who started the company in 1959.

“Boeing and the aerospace engineering pool that Boeing brought to the Seattle area was a key spawning ground for space companies,” Wilson said, adding that Aerojet Rocketdyne is now doing the same thing. “Having been in the Seattle area for close to 60 years, we’ve spawned off a lot of engineers to companies in the Seattle area.”

Jason Andrews


Jason Andrews, CEO of Spaceflight Industries, backed Thornquist up on his assessment, noting that space companies need great software, big data, and capital.

“Seattle is an epicenter for all three,” Andrews said. Combine that with the city’s other positives, and you have an easy choice.

“Seattle is a great place,” Andrews said. “It is unique here because of the visionary people and the pioneering culture that Seattle has had from the very beginning.”

Rob Meyerson


Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, picked up on that concept as well.

“Space companies come here because so many companies before us have come and made this a really, really fantastic place, when you combine it with the natural resources around us,” Meyerson said. He also said the educational institutions are a good draw, from Raisbeck Aviation High School to the state’s universities.

“It’s a unique place, it’s a beautiful place to live, it’s a very, very intelligent community, a high rate of STEM education, a very literate group,” Meyerson said. “The infrastructure here is really well suited for what we want to do.”

Chris Lewicki


Chris Lewicki worked for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California before moving north with the founding of Planetary Resources, of which he is president and CEO. He said Seattle was a conscious choice for the company; it’s ambition is mining asteroids, and that will take a while to develop.

“It’s going to take you two, three, four, five, ten—maybe longer—years to build a successful business in the space industry,” Lewicki said. “You’ve got to enjoy where you live, and Seattle is spectacular for that.”

The future of new space

Andrews of Spaceflight Industries said it’s hard to predict how the industry will evolve, as so many companies have different goals and objectives, from asteroid mining to satellite launching.

“The ultimate holy grail is about creating a permanent human presence in space; three of the companies leading that are here,” Andrews said, noting Space X, Blue Origin, and Vulcan Aerospace.

“Seattle is really at the beginning of its space growth curve,” he added. “Companies here are going to have other entrepreneurs that come, work for five years, and spawn off and create new businesses that fill niche markets around this ecosystem that we’re creating in Seattle.”

“The capital, the people, the resources, the attitude—Seattle is going to be on the map for a long time,” Andrews concluded.

Charles Beames


“The companies here are either a part of the revolution itself, or they’re enabling it in some fashion,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace. “In terms of jobs, the biggest growth is actually going to be all of the new space startups that are highly innovative, that are going to survive, and they’re going to employ all kinds of people and grow new companies.”

“I don’t think you can constrain where the Seattle space economy and industry is going to go,” said Wilson of Aerojet Rocketdyne. “I think it’s going to be innovative and creative and it’s going to pop up in many different areas we don’t even realize right now.”

It turns out, then, that Washington’s aerospace director Thornquist, and everyone else in the state, has good reason to be optimistic.

“New space has come to Washington,” Thornquist said, “and we’re more than ready for it.”