Q&A with Marianne Dyson

From fact articles to poems, almost every category of Analog has featured a work from author Marianne Dyson, and in our current issue on sale now, she offers us a guest editorial on the number of women in space—a topic, as you’ll read below, she knows a little something about.


 

Analog Editor: How did this editorial germinate? Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while?

MD: Trevor contacted me in March with the good news that my novelette, “Europa’s Survivors,” was a finalist in the AnLab Readers Poll (thank you readers!), and then asked if I’d be interested in doing a guest editorial. I aggressively follow the human spaceflight program and have written about the many contributions women have made and are making to the field. But I have never been asked to offer my opinion on what we might do to improve the number of women in space. So I immediately asked Trevor if I could address that topic, and he said that would be perfect!


I aggressively follow the human spaceflight program and have written about the many contributions women have made and are making to the field.


 

AE: We are so fortunate at Analog to have talented writers and scientists as contributors. Your background at NASA I’m sure has prepared you for this editorial and informed much of your writing in general. Can you tell our audience a bit about what being a Flight Controller for NASA entails?

MD: The job of flight controllers is to keep the crew safe and achieve mission objectives. All controllers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering and complete hundreds of hours of training to prove they can perform under pressure and work with the rest of the team. After mastering the basics of the entire spacecraft, each controller becomes an expert on the system their position is responsible for during the mission. This requires them to know not just how the system works, but how it might fail, how to identify those failures, what actions to take if they happen, how it interacts with other systems, and how it supports the mission objectives.

As a Flight Activities Officer in Mission Control during the early Space Shuttle Program, I was responsible for the crew’s activities: all the procedures they had to follow, the schedule for what they would do when, and the constraints placed on those activities by the Flight Rules, the mission objectives, their health and safety, the Shuttle systems, and orbital mechanics. I was also a specialist in the phase of flight called post insertion and wrote the procedures for aborts on launch day and for the loss of cooling. One of those cases was the basis for my first science fiction story in Analog (“Fireworks in Orbit”) back in 1990. Much more detail is included in my memoir, A Passion for Space: the Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller (Springer, 2015).

 

AE: You mention hoping that more women venture into space. Did you consider becoming an astronaut?

MD: There were no female astronauts when I was growing up. But, as I explain in my memoir, seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek got me thinking/hoping that maybe there might be a job for me in space someday. I wanted to be ready to take advantage of that opportunity if it came along, so I decided to become an astronomer. I got my degree in physics and was in grad school when NASA first allowed women to apply to be astronauts and encouraged women to apply for other technical jobs with NASA. I applied for a position in flight control and began working for NASA the same year as the first female astronauts.

 

AE: We see that you coauthored a book with Buzz Aldrin and have another coming out soon. What is that coauthoring process like?

MD: The Apollo Program was an enormous inspiration to me as a child. Getting the chance to work with Buzz has been an amazing privilege. It’s also been a lot of fun. We first began working together in the early 1990s via the National Space Society. (He was chairman of the board, and I was a director and officer for many years.) At the annual International Space Development Conferences, we often brainstormed ways to educate more young people about the benefits of space. He kindly wrote the foreword for my first children’s book, Space Station Science. Years later, my editor remembered our connection and recruited me to help Buzz write Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet.


The biggest challenge was finding time in his busy schedule to review draft sections. I still get a thrill when I answer the phone and hear, “Marianne: Buzz Aldrin here.”


He paid me a huge compliment during a TV interview when he said that he’d learned a few things about Mars by collaborating with me. But the best reward has been the chance to know him as more than my childhood hero who walked on the Moon. He is true genius whose ideas about the future, such as the Aldrin cycler concept (featured in Martin Shoemaker’s stories in Analog), deserve serious attention by the space community. I am honored that he trusted me to help share his vision for Mars and also capture his Apollo legacy for another generation of children via To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, which includes amazing pop-up art by Bruce Foster.

 

AE: What is your history with Analog?

MD: My uncle had a subscription to Astounding Stories which became Analog. He shared these with me as a teenager. I finally got my own subscription in the 1980s. I sold my first story to Stan Schmitt in 1989. “Fireworks in Orbit” appeared in 1990, with short stories and probability zeroes (a format I love!) following in 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999. I wrote my first fact article in 2000 about my experiences on NASA’s vomit comet. My writing career has mostly focused on nonfiction space topics, but I returned to writing science fiction and sold my first novelette to Analog in 2010. I had a short story in 2015, and then my longest story to date, a novelette, in 2017. Three of my poems appeared in Analog in the early 90s, and my Biolog appeared in 1994. I have a fact article in the current queue that I’m told will be in a fall issue.

 

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

MD: Our house was flooded by Hurricane Harvey in 2018, turning our lives upside down. Having to completely empty every closet and cupboard in our home of 35 years, and then make room for our son, his wife, and our first grandchild to move in, convinced me it is time to find new homes for our 3,000 books and magazines (but not the Astoundings and Analogs!), and also to either toss or finish hundreds of book and story projects I’ve set aside throughout the years. One such project is a book I wrote in 1990 that takes place in 2018 on Space Station Freedom, a proposed station that the U.S. had planned to build before the fall of the Soviet Union. I’m having a blast recasting what had been a speculative story into an alternate history where Freedom was built and the Soviet Union and China teamed up and went to the Moon.

 

AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?

MD: Probably the most gruesome was my research into the use of anesthesia in space for a leg amputation scenario in a story I was writing. I arranged to accompany a NASA flight surgeon on his rounds at a hospital one Saturday. As Fate would have it, a man required his leg amputated that day, and there I was to witness the whole traumatic event. I also experienced hypoxia and space sickness first-hand via a session in a hyperbaric chamber and a flight on NASA’s vomit comet during 40 parabolas that included freefall periods of about 25 seconds each followed by one of lunar gravity and one with Martian gravity. (I wrote about this experience for Analog in 2000, and it is reprinted in eBook form on Amazon.)

 

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

MD: I’d like to see human settlements in space (most likely on a terraformed Mars!) that offers meaningful work for adults and is suitable for raising healthy children.

 

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

MD: Before spending copious amounts of time writing a novel, I recommend building your writing skills by writing short fiction (which can take place in the setting and with the characters of your eventual novel). Submit this fiction to professional markets like Analog. If rejected by three of these markets, then write something else, get it critiqued by others who have sold to your target market, and try again until you succeed. This method will not only earn you some money and respect sooner, it will help you craft a better book and build an audience for it.

 

AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?

MD: I have a degree in physics and did a year of grad school in space physics before going to work for NASA. I also married a physicist, which might explain why our children complain that every dinner conversation at our house somehow includes some reference to physics. But while physics, the science of matter and energy, is at the root of all motion and state change in the Universe, it’s not the science itself that drives my fiction but how scientists DO science: by searching out the answer to a question, avoiding making assumptions, identifying the variables, experimenting, analyzing the results, revising their theories, and basing their opinions and decisions on observations and data that have been verified to be consistent with known facts and laws of nature.

 

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

MD: I offer a free monthly Science Snacks blog through my website, www.mDyson.com, that includes discussion of some space topic and news of my upcoming publications and appearances. Also, look for me on Twitter, Facebook (including the Analog Group), and LinkedIn. I’ll be the science guest of honor at FenCon in Dallas in September 2018.

 


 

Marianne J. Dyson was inspired by science fiction and the Apollo Program to become one of NASA’s first female flight controllers. She is now an award-winning children’s author, educational speaker, and freelance science writer. Her most recent books include her memoir, A Passion for Space, her science fiction collection, Fly Me to the Moon, and a children’s pop-up book co-authored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back. To learn more, please visit www.mDyson.com.

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