I met Les Johnson at Liberty Con 2014, where he was a guest scientist and author. I talked with him while getting a couple of his books signed. I remember asking him if he was going to quit his day job, something most authors dream of, and was surprised by the answer. Because to Les Johnson, NASA scientist, it was not just about the paycheck. He has a true calling, to help mankind to conquer first the solar system, then journey to the Stars. This year, at Dragon Con, Les stated during a presentation about solar sails that he wanted to get a footnote citation in the first textbook about the founding of the Alpha Centauri colony. Most authors want to get on the New York Times best seller list. Les wants to really make history, for the benefit of humankind. You can meet Les at Liberty Con, Dragon Con or the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, where you will find a friendly guy who is enthusiastic about his work without the least shred of the arrogance often found among the very intelligent. He has contributed to the projects such as the National Geographic Documentary Evacuate Earth, and gives talks about space all over the country. An example is this TEDx talk. He has also written hard science fiction with Ben Bova and Travis Taylor.
Now most people who follow me know that I write fanciful far future science fiction. This allows me to make up my tech, my settings, and avoid a lot of the painstaking research that goes into travelling around our own system, where we know so much, and yet things are constantly changing as we learn more. Writing near future hard science fiction is hard. Bova specializes in this, and Les was a good choice for a co-author of Rescue Mode. Rescue mode follows an expedition to Mars that goes very wrong. Using the best information that we have today, Johnson and Bova craft a tale of explorers who have to make the hard decisions to survive disaster. And that’s all I’m going to say. Read the book. Back to the Moon is a tale of a rescue mission to the Moon. I have read both of these books. I normally read space opera, though I have read all of Bova’s Solar System series. Both of these books taught this author that you can still write a good story set on our closest neighbors. Both were highly entertaining as well as educational, and I can’t recommend them enough. The reason this blog is coming out today is that Rescue Mode is actually out in paperback today. So, for those who don’t like eBooks, and can’t afford hard covers, here you go.
And now, in Les’ own words, (which he asked me to say are his own and do not reflect those of his employer!), where will we be going next:
Moon or Mars?
That’s a question I am often asked regarding where we should send people when we are soon able to (again) travel beyond Earth orbit. Those who ask typically have their own idea of where that should be – and they are usually very passionate about it. Unfortunately, given the state of our technology, we are pretty much limited to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid.
The Moon: Going back to the Moon is probably the easiest, technically and financially. We’ve been to the Moon before and we know how to design the rockets to get us there and back. We’ve continued studying the Moon since Apollo and we know that it would be possible to establish a permanent human presence there if we want to do so. If we go back, then we can 1) erect radio telescopes on the lunar farside – the best place in the solar system for radio astronomy, 2) assess the viability of mining He3 for future Earth-based fusion energy production, 3) assess the Moon as a source of raw materials for building space solar power stations on the Moon or in Earth orbit, 4) learn to live and work off planet as a first step toward us becoming an interplanetary species.
Asteroids: If we want to develop a space-based economy, then we need to learn how to locate, mine and use the raw materials in Near-Earth asteroids. Asteroids are the left over building blocks of the planets and they contain all the raw materials we will need to sustain our technological civilization – hopefully (eventually) replacing Earth-based deep pit mining. Many elements that are rare on Earth are readily available in there. They can also be used as a source of raw materials for building space solar power stations.
Mars: The Holy Grail of human exploration has always been Mars. Wernher Von Braun cited it as his ultimate goal and people have dreamed of going there since we first began peering at the Red Planet through our telescopes. Getting to Mars will be difficult, but not impossible. NASA is building the Space Launch System (SLS) which, when combined with commercial launch of fuel and other elements, will easily loft the massive systems needed to carry humans to and from the surface of Mars. The technologies required to keep the crew alive in a deep space habitat exist. The systems for landing and launching from the surface of Mars can be made from today’s technologies as well. The astronauts can be protected from solar radiation during the voyage and there shouldn’t be a problem with the life support systems (thanks to years of development experience on the International Space Station). It will be expensive, but not prohibitively so.
But to make any of these exciting futures happen, we have to stop the bickering and infighting. The Moon advocates need to accept that we may go for Mars and skip the Moon for now. The Mars advocates may have to wait until after we establish a colony on the Moon. And the asteroid exploration supporters may have cool their heels until better technologies come along to make asteroid exploration and exploitation more economically viable. Lastly, the NASA bashers and the New Space critics need to learn how to support each other if we are ever going to become an interplanetary species. There are roles for both governments and commercial companies in the endeavor. We need to learn to stop fighting among ourselves and focus instead on making a positive future for humanity in space.
So what are you waiting for, Below are the links to Les’ work, both science fiction and science fact. Again, highly recommended by this author and science fiction fan.
Les Johnson is a Baen science fiction author, popular science writer, and NASA technologist. His most recent science fiction novel, Rescue Mode, is about the first human mission to Mars and was coauthored with Ben Bova. It will be released in paperback September 29, 2015. But don’t let that fool you into thinking Les is only thinking of going to Mars. His first novel, Back to the Moon, is a tale that Analog Magazine called, “a book to thrill.” His next novel, The Asteroid, will be released in 2016. To learn more about Les, please visit his website at www.lesjohnsonauthor.com.