Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mangalyaan, MAVEN's Indian Cousin

India is about to become a space exploration contender. Within two days of the Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) of NASA's MAVEN, the Indian spacecraft Mangalyaan intends to join the fun.

The Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Mars Orbital Mission, is India's first attempt to send a spacecraft to Mars. The intent is to demonstrate the ISRO's ability to plan, execute, manage, and handle contingencies associated with a deep space mission. The spacecraft Mangalyaan (Hindi for Mars-carft) will prove the ISRO's ability to develop and utilize deep space communications, navigation, and a mission-capable spacecraft.

Beyond proof of technology, Mangalyaan will have work to do that compliments that of MAVEN's. Outfitted with a high resolution color camera, thermal infrared spectrometers, a methane sensor, and atmospheric analysis instruments, Mangalyaan will collect and transmit data that will help scientists understand the composition of the Martian atmosphere and determine how and why Mars is losing surface water.

Space enthusiasts are looking forward to welcoming India and the ISRO to the space exploration club and wish them great success.

Mars Orbital Mission (MOM) updates and information are available on the ISRO's Facebook page:

More information about the mission and the Mangalyaan spacecraft is available on the ISRO's Mars Website:

Correction to last week's post:  MAVEN obviously isn't "coming in for a landing," as the spacecraft should not ever touch down. The phrase should have been, "coming in for an orbiting" or some such. ~ed.

Monday, August 18, 2014

MAVEN to Mars

September is going to be very exciting for Mars enthusiasts. The MAVEN spacecraft will be arriving at the red planet around September 22nd. #maven2mars. MAVEN, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, will be orbiting Mars to study the planet's upper atmosphere.

MAVEN's elliptical orbit will allow instruments provided by the Goddard Space Flight Center to collect atmospheric data as close as 93 miles (150 km) above the Martian surface. Occasional deep dives are scheduled, bringing the orbiting spacecraft as close as 78 miles (125 km). MAVEN will also collect data on solar flare and magnetosphere activity, allowing scientists to study the impact of these forces of nature on Mars' remaining atmosphere.

MAVEN won't be going it alone. The Curiosity rover will transmit its lower atmospheric measurements to the spacecraft, allowing MAVEN to compare its own collected information to Curiosity's. MAVEN will crunch the data into intelligible bits to send to scientists on Earth for study and interpretation.

Scientists hope to use MAVEN's collected data to determine how the once thick and moist atmosphere of the planet's past was lost.

More information about this exciting project, and some stellar lithographs and images, can be found at NASA's MAVEN Website:


NASA has some fun Mars stuff for kids of all ages here on its JPL - Mars website:  I downloaded the "NASA Be a Martian" app for iPhone - they support Android and Windows Phone, too!

If you're really into Mars, you can give the planet a makeover at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) site: This is a beautiful, interactive Website that lets you play with the planet and make changes to it.

For those who love to design and build things, NASA is interested in your 3D projects, be they plastic, paper, or whatever!

And, of course, there is a fun and plausible science fiction novel about a crew of people who landed on Mars to build a habitat, written by me!  I Choose Mars is available in paperback and ebook:

Friday, August 08, 2014

When online Help is mentioned twice in reviews ...

As many of you know, I am a technical writer. (nerd) Hush. So, when I came across an app that had its Help file mentioned not once, but twice in the first 15 reviews, I had to check it out. 

Yes, admittedly, my curiosity about the Help made my decision about which app to download. But, hey, it has a high rating, too!

Of course, I checked out the Help file first thing. What I found was well-written and in a very friendly voice. Concise, descriptive enough, and accurate - pretty much everything a Help file should be!

For the folks who often ask me how to "break in" to technical writing: Learn to write like this. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Mars Habitable Zone

The setting of "I Choose Mars" is the Martian Habitable Zone. 

PBS did a special on it not long ago:

It is an area recently explored by the Opportunity rover comprising a basin and hills. The importance of a basin is the shelter the surrounding hills provide when the winds get nasty. Water is believed to be close under the surface. 

If you go to Goigle Mars and search for Eagle Mountsin, you can see the area. 

If I had to live on Mars, this would be the place. Oh , and the Opportunity river plays a major part in the book, I Choose Mars!


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Book release

I am excited and happy to announce that I Choose Mars is now available to readers in both paperback and ebook formats. 

I started the story during the 2012 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), let it sit for a while, rewrote parts of it a few times, had it professionally edited, rewrote a bunch more, and then refined it. 

Then came the hard part. Advertising, building an audience. Formatting. Proofing. Phew!

Now, I have one book signing scheduled and I am going to hit all of the indie bookstores in the area to see whether they will carry it. This could be fun!

I have learned so much already; I wonder what this next phase brings.


Friday, June 06, 2014

Technical Writing Before Computers

I met my friend, Joe, in 2003 when I took a job at Raytheon in San Diego to create technical procedures for a new radar system. Joe was assigned to a different system and we occasionally used the same source data, so one or the other of us was in each other's cube borrowing a drawing or a document. You get to know people that way, and that's how I got to know Joe. 

I could tell he was an "older guy," but he took very good care of himself, so there was no guessing his age. He floored me when he said he was 63. I sat down in his guest chair and asked him about his career. He mentioned something about technical writers using yellow legal pads and handing off their work to the typing pool. I thought he was kidding. 

Ten years and several layoffs and job changes between us, we ended up at the same company again but on different programs. This was about the same time I decided to research technical writing before computers. I wanted to see how serious he was about those legal size yellow writing pads, so I invited him to lunch. 

The environment he described was something straight out of Mad Men. When Joe started technical writing in the 1960s, only men were engineers and tech writers. The minimum requirement for a tech writer back then was either a mechanical or electrical engineering bachelor's degree. Women worked in the typing pool. Period. This trend lasted through the 1970s. 

The typing pool consisted of about 25 to 30 "girls" who supported 60 to 70 technical writers. The miniskirt fashions of the time caused management to install "modesty boards" in front of the typists' desks to make it more difficult to look up their skirts. Joe unapologetically said that he always waited for the cutest, dumbest blonde to be free so he could hand off his work to her. And, he purposely wrote a little sloppy in places so she would have a reason to visit with him and ask him questions. When she politely asked what else she could do for him, he would reply, "How about lunch today?" You get the picture. 
Writers had to check out their source engineering drawings from the Check Out Clerk. Requesting a new drawing entailed filling out a form in triplicate and waiting for the clerk to create a printed copy from the original, master drawing. You couldn't stand around and wait; sometimes it took a week to get your source data depending on the priority of your job, where you were in the request queue, and whether the clerk liked you. 

Printed drawings were places in post office sorting-style pukas. The tech writers had to look through several, usually, until they found theirs, and they had to pray that any engineering change documents to the drawing were included. If not, you had to visit the Clerk again. 

The tech writers studied the engineering data and consulted with the engineers for clarification, just like we do today, and they took notes by hand. Then, they wrote out the procedures and descriptive information by hand on legal-size, yellow writing pads. Depending on the style guide requirements for mark-up, they underlined words to be italiced and double-underlined for bold. They had various symbols for indent and other formatting requirements. 

After the typist interpreted it all and created typewritten pages, the packet was given to the editor for his scrutiny, and so the publishing process began. I can only fathom the multitude of paper it must have taken to produce the technical tomes. 

It wasn't until the late 1970s that companies started to adopt typesetting machines. The writers themselves were expected to use these monsters, and many, like Joe, used them with reluctance. They saw it as a waste of time. They could be researching and writing instead of fiddling with these cumbersome contraptions! There were only a few machines to go around, which added to the frustration. But, management liked the cost savings of significantly reducing the typing pool. Even then, the bottom line was king. 

Joe preferred the days of yellow legal pads when he was able to focus in research and writing and nothing else. In a way, I envy him. How great would it be to not have to worry about correctly tagging your content in XML? Just hand off a Word document to someone else for formatting and making it pretty and get back into the drawings. But, that would be one more 401k and medical benefits package the company would need to pay for. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Winged Dreams

Today I flew in historic skies
Where many things were broken
Speed records, the Sound Barrier, and some men's dreams
On the desert floor below, many things were built
Aircraft, Space craft, and hopes
My small part falls in between
Not in records or magazines, but someone has to be a cog
In the aerospace machine.