« Archives in May, 2011

Book Review: Rolling Stones

Predating the magazine, and the rock band, Robert Heinlein wrote one of his “juvenile” novels, titled The Rolling Stones. I cannot recommend this book enough.

There is plenty of complexity in the “juvenile” novels by Heinlein to put most modernĀ  authors writing for adults to shame. You won’t find very much serious contemplation of subjects like engineering simplicity, the role of the frontier in human society, the nature of legitimate and illegitimate authority, and the nature of adult responsibility even remotely touched on in most modern works.

The novel is an adventure novel set in space, but it has some interesting depth. One of the things I loved most about it was that the astronautical engineering and spaceflight science was done absolutely *right*. For a book that had it’s first version written in 1948, and the modern revision done in 1952, this is beyond impressive! You get the distinct impression that this science fiction author knew at least as much as most of the men deep in the space program.

This was before we could even put something into orbit, and Heinlein had already worked out the necessity of nuclear energy for reasonable mass fractions in interplanetary spaceflight. He managed to accurately portray the engineering and operational principles behind nuclear thermal rocketry (something that we wouldn’t attempt for real until 1952, the year the book came out.) His depiction of the nature of interplanetary navigation is also dead on accurate. I double-checked his numbers for transit times, frequencies, ect, for his interplanetary trajectories – he got it right.

Some of the things he didn’t get right, whether through artistic license, or lack of knowledge, were the nature of the other planets in the solar system. The mass and composition of Ceres is wrong (of course, we didn’t know anything about Ceres other than that it was there back then). Mars and Venus are depicted as in the other golden-age sci-fi of the era. Mars has Lowellian Martians, Venus is habitable. (Of course, we didn’t have any good data on the surface of Mars or Venus until the 60s. Back then, it was a reasonable guess that Venus could be an Earth-like planet – if not for the density and composition of its atmosphere, it would be – in many respects, it has the same bulk properties. One of the reasons why it is called “Earth’s evil twin”).

Nevertheless, all that is forgivable.

And that’s just the science. The story is also an engaging adventure tale of mankind spreading out into the solar system. (For now, I am out of time).

It can be fairly said that Gene Rodenberry stole most of his best ideas from Robert Heinlein. I have never read another author of fiction that was this engaging and evidenced this much love of my field of astronautical engineering.

Other books of Heinlein’s that are set in the same universe are:

Space Cadet

Farmer in the Sky

I would also recommend these books emphatically to anyone.

Heinlein is difficult to find. You can find *some* of his stuff in bookstores, and on amazon.com. To get electronic versions of his books (Kindle and other formats), you need to visit Baen.

Osama bin Laden Dead


Last night, news was released that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by a small team of our ground forces. This is excellent news.

I’m actually very surprised he had survived this long – after his dead silence (as opposed to his usual propaganda output) following the Tora Bora bombing operation, I had assumed he must have died sometime during the opening part of the Afghanistan campaign.

With any luck, this will begin to collapse Al Qaeda’s resistance in Afghanistan. I don’t know the precise value of that man to their organization, but with something like $100M in funding from his family’s construction business, and him being the planner behind a few of the more deadly attacks, losing that has got to hurt them pretty badly.

In any case, the leader behind killing hundreds of people around the world, and 3000 Americans in 2001, is finally dead.