Monday, July 15, 2013

Visiting My Ultimate Idea Factory.

On a glorious Friday last month, I along with my wife and several of my fellow Star Trek writer friends and colleagues were treated to a special tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. For a space enthusiast, visiting this place is like going to Disney World, and it certainly was at the top of my bucket list. After all, I’m a child of the space age. The Apollo astronauts, along with those who’ve flown the Space Shuttles or who’ve lived on the International Space Station, along with everyone who built the machines and other equipment they use and who support them during their missions, are my heroes. As they have since my childhood, they continue to fuel my dreams and fire my imagination, and on numerous occasions they’ve also inspired my writing. So, when the opportunity came along to enter the realm in which they carry out their work (the earthbound part of it, anyway), I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was not to be missed.

The ten-hour plus tour—months in the planning thanks to the tireless efforts of one of our fellow writers and her husband, himself a NASA employee—included visits to the Mission Control Center and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility where we walked through full-scale simulated versions of the International Space Station and the next generation of lunar mission craft. We talked to scientists and astronauts about future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. They’re actually exploring the possibility of something akin to “warp drive” in the hopes of drastically reducing the time needed to cross interplanetary and interstellar distances. Why? Because as we learned that day, the biggest obstacle to long-duration spaceflight won’t be technology, but the effects of prolonged exposure to zero-gravity on the human body. Such things are still being researched and considered, and solutions remain elusive, but that’s not stopping the good folks at NASA.

What else did we see? We were shown the newest advances in space suit design, robotics and prosthetics, and we got to visit where meteorites are stored and studied, along with the lion’s share of lunar rocks and other soil samples collected during the Apollo missions. In the midst of it all, there also was a Q&A session where the audience—NASA employees who spend a lot of their time figuring out how to put people and things into space—asked us all sorts of questions about writing as well as the interesting and even symbiotic relationship Star Trek seems to have with real-world space exploration efforts. A common refrain heard throughout the day was that Star Trek had influenced this or that person to pursue their chosen career, and how the show continued to inspire them.

"Hey," as I kept thinking to myself all during the day, "that's supposed to be my line."

And inspired I was. Whenever a free moment presented itself, I jotted down note after furious note about something I’d seen or heard. Ideas were forming in my little monkey brain as fast as my fingers could tap them into my phone’s notepad app. While there were the big takeaways, such as how the next missions to the Moon and other planets will be undertaken, I also was fascinated by less obvious efforts. The prosthetics labs, for example, where engineers are working on exoskeleton-like hardware which will assist astronauts in different gravity environments, also carry with them the potential to be of enormous assistance right here on Earth. While speaking with one of the engineers, I was conjuring all sorts of possibilities for the technology. Space suits and armor for future explorers and soldiers, sure, but also how it might aid paralysis patients, amputees, or those suffering from afflictions like Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative disorders. As I joked at the time, “I think my brain just snapped off its roller.”

Of course, the day wasn't complete without visiting the Saturn V rocket which is on permanent display at the center. I've always been awestruck by this machine, and seeing one that was close enough to touch sent tingles down my spine. Yes, it prompted a story idea or two, as well.

It was an amazing day, providing me not only with a renewed respect for NASA but also a wealth of ideas and inspiration that I hope to channel into future stories. Some of it is already working its way into projects I’m currently writing, and I have plans for others just as soon as I can weave them into my always lengthy “To Do List.”

And, yes, my inner 10-year-old is back to day dreaming about being an astronaut, too.

Is there some place that inspires you this way? Somewhere you’ve never been, but hope one day to visit?


Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, that inspires me for sure. Wow. I'm jealous.

Unknown said...

How fun that you got to spend time in a place that is so fertile for your imagination! For me, I get this way when I'm in the outdoors, hiking, jogging or just taking a walk.

Liane Spicer said...

To echo Charles... Wow! What a great recharge mission!

Like Julie, I recharge/get inspired by the outdoors, and by visiting new places. Any new places will do. Stuff from an editorial stint in 2004 in Grenada is finding its way into my current WIP. A sojourn in South Florida was the inspiration for my second novel.