Monday, December 4, 2017

Once Upon a Space Station

Ah, I always love a great space station, don't you?

Up until now, humankind has been a neophyte in the art of building space stations. Our most ambitious project to date, the ISS--International Space Station--is the most recent of several orbiting platforms, including Skylab (1973-79) and the Russian Mir (1986-2001), the first modular space station. In 1983, in a partnership with the European Space Agency, NASA began to launch a series of Spacelab modules, that were eventually connected to evolve into the present-day ISS. You can read more about it in A Brief History of Space Stations before the ISS on the Popular Science website.

But the space stations we envision in science fiction romance are usually a thousand generations removed from these early experimental designs.

MONA Loa Station, a covert military
base, as pictured on the cover of Part II
of Inherit the Stars (serialized version).
Space stations play a major role in my work because they're a sensible offshoot of space exploration. Need an essential space hub, but the planetary bodies at the desired coordinates are hostile to human life? No problemo. Plant a space station in orbit and you have an instant galactic way station.

But what about the expense and difficulties of constructing an orbiting space station? Exponentially less expensive and traumatic than losing an entire colony to some natural catastrophe, I would think.

In the not so distant future, we could plant a space station in orbit around Jupiter (if we can figure out adequate radiation shielding) or Saturn to serve as a support hub for exploration or colonization of some of the more promising of their 100+ shared moons--Europa, Titan and Enceladus, among them.

But space stations don't actually have to orbit planets or even suns. If they're all about strategic defense location or optimum position for science and astronomy--like MONA Loa/Andromeda Station at various points in its history--then they can be 'anchored' to a specific location in space by using occasional retrorockets to keep them in their intended position. 

Andromeda Station, the re-named and
re-purposed MONA Loa, is the setting
for Farewell Andromeda 200 years later.

Of course, "a specific location in space" is all relative, because it's not like a point on Earth that can be defined by GPS. In space, everything moves and orbits and careens around the cosmos. It's like a gigantic galactic waltz with billions and billions of moving parts.

A non-orbiting space station would most likely be positioned according to relative landmarks--hmm, would that be "starmarks?"--in space, but those positions are not stationary. In terms of anchoring to any particular spot, it's all relative.

Or maybe the intent isn't to remain "anchored" at all. Space stations may have their own form of propulsion so they can be moved about under power and be deployed as superships or bases where needed.

Another locale in my series is Talstar Station introduced in Courting Disaster in the current Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 collection. Talstar is most famous for being home to the Universal Flight Academy, but also houses the Headquarters of the mighty Carduwan Fifth Fleet.

Talstar will also play an important role in a far future Inherited Stars Universe story entitled The Shell and the Star, where Talstar's energy collection systems have powered the station for eons. Countless generations, in fact. Current plans are to release this new story in 2018.

Talstar Station is seen orbiting planet Veros
in this Courting Disaster graphic.
And you'll soon be introduced to yet another space station, one that exists not that far into our future and orbiting our own world.

In upcoming release, The Outer Planets, the mission launches from a major Earth-orbiting hub nicknamed ASP. That's an acronym, of course, and it stands for Armstrong Space Port. I think the tribute behind the Armstrong annotation is probably pretty evident. :)

I envision Armstrong Space Port as a sort of "Gargantuan ISS"--an orbiting space city with businesses, tourism, medical and research centers, and science and space launch facilities built for both government projects and private industry.

Space stations are, and always have been, a big part of science fiction. Here's a video of the "Top 10 Space Stations from Movies and TV" where you may recognize some of the iconic structures, as well get a glimpse of some totally new-to-you sci-fi locales.

By the way, I picture ASP as being most similar to Gateway Station. You may not recognize the name at first, but you're almost certain to recognize the scene. :)

Not sure that I agree with all the choices, but I do love #6 (of course!), #5 for its dynamics, #2 for being such a landmark Sci-Fi icon, and of course #4, arguably the most famous TV space station of them all.

But #1? Yeah, I don't think too many can argue with that. Its pretty much come to define the term "Space Station."

What are your favorites?

Have a great week!

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