Rocket (Wo)man

is for Rocket. Because I’m a rocket scientist.

I like books that include inventions and people who like fooling around with ideas for gizmos and making them work. In grade school I read a lot of books about geeky kids who messed around with chemistry sets, or wired things up, or learned how cars worked. When I start doing this kind of thing, I mostly take things apart. I seldom put things back together. This is probably why I’m not currently working as an engineer despite my first degree. But I’m very good at taking things apart.

A rocket is basically a gizmo with the very specific task of shooting a payload into space. If you stick a lot of fuel in a tube, cause it to combust in a (mostly) controlled fashion, and direct the combustion products (exhaust) out the end of the tube that does not contain the payload, you have a rocket. Of course many things can go wrong in getting your payload to space. Explosions (uncontrolled combustion and undirected combustion products), insufficient fuel for payload, explosions, fuel that fizzles (lack of combustion), explosions, etc. The basics, though, are well known and even grade-school children can be taught to build NASA-approved model rockets. Some people even shoot lego into space.

Back to books on rockets. My favourite invention-type book involving rockets is Red Thunder by John Varley. I read this for the first time last year and remembered exactly how much I like books about unlikely people inventing something amazing. The book is set in Florida on the Space Coast (the earth-bound part of the book anyhow) and when I was in Florida in November I thought about the book a lot because I could see the setting. This book, and others in the series, are also quest-like. Actually many invention-type books are quest-like. Instead of going on a physical journey to acquire the Object, Our Hero(ine) goes on a mental journey to build the Object.

Loads of other science fiction books also have rockets in them. So do loads of science fiction movies and TV series. In honour of one of the classics, I’ve put together some Rocket-themed links. William Shatner is well known for his portrayal of Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Did you know that Shatner also has a musical career? True story. I had no idea about Shatner’s “singing” until I heard this rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Turns out Shatner has been doing this for a long time, and in 1978 did a cover of “Rocket Man” for the Science Fiction Awards. People in the know have referenced this performance, including Stewie, the baby on “Family Guy.” Recently Shatner has a new album out (“Seeking Major Tom”), and, look, there he is in the sky.

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