First 2018 bylines: NASA’s brand-new space capsule, the rise of the Anthropocene, and my path to science writing

In case you missed them, here’s a sampling of new pieces I’ve published for National Geographic, Knowable magazine, and Nature Astronomy. Thanks as usual to all of my excellent editors. I’m only posting brief excerpts here, so please check out the whole thing using the links below.


How NASA Plans to Send Humans Back to the Moon

The U.S. space agency is rigorously testing its Orion spacecraft in hopes of launching its first mission to the moon as early as 2019.

NASA and the US Navy doing recovery tests of the Orion space capsule. (Photo courtesy NASA)

NASA has been subjecting its Orion space capsule to a battery of tests designed to tell whether the spacecraft is ready to ferry humans into orbit and beyond. So far, the capsule seems to be on track—in a series of maneuvers this week, a joint team of NASA and U.S. Navy specialists successfully recovered the spaceship from the sea off the coast of San Diego, simulating what would happen when a deep-space mission splashed back to Earth.

If all goes to plan, Orion will become NASA’s flagship technology for launching astronauts to orbit and even to deep space, including to the lunar surface and maybe Mars. Here’s what’s at stake with Orion, and what still needs to be done before it can blast off.

Wait, aren’t U.S. astronauts already getting into space?

Yes, but not on NASA spacecraft. The space shuttle program ended in 2011, and the remaining shuttles are now on display in museums around the country. Since then, American astronauts have had to hitch rides to the International Space Station on Russian rockets, and NASA has sent supplies to the ISS via SpaceX and Orbital ATK launches.

Until Orion becomes available, NASA astronauts have no other way to get to low-Earth orbit and beyond. Commercial space companies like SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own crew capsules capable of reaching the ISS. But when it comes to sending people to the moon or deeper into space, it’s not clear yet who will be first to the launch pad…

[Read the entire article on National Geographic, published on 26 January.]

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A review of 2017, plus my freelance writing resolutions for the new year

My first year of freelancing and second year of parenting turned out to be a challenging one — no surprise there! — and I think it was a successful one too.

I covered a wide range of issues and news, including debates about a hidden planet, a call for space diplomacy, goals of climate deniers, the need for reforming forensic science, an exploration of the fall of Eastern Mediterranean empires, the effects of solitary confinement on people’s brains, the risks of virtual reality addiction, a proposed alternative to dark matter, and fundamental problems with FEMA’s flood maps, to name a few. I always love writing about space, but that’s not all I can do.

I’m proud to have published in a bunch of high-profile publications too, including The Atlantic, Washington Post, Newsweek, Slate, Nature, Wired, Undark, FiveThirtyEight, and the San Francisco Chronicle. (You can check these out on the “Articles and Writings” page of my website.)

Despite this broad range of coverage and magazines and news outlets, I think there’s a theme here underlying my work. Maybe half of my stories involve scientists exploring tough unsolved problems at the edge of what science can explain, sometimes sparking philosophical debates, and the rest involve political and societal implications of scientists’ work.

If you’re a fan of these kinds of stories and if you’ve liked what I’ve written so far, then stay with me in 2018, and I hope you won’t be disappointed. I enjoy writing stories about intersections between science, politics, and societal questions, and I think it’s part of my job to make sure that they get the attention they deserve.

But I won’t be complacent; I’m just getting started. I plan to continue striving to improve my writing skills. In particular, I’ll try to develop characters better and set scenes better in my stories. With my evolving and uncertain schedule, I also need to manage my time better too. (Everyone always says that, but I mean it!) I’ll work on putting together and pitching feature story ideas more often, and I’m already formulating an idea for my first one. I also plan to continue pitching my favorite clients I’ve worked with already, and I hope to work with a couple others as well.

In the end, as long as I stick to my principles, remember my ideals, and have fun with this great job, I think I’ll continue to produce quality work that’s worth reading. And as always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts, responses, criticisms, jokes, gifs, etc. involving any piece I’ve written. Your feedback and support are important to me.