Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval
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To reiterate, my motive for creating this website is to help authors, game designers, and programmers get the science correct in their creations (thus increasing the amount of the kind of science fiction I enjoy). The most striking examples are those novels whose authors I directly assisted. But there are a few creations I've run across that did get the science correct without any help from me. I would like to recognize such creations by awarding them my (totally superfluous) Atomic Rockets Seal of Approvaltm.
Award winners can print out the seal on their ink-jet printers and stick it on their refrigerators, next to their children's kindergarten paintings. But readers are advised to take a look at these creations, as they are something special (as are the novels and the incredible artwork in the art gallery).
In no particular order, the awards are:
Man Conquers Space
Man Conquers Space is David Sander's project to make a pseudo-documentary movie about the history of space flight, if things had happened as predicted by Colliers. Absolutely brilliant, the trailer will take your breath away. And if you dreamed about those ferry rockets when you were a child in the mid 1960's, the trailer may bring a wistful tear to your eye. It did to me.
Deep Cold is Dan Roam's hyper-realistic alternate history: the secrets of the Cold War in space: 1959-1969. A fascinating "what-if" future of space exploration with professional quality computer graphics.
The man who goes by the name Grimjier of Hobby FuZion is working on a tabletop game played with little plastic spaceships called "Legend of Sol: Torch War". This is set in an alternate history where the North American Space Command and the Supreme Soviet Cosmo forces battle in space in the far flung future year 1960. The early American ships are based on the Boeing X-20 DynaSoar and Project Gemini. The battleships are nuclear pulse Orion drive.
I talk more about Torch War here.
Eyes Turned Skywards
Rob Davidoff is a student at the University of Dayton, working towards a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Aerospace. In other words, he is a rocket scientist. Ian Mitchell is a physics Ph.D. student at the University of Houston hoping to do observational cosmology (WIMP searches and the like). Together they are currently working on a fascinating alternate history of the NASA space flight program called Eyes Turned Skywards. It diverges from our history at the point where the Apollo program comes to an end, and in our time line NASA decides to go with developing a space station, instead of the Space Shuttle. The consequences of not having a reusable launch vehicle in the 1970's are interesting, to say the least.
Imagining Another Apollo
David Portree is the manager of the Regional Planetary Information Facility, Astrogeology Science Center, US Geological Survey. His blog Beyond Apollo is full of great articles on the history of spaceflight. But recently he has been applying his encyclopedic knowledge to crafting an alternate history that he calls "Imagining Another Apollo". Last I checked it was up to part 5, it is interesting reading.
Freefall is a deceptively simple webcomic. On the surface it appears to be a run-of-the-mill webcomic about a funny blue alien and an anthropomorphic furry wolf. But the science is exceedingly hard, and the plot line covers insightful issues about the future of artificial intelligence (both genetically engineered creature and computer AI) and other deep topics. You may have noticed that at various places on this website I use scenes from the webcomic to illustrate scientific principles.
On a more off-beat topic, there is a theory about the different strategies between male and female shopping patterns in a mall in comics 696 to 700.
Schlock Mercenary Webcomic
Schlock Mercenary is another deceptive webcomic. On the surface it appears to be comedy about future soldiers. However, the science is hard. But more importantly, where ultra-tech like teleportation or nanotechnology is introduced, the author has carefully thought out all the consequences and ramifications. In fact he does a better job than most science fiction novelists. It also has very dry and pithy humor, plus many high-IQ jokes that zip by like one liners in "The West Wing".
Unicorn Jelly Webcomic
Unicorn Jelly is yet another deceptively simple webcomic. At the start one is fooled into believing it is just another chibi style manga. Then after it lulls you into lowering your guard it stuns your brain with deep philosophical questions while simultaneously punching you in the gut. It is billed as a "unique retro-pixel philosophical multi-generational scinece fiction epic", and take it from me it is not lying.
Why does it have the seal of approval? In a word: World Building. This is not just a story set on another planet, it is set in another freaking universe where the very laws of physics are different. In the between-chapter segments the author shows you the physics, the implications, the way it affects cosmology, astronomy, planetography and biology, the alternate periodic table of the elements, the culture of the various alien creatures, their language and forms of writing, games, everything. Absolutely breath-taking.
Albedo Anthropomorphics is a regrettably short-lived comic book anthology. The gem were the stories about Erma Felna of the EDF, who was a genetically engineered anthropomorphic cat. There was also a short-lived paper-and-pencil role playing game called science is hard, the military tech well realized, and there were hard-hitting political and philosophical issues raised.
Again, the implications were well thought out by the author.
Example: the various planets are populated by various species of Terran animals genetically engineered to intelligence. Now with most Terran mammals, the female is only sexually attractive to the male when they go into estrus (aka "in heat"). Consequence: there are no nudity taboos, and mixed-gender washing and toilet facilities are the norm. But when estrus occurs the females must go into seclusion and/or use powerful deoderants.
Example: many of the planets were colonized by slower-than-light starships. The planetary cultures that were founded as a consequence have a "ship-board mentality." Consider, on a spacecraft, if a civilian saw something like an air leak in the hull, and didn't report it to anybody, they would be endangering the lives of everybody on the colony ship. So that is a crime. In the United States, if a person sees somebody lying injured on the side of the road, and they try to help the injured one, more often than not they wind up being sued by the injured person. In the Albedo universe, with the ship-board mentality, it is a crime not to try and help somebody who is injured, and there are "Good Samaritan" laws to protect the helpers.
Example: most of the anthropomorphic have four-fingered hands. As a consequence, their mathematical system is base 8, not base 10 like us humans with five-fingered hands.
Planetes is a hard-science managa (official website, in Japanese) which was adapted into a television anime. It follows the downtrodden crew of the spacecraft "Toy Box" of the Space Debris section of the Technora Corporation. Their job is to sweep Earth and Lunar orbits of tiny but dangerous satellite bits and pieces, hopefully preventing the dreaded Kessler Syndrome. The scientific accuracy is top-notch, the Japanese space agency JAXA served as a technical consultant.
2001 Nights is another hard-science managa. All the stories are set in a common time-line spanning several hundred years, but the first few stories are in the near future. There are a few stories where the science fiction is more fictional than scientific, but for the most part the science is pretty hard.
How to Build a Laser Death Ray
Luke Campbell is a real-live laser scientist, it's what he does for a living. If you want the last word in accuracy in designing futuristic laser sidearms, go to How to Build a Laser Death Ray. It has theory, practice, online calculators for various items, and artists conceptions.
Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto blog is pure gold. His insightful analysis of what this website is all about is well worth reading. I certainly think so, you may have noticed quite a few quotes from it on this website. The comments are worth reading as well. And don't miss his The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy.
SFConsim-l Yahoo Group
Founder Christopher Weuve says the SFConsim-l forum is one of the things he is most proud of (his exact words were: "I want my tombstone to read Founder, SFConsim-L."). The topic is science fiction conflict simulations (i.e., games) in general, and spacecraft conflict in specific. Add the fact that a few real live scientists and military analysts regularly participate, and you have one valuable forum. I certainly think so, you may have noticed quite a few quotes from it on this website.
Actually, SFConsim-l was the spark that led to the creation of this website. I was a regular on the forum. One fine day in 1999, a gentleman had a question about calculating rocket performance and I answered him. About a year later another gentlemen had some related questions and I answered them as well. Three years after that (in 2003)), after years of constantly providing links to those original posts, it occurred to me to put the information on a solitary web page for convenience. I added more and more information until it made sense to split it into two pages, then four. Last time I checked there were about seventy pages. My, how it has grown.
Myn.pheos on Blender
Myn.phenos of Slovakia is a genius.
In spacecraft design tasks like calculating the volume of irregular components, calculating centers of gravity, and optimal placement of heat radiators is almost impossible to do without computer software tools. But as a general rule, such software costs tens of thousands of dollars, and usually cannot be found outside of, say, NASA.
My.phenos figured out how to do this with the 3D computer graphics software Blender. Which is open source, and is totally free. Genius, sheer genius.
The Spaceship Handbook by Jack Hagerty and Jon C. Rogers. The first part has an entertaining survey of spacecraft from the fictional Tom Corbett TV series to actual early NASA designs, along with incredibly precise blue-prints. But the technical appendix on Atomic Powered spacecraft is worth the price of the book all by itself. The appendix gives the essential propulsion equations, and does a survey of propulsion systems available and on the drawing boards, with hard figures. The end of the appendix contains an extensive table of deltaV requirements for all mission types for the planets and major moons of the solar system. Textbook quality book. And don't miss the companion volume The Saucer Fleet
The Rocket Company
The Rocket Company by Patrick Stiennon and David Hoerr is a novel about a company trying to develop and market a surface-to-orbit solution at a bargain price. But the authors know what they are talking about. They have actually patented the design of their spacecraft. They are also aware of the realities of such an undertaking. In the novel, the executives spend lots of time cultivating relations with various congressmen and FAA execs. Their pragmatic business model is to sell rockets at an attractive price instead of the more risky option of selling cargo boost services. This book will repay careful reading. There are some sample chapters here
Astrosynthesis is a brilliant computer program (for Windows only, alas) that assists in the creation of three dimensional star maps.
But it is so much more. The software was intended for the game master of a Role Playing Game to design the background universe, keep track of the various solar systems, map specific planets, draw trade routes, calculate interstellar empire spheres of influence, store notes about specific systems and planets, and generate video files depicting "fly throughs" of the map.
Over the years I had attempted to create my own 3D mapping software, but AstroSynthesis blows my pathetic efforts right out of the water. It is well worth the price.
- Zoom in, out, rotate, and pan around your star map
- The built-in star system generator creates detailed information about stars, their planets, moons, planetoids, and other objects taking into consideration matters of astronomy, physics, atmospheric chemistry, and planetary sciences during the generation process
- The animated display of planet orbits around stars move according to Keplerian rules of planetary motion
- Automatically generate editable surface maps of any terrestrial planet, or import your own maps
- Ships, Fleets, Space Stations, and other bodies are displayed as 3D models, use the supplied models or import your own
- Assign images for uses as blazon images on the 3D map to identify political affiliations
- Display stellar routes between systems, labeled with distances. Assign routes manually or let the program generate hundreds or thousands of star routes automatically based on your criteria
- Track detailed system information for hundreds of thousands of stars, can handle star sector data files up to 4 gigabytes in size.
- Enhance the functionality with 3rd party plug-ins. Many are available, or write your own in Visual Basic.
- Includes real-world maps of stars withing 1000 light-years of Sol, or generate random maps for your own
- And many more features, read about them here
Evil Dr. Ganymede's Star Maps
The Evil Dr. Ganymede (aka Constantine Thomas) has a web site on the topic of mapping stars to a three dimensional star map. He covers converting coordinates, discusses various datasets, and map making.
Adric Ridel's Star Maps
2001: A Space Odyssey
The movie and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey are classics of science fiction. But for our purposes, both contain one of the most scientifically accurate depictions of future space exploration, ever. The novel does help explain what the heck is happening in the last part of the movie, but that is besides the point. Other novels by Sir Arthur C. Clarke with great space exploration details include Earthlight, Islands in the Sky, and The Other Side of the Sky.
Destination Moon is a movie that is an oldie but goody. Based on a story by the legendary Robert A. Heinlein, it is exceedingly scientifically accurate. It does give one a feel for how a real atomic rocketship would operate.
Conquest of Space
Conquest of Space is another movie that is an oldie but goody (if you ignore all that "things man was not meant to do nonsense"). It has a real live honest-to-Collier's wheel space station, space taxis, and a Mars mission right from von Braun (except with a single ship instead of a fleet). It also includes a couple of reminders about the direction of "down" on a rocketship.
Developer John Gillespie is not fooling around. He wants this game to have plenty of scientific accuracy and is doing his homework. Including doing research by reading this website, which always gives me a warm glow inside. His combat spacecraft are not powered by prissy little ion drives, no they have brutal gas-core nuclear thermal rockets. And they are armed to the teeth. He draws his inspiration from novels like Ender's Game, Time for The Stars, and CJ Cherryh's Downbelow Station.
This looks like it is going to be good!
Attack Vector: Tactical
Attack Vector: Tactical (store) (review) is a paper-and-cardboard wargame of spacecraft combat by Ken Burnside (yes, kiddies, back at the dawn of creation, games were not on computers). You might have noticed the many quotes from Mr. Burnside gracing this website. It is by far the most scientifically accurate spacecraft combat game of all time, but it is also remarkably playable. If you really want to get an intuitive feel for battling rocketships, you would do well to play this game.
If one wants a paper-and-cardboard wargame where you can adjust the "hardness" of the science a bit in order to simulate your favorite media SF show (or to model you own custom SF universe for your novel), try Mr. Burnside's Squadron Strike (store)
On the other hand - Winch's analogy to victorian era fiction about flying dreadnoughts and the "Who the hell thought of an Immelmann turn?" question sort of underscores why I want to model how space combat works using known physics as a gameable experience.
It won't be WWII in space. It won't be the Iraq war in space, it won't be subs in the North Atlantic in space. It will be its own unique thing.
To figure out what that unique thing is, you need to understand the environment of space, how it differs from a planetary environment, and once you have those differences modeled, you need to work out the tactics for this new environment, much the same way WWI biplane pilots had to work out the tactics of air to air combat.
Now, it's certain that I've got things wrong with the Attack Vector: Tactical model. When they get pointed out, I fix them. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it's the first serious attempt at trying to model what the tactical environment looks like.
World War II/Battleships/Fighters in space is about as likely to be an accurate model of space combat as, modeling jet air-to-air combat with pike square formations. Attack Vector: Tactical is probably akin to saying that jet fighters behave like World War I biplanes, only faster. It's still likely wrong, but it's probably much LESS wrong.
High Frontier (store) (review) (review) and its expansion pack (store) are a paper-and-cardboard wargame where the players are corporations competing to industrialize space. It also gives one a way to plot orbital transfers between various locations in the solar system, without requiring calculus. The basic game gives you command of the inner solar system, the expansion pack gives you the rest. Mr. Eklund is a real live scientist, the game is breathtakingly scientifically accurate. And a lot fun to boot!
Late breaking news: Mr. Eklund is working on a new expansion called High Frontier Interstellar. It takes up where the first one left off. The solar system map is expanded out to Pluto, and the winner is the first player to perform a successful manned interstellar mission to one of Sol's neighbors. Each player is based on a Bernal sphere in various strategic locations, and a host of new technologies (all based on reality and scientifically accurate) have been introduced.
During my last game of Phil Eklund’s HIGH FRONTIER I found myself making a very difficult decision and dealing with some pretty harsh consequences. I had spent what amounts to about twenty years of game time attempting to build a factory on Mars to manufacture highly valuable products that cannot be made on Earth. This epic journey from constructing a rocket on the Blue Planet to harvesting resources on the Red Planet included an earlier unmanned mission where I was able to stake a claim to the site thanks to orbital prospecting.
I also had to spend time and resources in acquiring the patents necessary to build a suitable thruster system, a resource-extracting Robonaut, and a refinery to make the trip and set up shop. I also needed to acquire enough 40-ton bags of water, not only the game’s abstract measure of capital but also a handy storage solution for hydrogen, in order to boost the mass of all this equipment into low Earth orbit so that I could then stage the mission. And then there was the matter of balancing out fuel consumption with thrust and making sure I had enough gas to get there.
That was a huge problem. Landing on Mars required more fuel that I could really afford, or even take given the build and weight class of my vessel. I decided on a route that would take me through a couple of orbital aero braking zones, which eliminate the need for spending fuel to make planetfall. All I had to do was not roll a one in either of them. The first one, I passed. My heart was pounding. I felt a sense of uncertainty and fear. On the second roll, the result was the dreaded one. My craft—along with all of the time and resources spent to get so close to my goal…disintegrated. It was the single most thrilling die roll of any game I’ve played all year.
The Orbiter Space Flight Simulator is a stunning computer program (for Windows only, alas) that allows the user to fly various spacecraft around the solar system. And there is a thriving community of cunning programmers making new spacecraft plug-ins for you to use (everything from the International Space Station to the Serenity from the TV show "Firefly"). If you too are cunning, you can create your own add-ons. And did I mention that the program was free?
I was amused that Steven Ouellette has created an add-on that duplicates the Rolling Stone from the Heinlein novel of the same name.
- Launch the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center and rendezvous with the International Space Station.
- Recreate historic flights with addon spacecraft packages: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Vostok and more.
- Plan interplanetary slingshots and tour the solar system with futuristic space craft.
- Design your own rockets, or download addons created by other users.
- Learn about the concepts of space flight and orbital mechanics by playing and experimenting.
Independence War (store) is an amazing computer game (for Windows only, alas) that puts the player in command of a spacecraft that obeys hard-core Newtonian physics instead of silly Star Wars nonsense. You will quickly find that a combat spacecraft does not behave like a fighter jet. It is more like an over-loaded 18-wheeler at high speed on a freeway covered in black ice. The controls are interesting, and the linked scenarios are fascinating. At one point I was in a task force escaping from deep in enemy territory when my FTL drive was destroyed by a hit by enemy particle beam cannon. I thought I was dead, until I noticed a friendly repair ship with an invitingly large hangar bay. In desperation I swooped in, and was treated to a video cut-scene of my ship barely entering into the bay, scraping its belly in a shower of sparks.
I did find that it is much easier to play if you have one of those fancy joysticks with lots of triggers and hat switches. I was in a dog-fight when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a flicker behind my ship. I suddenly realized it was an enemy missile doing its best to fly up my tailpipe and vaporize me. If I had to search the keyboard for the "launch decoy flares" button I would have been doomed. Instead an instinctive flick upward on the left hatch switch fired off the decoy and saved my posterior.
The game is out of print but it is available for download from Good Old Games for about six dollars.
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is an award winning video game from Bioware. It was one of the titles in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. It appears that one of the developers was a fan of Ken Burnside's Attack Vector: Tactical and my Atomic Rocket website.
In the following video clip, "Serviceman Burnside" is apparently Ken Burnside, and "Serviceman Chung" is apparently me. A very nice Easter Egg, done with respect and admiration.
Blue Max Studios
Raymond McVay of Blue Max Studios is the creator of the incredible Black Desert role-playing game. As his bio states he is a game designer specializing in hard science fiction spacecraft and world building. Take it from me, he is doing it right, his science is good and hard (I should know). You may have noticed that I included his brilliant expansion of the "Mission Control" model here on this website.