I recently had the good fortune of being asked to review Kim Stanley Robinson's newest novel 2312. He sent me a personally signed copy of the thick book, which I have been digesting slowly for the past couple of months. An excerpt of my review is below. For the full review, please see Moonandback.com.

Imagine a future where people have escaped a crowded, environmentally ravaged Earth to inhabit the entire solar system. From vulcanoids near the Sun to Pluto in the Kuiper Belt and everywhere in between, your passport to this inspiring reality is Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest book 2312. In it, he masterfully paints a utopian picture where humanity has terraformed almost every world possible and used the technological advancements made possible by space exploration to extend human lifespans and liberty.

However, poverty, greed, and strife still exist in this brave new future, especially on Earth, which has never been able to shake its historical baggage like the space colonies have. At the center of this story is a very human drama of relationships with love, sorrows, fears, and joys that make you really care about the characters. The main protagonist is Swan Er Hong, a spry middle-aged supercentenarian artist who once designed worlds but now finds herself in the middle of an interplanetary terrorist plot to destroy them. Mercury’s roving city Terminator, Venus shaded by an enormous sunshield, Saturn's rings, and an Earth flooded by global warming induced sea level rise are a few of the destinations along her journey to solve one of the biggest threats ever to face the human race. It’s the stuff blockbuster movies are made of.

... Continue reading at Moonandback.com

Read an excerpt from 2312 and build your own asteroid terrarium on the publisher Orbitbooks website. See what others think of 2312 at Wired, Wall Street Journal, Space.com, LA Times, The Guardian, Strange Horizons, SF Signal, and SF Site.

As the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity start to wind down their immensely successful 8+ year mission, NASA's newest and most capable robotic planetary mission the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, dubbed 'Curiosity', has safely landed on the surface of the Red Planet.

Packed with ten science instruments to explore geology and detect the building blocks of life, Curiosity is a six-wheeled radioisotope-powered vehicle about the size of a car. On the way down, its Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) impressively captured the rover's descending the surface in this time lapse video and high-resolution image. Even more remarkable was the fact that the HiRISE camera in orbit snapped a photograph of the rover and its parachute during their descent and later found the discarded heat shield, parachute, and sky crane in their final resting places on the martian surface. The sky crane, by the way, was the most unusual and risky part of this mission. No object has ever landed on another planet this way. NASA's ingenuity in pulling it off is no less remarkable than landing on the Moon or saving the Apollo 13 astronauts. Below is the first panorama of the surrounding landscape taken by the MSL navcams.

Do yourself a favor and watch this highlight video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It says it all:

With the Olympics currently unfolding, we are reminded how athletes train very hard for their one chance at nailing a performance to achieve their long-sought goals. I have been undergoing my own intensive training regime for the past several months to earn a Private Pilot Certificate. Like those athletes, I too have been gearing up for the one performance that really counts; in my case that means passing the FAA checkride with a Designated Pilot Examiner who has the authority to grant me the pilot license. That checkride happened earlier today, and I am proud to say I am now a Private Pilot. For me, this achievement is like winning the gold medal, vindicating months of hard work and sacrifice. I am grateful to my CFI Scott and the entire staff of Galvin Flight Services Hawaii for their tutelage, but most of all, I thank my wife for her patience throughout this intense training period.

Aviation goes back a few generations in my family to my great-grandfather who flew in the Army Air Corps, worked for the FAA, and even rubbed shoulders with Charles Lindbergh. My dad grew up flying with him and became a Private Pilot with an IFR Rating, and as a result aviation was an important part of my upbringing as well. I spent most weekends at the local airport with him helping maintain and fly his planes. Twice I flew with him to the EAA AirVenture Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where we camped for a week under the plane's wing and soaked in the aviation culture. Growing up, my whole family was very active in the local AOPA chapter, where much of our social life centered around general aviation functions like fly-ins at local airports. Flying is a liberating, practical, and technically challenging pastime that I hope to expose my kids to as well so that we can keep the aviation tradition going in my family for generations to come.

The minimum age requirement to earn one's Private Pilot wings in the U.S. is 17. My original intention was to become a pilot by the time I graduated high school, so at age 15 I started studying a Private Pilot training manual. Since I already had lots of unofficial flying experience with my dad by that point, I was in a good position to become a young pilot. However, by the time I turned 16, instead of putting my energy into aviation training, I decided to move away from home to finish my last two years of high school at a residential math and science focused school instead. That decision was definitely the right one to make for my own education and career, but it had the side effect of delaying my ability to pursue my dream of flight for another 18 years.

Watching the cost of flight training skyrocket over the years with increasing fuel prices, I finally decided at the age of 33 that I had put if off long enough. I sought out local flight school options and found the perfect arrangement at the Pacific Aerospace Training Center, which is located just a couple of miles from my home at Kalaeloa Airport (JRF). Not only is the location very convenient for me, but this Part 141 flight school is affiliated with the Honolulu Community College's two-year Commercial Aviation Program, which prepares individuals to become professional commercial pilots. That means, as a student in the program, I earn academic credit and have access to extremely low-cost student loans to help pay for the flight training. The structured regimen provided the necessary momentum I needed to carry me forward.

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