Space Writing Samples (Or: Why I Don’t Talk About Work on my Blog)

I was at a meeting of entrepreneurs yesterday, during which we learned about blog contents from a professional marketing expert (@TheChefKatrina). Her talk was instructive because she pointed out new things I can try to improve the quality and success of this site.

One obvious hole I have on my page, despite my passion for and employment by the aerospace industry, is a regular sharing of writing samples. This hole became obvious to me after the talk when one of the participants (Eriq) wanted to read some.

If I’d been thinking clearly–it was 6 p.m. on a Friday, throw me a bone here, man–I could have referred him to my Publications page and left it at that. However, a little further down I’ve picked some good ones for anyone who’s interested in how I write when I’m actually talking about the content that pays my bills.

Proprietary or other sensitive information

I might have explained this before, but quite frankly a lot of what I write is not for the general public. That doesn’t mean I’m writing for three-letter agencies in Northern Virginia or Bond villains. It does mean that much of my work is tied up in proposals, where my employer is pitching a particular widget or “secret sauce” they have to the help the government solve a problem. Many proposals have a notice on the cover informing the receiving agency that the contents are proprietary and thus not to be shared beyond the agency personnel reviewing the proposal.

Some proposal work can also be subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (a.k.a. ITAR). These are regulations dictated by Congress and enforced by the State Department that keep sensitive or strategic technologies out of the hands of foreign governments. This happens a lot when you’re working with rockets, missiles, and things that can go boom. The U.S. Government takes a dim view of sharing those types of secrets with the rest of the world. Penalties for violations are stiff, and can include losing your job, hefty fines, and even imprisonment. So no, I don’t share that stuff, either.

Even the public conference papers I wrote for NASA went through an internal export control review before being published.

Content fatigue

Blogging, for me, is a leisure activity, albeit with a serious purpose (I hope people learn from what I have to say). After writing about rockets or spacecraft all day, it often happens that I’m “spaced out” at the end of the day and don’t feel like writing about them when I get home. That’s why I write about the business of technical writing–something that I know and am passionate about but that is still sufficiently different so I don’t get burned out in my free time.

The space blogging business is getting crowded

There are already some first-rate bloggers out there who share their better-informed opinions about specific aspects of space, including defense, NASA human spaceflight, NASA robotic explorers, and commercial space. There’s a guy out there whose entire schtick is to criticize everything NASA does. Others are defenders of NASA and harsh critics of commercial space. And so forth.

I was toying with a space-related blog for a while, but the problem is that I’m a “space moderate,” which means that I’m fascinated by all military, civil, and commercial space efforts and am unlikely to criticize the fundamental bases of specific programs out of sheer ideological pique. For instance, I was once called a “socialist” because I dared say nice things about NASA. And there’s a NASA guy (or two) who thinks I’m not quite kosher because I get along with “those [commercial space] people.”

I’m not here to offend people, I’m here to make a buck. There’s more and steadier money to be made writing for the various players in the space business than there is writing opinions about them…at least that’s been my experience. Which leads me to the final, and perhaps most important reason why I don’t write about space on my blog very often…

I need to eat

When I interviewed for my first “space writing job” with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, I needed to bring along my portfolio, which included samples of my space-related writings to that point. Many of those samples were letters to the Orlando Sentinel critical of NASA and its handling of the space program. I decided to take the risk anyway because a) they were on topic and b) they showed that I could advocate for a point of view. Rather than me asking if my letters would keep NASA from hiring me, I was surprised when one of my interviewers asked, “Given your opinions, are you sure you want to work for NASA?” The answer was and remains Yes! Again, I’m interested in human space exploration, regardless of who does it. Yes, there are things I think would be done better by the commercial sector, but I don’t want to see NASA shoved out of the business entirely. And perhaps I’ll just leave it at that.

Anyhow, the lesson of this letter-writing example should be obvious: if I write opinions that are too sharply critical of a specific organization (agency or company), program managers and corporate CEOs in those organizations can take that sort of thing personally. People are people. They can get defensive about the programs they lead. They can hold grudges. That sort of thing can interfere with my ability to obtain future work.

The aerospace business is surprisingly small, and the aerospace writing business is small enough that I know the names of or have met most of the practitioners in the field. I’m more interested in contributing to projects that advance the cause of space exploration than I am in criticizing failures. And like I said, I’ve got to eat.

All that said…

Now that you know the pragmatic reasons why I don’t blog about space as a regular habit, I’ll share below some of the items I have written that avoid the problems above. Read and enjoy…and let this be a reminder that, when possible, you should be able to share SOME samples of your work on your blog, even if the bulk of it isn’t in the public domain.

Technical Papers, White Papers, & Speeches

“Launch Propulsion Systems Roadmap.” Coauthored with Paul McConnaughey, et al. November 2010 http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/500393main_TA01-LaunchPropulsion-DRAFT-Nov2010-A.pdf.

“Operational Lessons Learned from Ares I-X.” Presented by Stephan R. Davis at SpaceOps 2010, Huntsville, Alabama, April 2010. Reprinted in: Space Operations: Exploration, Scientific Utilization & Technology Development. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Summer 2011.

Reporting, Book Reviews, Opinion, Interviews, and Other Publications

“Book Review: Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet.” Ad Astra Magazine,   Winter 2016.

“How Life on Earth Could Destroy Life on Mars.” Vice News. October 2, 2015 https://news.vice.com/article/how-life-on-earth-could-destroy-life-on-mars.

“Does an Ocean on One of Saturn’s Moons Mean We’ll Find Alien Space Fish There?” Vice News. September 22, 2015 https://news.vice.com/article/does-an-ocean-on-one-of-saturns-moons-mean-well-find-alien-space-fish-there.

“Conference Report: 43rd Space Congress, Part 1 (of 5).” BartLeahy.com. April-May 2015 http://bartleahy.com/2015/04/28/conference-report-43rd-space-congress-part-1/.

“EFT-1: A Perfect Flight, But What Happens Next?” Ad Astra Magazine, Spring 2015.

“Microbes, spacecraft, and cheerleaders: the ISS payload story of Project MERCCURI.” The Space Review, April 28, 2014 http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2499/1.

Book Reviews: Children of God, In the Shadow of the Moon, Homesteading Space, Lucifer’s Hammer, Mining the Sky, Out of This World: The New Field of Space Architecture, Red MarsRocket Man, The Singularity is Near, Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel, SpaceShipOne: An Illustrated History, The Sparrow,and Variable Star. http://www.nss.org/resources/books/reviewers.html#leahy.

“Jules Verne Returns: Will Space Guns Provide Low-Cost Access to Space?” The Space Review, July 30, 2007 http://www.thespacereview.com/article/920/1.

“When Courting Capital, New Space Companies Should Stress Competence Over Coolness.” Space.com, May 29, 2007 http://www.space.com/adastra/070529_isdc_business.html.

“For Space Entrepreneurs, Access Equals Economic Growth.” Space.com, May 26, 2007 http://www.space.com/adastra/070526_isdc_entrepreneurs.html.

“Pixel Lander Makes Progress Despite Challenges.” Space.com, May 26, 2007 http://www.space.com/adastra/070526_isdc_carmack.html.

“Space Venture Symposium Highlights Industry Diversity.” Space.com, May
25, 2007 http://www.space.com/adastra/070525_spaceventurefinance.html.

“Floods! Fire! SERVIR.” Science@NASA.gov, January 31, 2007 http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/31jan_servir.htm?list931022.

“Communicating with Multiple Audiences in Space Advocacy.” The Space Review.com,
January 29, 2007 http://www.thespacereview.com/article/795/1.

“Space Elevator Competition Extended One Day.” Space.com, October 22, 2006 http://www.space.com/news/061022_xprizecup_elevator.html.

“Handicapping the Space Elevator Games.” Space.com, October 20, 2006 http://www.space.com/news/061020_xprizecup_handicap.html.

“The New Age of Space Advocacy: Enter the Professionals.” Space.com, May
25, 2006 http://www.space.com/adastra/adastra_advocacy_prof_060525.html.

“Save Our Planet: Advocates See the Bigger Picture.” Space.com, May 18, 2006 http://www.space.com/adastra/adastra_save_earth_060518.html.

“Space Access: The Private Investment vs. Public Funding Debate.” Space.com, May 12, 2006. http://www.space.com/adastra/adastra_debate_060512.html.

Presentations

How to Play Nicely with Subject Matter Experts.” Rocket City Technical Communications Conference, Huntsville, AL, April 20, 2013.

Blogs and Social Networking Sites

“Zero Point Frontiers Delivers Favorable Architecture Assessment to Golden Spike Company.” ZeroPointFrontiers.com July 23, 2013 http://zeropointfrontiers.com/blog/zero-point-frontiers-delivers-favorable-architecture-assessment-to-golden-spike-company/.

“Commercial Enterprise to the Moon.” ZeroPointFrontiers.com December 6, 2012 http://zeropointfrontiers.com/blog/zero-point-frontiers-is-helping-expand-commercial-enterprise-to-the-moon/.

“SERVIR Delivers ISERV Instrument for Launch to ISS.” January 26, 2012 http://www.servirglobal.net/tabid/409/Article/1087/servir-delivers-iserv-instrument-for-launch-to-iss.aspx.

“Developing Ecosystem maps for Africa.” December 28, 2011 http://www.servirglobal.net/africa/tabid/204/Article/1081/developing-ecosystem-maps-for-africa.aspx.

“SERVIR Detecting Red Tides in El Salvador” September 1, 2011 http://www.servirglobal.net/tabid/335/Article/1045/servir-detecting-red-tides-in-el-salvador.aspx.

“Liftoff!” Coauthored with Dan Kanigan. Ares I-X Blog, October 28, 2009 http://blogs.nasa.gov/cm/blog/Ares%20I-X.blog/posts/post_1256749357624.html.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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