My novel Memory’s Exile is set in deep space, on a refitted space station, Selas Station, orbiting a tiny, seemingly innocuous planet. While I’ve always loved science fiction and space fiction, I’m the definition of the astronomy layperson. My questions for the science behind the story were pretty basic: what is the environment like out there? And in the space station? What are their days like? What do they eat? How do they move, work, sleep? What happens if something goes wrong?
I tend to treat research as a siege: I find as many articles, essays, and books as I can find on my chosen subject, make a strong pot of tea, and read, read, read. While it serves me well in general, it can be a frustrating way to operate. There’s more information than I can take in, and that can fuel indecisiveness: am I reading enough, or the right things? If I stall out, I remind myself that this isn’t the end — there’s always the beta and future edits. Also, a judicious amount of handwaved science never hurt anyone. Well, except for any physicists who read my work and suffered convulsions of inaccuracy. Sorry, whoever you are.
In any case, I came out on the other side of the indecision gap, and found some decent research spots I’ll share with you. Note: some of these are for kids. That doesn’t bother me; in fact, it suits me. It’s a good way to get a simple grounding on a subject.
- NASA.gov is first on my list. There is so much good stuff on our federal space program’s website. Space shuttles, space stations, space exploration, galaxies, planets, what do you want to know about? They’ll have something on it. They’ve also digitized a ton of their documents here: NASA HQ Library: NASA Documents Online. One document I enjoyed was the food and nutrition PDF available here: Space Food and Nutrition
- Space.com is a basic site, great for latest news, graphics, imagery on space stuff in the world.
- SpaceRef is one I discovered recently, rather than during my research, so I don’t know it as well. Looks similar to Space.com, and also runs a side site called NASA Watch, which appears to be a watchdog blog for the federal program and stuff going on at that level. If you’re sensitive about how politics relate to space exploration, you might not enjoy the blog. To me, it’s a necessary component of humans and space, and I look forward to following it for more info.
Find the space/astronomy sections in your library and browse. I used to work in an academic library, and happened upon some government docs about space life that informed some of the choices I made about living quarters on Selas Station. (Though most of those you can likely access online now through the NASA links above.)
Ask, Ask, Ask
The internet is full of communities and forums about space, physics, science, and fiction. Some of the ones I’ve used in the past are Reddit’s r/askscience and Ask Metafilter. On those sites people who give answers to questions might direct to another one like Physics Forums. Whether you go in a scientific or fantastical direction, poking through the site archives or joining and asking a question (keeping in mind each site’s rules for participation and behavior) is a good way to go.
Read other space science fiction. (Also read fantasy, romance, thrillers, mysteries; basically read everything.) Go to community ed seminars on astronomy, or if your local/nearby colleges give lectures open to the public, attend one of those. Follow space blogs. Check out image sites like these:
If you write about space and space exploration, what sites and tools have you used and liked for research and inspiration?