Ship’s Blog

Ship’s Blog

Soyuz Blue Author’s Notes

Yes, they pee on the tires.

Male Soyuz crew members do indeed urinate on the tires of the transport bus that drives them to the launch pad.

According to retired astronaut Chris Hadfield in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. “Much is made of this as a tradition, but really, if you’re going to be locked in a rocket ship, unable to leave your seat for quite a few hours, it’s just common sense. The only problem is that, when clad in a launch suit, one cannot simply unzip one’s fly. The suit techs on board had to help us undo all the tricky fasteners they’d painstakingly closed not an hour before, so we were able to urinate manfully on the tire without spoiling our plumage.”

I have detailed this and a handful of other Russian pre-launch rituals in my novel, but there are even more rites:

  • A visit to Yuri Gagarin’s office to autograph a book
  • Planting a tree in the cosmonaut grove
  • Custom matryoshka dolls are commissioned for each crew member
  • Coins are flattened under the train that transports the Soyuz to the launch pad (Cosmonauts must not watch this roll out – it is bad luck –  and get their hair cut instead)
  • The night before the launch the crew watches the Russian 1969 movie White Sun of the Desert (an action film set during the 1917 revolution)
  • The crew poses with women in traditional Kazakh costumes for photographs
  • No mission can take place on 24 October since it is the anniversary of a catastrophic missile failure in 1960 (this is subject of a future blog post: “Biggest space screw-up ever”)
  • There is also a welcoming ritual of bread and salt for visitors arriving to the ISS

Not to be outdone, American crews have their superstitious rituals as well:

  • On the day of launch, NASA astronauts eat eggs and steak in tribute to Alan Shepard, who ate a breakfast of this before the first American launch
  • Before launch, the crew is given a cake – that no one is supposed to eat
  • Contemporary astronauts sit on the same recliner chairs as the Apollo era crews the suit-up room
  • The crew plays five-card poker or Blackjack until the commander loses, only then can they drive to the launch pad (one shuttle crew almost was late to the launch pad because the commander kept winning)
  • No mission has been numbered ’13’ since Apollo 13 failed to land on the moon
  • Jars of peanuts are considered good luck charms for unmanned landings on other worlds
  • Successful manned launchings are celebrated with a meal of beans and cornbread
  • After their first flight, rookies in the team have their neckties cut
  • A ship’s bell is rung onboard the ISS when the command changes to a new crew

More adventures when Soyuz Blue, Volume Three debuts in September at SPX!

“Outside the Space Center, the crew is presented to the Space leadership. Each crew member stands on a square painted on the tarmac and salutes, declaring himself fit and ready for the mi

“Outside the Space Center, the crew is presented to the Space leadership. Each crew member stands on a square painted on the tarmac and salutes, declaring himself fit and ready for the mission.”

“We then bus to the launch pad. Just Outside the final checkpoint, the male members go through another ritual; We ing the tires of the bus.”

“We then bus to the launch pad. Just outside the final checkpoint, the male members go through another ritual; wetting the tires of the bus.”

“Yuri Gagarin did this on the bus ride before the first human spaceflight, and we have observed the custom ever since. The women are Excused from this rite.”

“Yuri Gagarin did this on the bus ride before the first human spaceflight, and we have observed the custom ever since. The women are excused from this rite.”

Lots more adventures ahead! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Grovel Review of Soyuz Blue

Sending men and women into space is a complex, expensive and surprisingly fragile thing for humans to do. Steven John Fuchs captures this eloquently in Soyuz Blue, the first volume of a short series of graphic novels that imagines what might happen to the International Space Station, its astronauts and the ground crew, if subtle changes to the sun put its safety in jeopardy.

Most of the action in this first book occurs on Earth, as a mission is scrambled to resupply the station with enough fuel to push it out of a degrading orbit. The radiation from the sun is also increasing beyond the station’s existing capability to protect its crew. With the situation worsening rapidly, plans are brought forward and a rescue crew is thrown together from available options, but with increased stress comes a greater chance of error.

The plot is grounded in plausible-sounding science, with Fuchs’s interest in the detail of modern space missions shining through. However, the story doesn’t get lost in all this science, with a tragic human drama running parallel to the geeky space facts, which balances the space stuff and draws the reader in.

While the story is polished the art is less so. The perfect, draughtsman-like backdrops, shaded with perfect gradients, clash with the scratchy, sketchy characters. With less contrast in the art it could have been an even more stunning foundation for the intense near-future sci-fi.

It’s a promising start to the series, though, and worth checking out, particularly if you’re a space nut.

Andy Shaw

More reviews of Graphic Novels at: www.grovel.org.uk

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Midwest Book Review of Soyuz Blue

The first volume of a planned graphic novel science fiction trilogy, “Soyuz Blue” by Steven John Fuchs is a terrifically entertaining and original story from beginning to end — and one that will leave its readers looking eagerly toward the next thrilling installment. “Soyuz Blue” is very highly recommended to the attention of all science fiction fantasy and graphic novel enthusiasts.

Able Greenspan
Reviewer

More reviews at www.midwestbookreview.com

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Mattel’s “Man in Space” flies aboard Soyuz Blue!

Sharp eyed readers of Soyuz Blue, Volume Two, have noted that toy that Colonel Molotov hangs at the top of the space capsule for luck is a famous American astronaut.

The year was 1966. The US was finishing up project Gemini and preparing for the first Apollo Moon missions. The Mattel toy company rolled out an action figure based on the latest designs available in Life, Jane’s Aviation, and Nasa publications.

He was Major Matt Mason, who lived on the Moon with his buddies in a sleek transparent base with a lot of cool plastic hardware. The crew had color coded space suits. Matt looked fashion forward in classic white. Sgt. Storm made a bold statement in red, while civilian astronaut Doug Davis prowled the moon in chrome yellow. Lt. Jeff Long was clad in blue. Jeff was African-American and a member of Mattel’s team almost two decades before Guion Bluford became the first black man in space.

matt-2

As a toy the Major and his subordinates left something to be desired. Their wire joints had a tendency to snap, and paint would peel off of their black “plastizol” bodies. For astronauts, they broke rather easily.

In the early Seventies, after the peak of interest in the Apollo missions faded, Matt and crew were rebooted as sci-fi adventurers and teamed with a rogues gallery of aliens. The toy line was discontinued in the mid seventies, ironically just a few years before the advent of Star Wars.

Matt Mason is actually rumored to have flown on several Space Shuttle missions as a mascot.

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Electronic collage for graphic novel.

While it may cause die hard comic purists to curse and throw their Series 7 Number 2 inking brushes in outrage:  I have to admit this book could never have been created without Photoshop.

Two-ply Bristol board, pencils, lettering guides, inks, and electric erasers? I would still be working on the first chapters.

Blue pencils can be removed from the final Photoshop scan by selecting the blue filter in the convert to Black and White setting.

Most of the drawings in Soyuz Blue were created separately in small sketchbooks, and at various times and locations. My tools of choice are mechanical pencils of H, HB, and B value. I took these disparate pencil drawings, scanned and darkened the line work, then combined them into the collaged images you see in the finished novel. On occasion, I have also included a file or two drawn in Adobe Illustrator.

For the figure drawing, the most demanding part of any comic, I relied on a two-step process. First, I create a gesture and wireframe drawing to get the feel of the figure. Second, I cleaned up this rough drawing by tracing the figure on to 80 pound cold press paper, retaining some gesture lines to make sure the drawing still felt “alive.”

Also handy in Photoshop was the ability to rough things out in a non-repro blue pencil, draw directly over the sketch with a black pencil or pen, scan the image and “erase” the blue using the “black and white” conversion tool.

In this way the novel has been portable.  For instance, the fiery explosions at the end of the first volume were done while waiting to comment on a zoning issue at the Arlington County courthouse. I also did some pretty good work waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Smoke, ice, and other elements are added from other drawings.

This technique heavily influenced the final look of the novel. Scanning and converting pencils result in much more of the artist’s’ “hand” showing. The rougher look contrasts with the slick expectations the reader might have for a science fiction story. Also, while I tried to draw at 120% of the final print size, I occasionally mixed scales of drawings; using bolder rougher renderings for grittier special effects. Having the drawings as layers in Photoshop also allowed for quicker corrections and more spontaneous combining of images.

More coming in February 2016 with the release of Volume Three, the final installment of the three part Soyuz Novel.

See it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Photonic mouse haunts artist’s dreams (artistic influences, part 1)

There is a saying that children are like wet cement, whatever they run into leaves an impression.

My first artistic memory dates from when I was four years old. I was riding in a car through Baltimore on a November night in the 1960s. From the highway there was a clear view of a drive-in theater. On the screen, four stories high, was a Mickey Mouse cartoon. That giant, powerful, graphic rodent still haunts me. Here was a two dimensional being made of light, but as real as the three dimensional brick and morter city around it.

Art and graphics, especially in popular culture, were a huge influence. My Mother has always been a voracious reader, and in the 50s and 60s she was a fan of science fiction. That was the age of the 25 cent paperback book. There was a treasure trove of colorful tales lying about the house, each with a bold illustrated cover.

I was also born on the cusp of when small children in America stopped playing  “Cowboys,” and began to playing “Spaceman.” Black and white TV was still rerunning with the Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers; while the nightly news featured the real life exploits of America’s Mercury and Gemini Astronauts.

Traces of these themes show up now and then in my fine art. Everything shows up in my graphic novel.

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Casting the characters in Soyuz Blue.

Soyuz Blue is a science fiction thriller set in the not too distant future. All of the space vehicles and hardware are very similar to what currently exists. As an illustrator I felt a realistic style would be best for this kind of story. I also wanted each of the characters to have a distinct look. I tend to be cinematic in my storytelling, so I needed source material on my characters from many different “camera angles.”

I found one of the best places to “audition” characters was the art museum. Statues and portrait busts hold still, are great to sketch from, and happy to be photographed. They also won’t sue you if you make them the villain of your tale.

Andrew-Jackson-as-Dr-Ouspenskaya

My Dr. Ouspenskaya, with his rugged features and mad scientist hair, is based on  a bust of President Andrew Jackson. I sketched his likeness in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery from various angles. Also useful were the additional sculptures of Jackson at different ages. Of course, I still had to make decisions on what the character would look like smiling, laughing, and talking. A basic knowledge of human anatomy allowed me to make up certain rules: “Ouspenskaya shows his lower teeth when he talks…”

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His countenance is perfect for a successful military officer who is politically savvy and has mastered his area of expertise.  Zhukov also knows that a lot of what goes on in the military is nonsense, but he is in on the joke.

In this way I collected faces to match my script, but also found that it was much easier to edit and sharpen dialogue once I had a likeness of each player in the drama.

Did I cast the novel correctly? Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue and let me know!

Journey to space starts on the DC Metro Orange line.

That really is the Arlington, Virginia Orange Line in the opening pages of Soyuz Blue.

And those really are the stations you visit until you pass beneath the Potomac River, where our heroine, Dr. Elizabeth Floyd, is trapped in a crowded commuter train by a power outage.

The DC metro is the second busiest metro system after New York, with an average of 727,000 trips per workday. The rail system has received numerous design awards, including the American Institute of Architects Twenty-five Year Award for “architectural design of enduring significance that has stood the test of time.” The open and airy stations are a lot of fun for the illustrator to draw.

But these vaulted spaces can lull the rider into a false sense of security before plunging him or her into a dank and crowded metro car. Metro has a troubled history in the past few years brought on by insufficient funding and lack luster maintenance. Riding the metro everyday is a constant source of uncertainty. There are always problems; you just hope it is on the other person’s train. The only criticism I have received on this scene is that “ The train driver in a real situation would not have been so communicative. Generally you’re left without a clue as to why you are not moving.”

A funny place to start a story about a journey to the International Space Station? Not if your heroine is claustrophobic.

Hey Washington! Did I capture the real Metro experience? Read it for yourself! See samples on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

A tale of suspense: Hitchcock “icy blonde” in space.

I have always been a fan of film director Alfred Hitchcock. When creating the character of Elizabeth Floyd I thought it might be fun to reimagine the Hitchcock “icy blonde” for a high-tech new century.

Hitchcock was famous for his leading ladies. They were inevitably complex, willful, sexy, and  frequently blonde. While they seem somewhat dated today, they were a radical departure from the tepid female characters of their time. Here is just a sampling of Hitchcock’s blonde brew of heroines:

The plucky socialite Lisa Freeman (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window is beautifully coiffed, wears Channel, attends all the right parties, and knows all the right people. She also breaks into a suspected murderer’s apartment and steals evidence that proves the man’s wife is not away visiting her Mother, but murdered.

The daring Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho steals a fortune from her boss to help her indebted boyfriend and ends up murdered in the shower of the Bates motel. Equally bold and blonde, her sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) comes in for the balance of the film and sees the story through to the shocking climax.

The complex Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) is a conniving thief in Marnie, who is repressing an even more criminal past. She dazzles and torments her husband (Sean Connery) into behaving badly. When the central mystery is finally revealed they emerge as an equal, if damaged, couple.

The mysterious and destructive Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) is both haunted and haunting in Vertigo. Both a victim and victimizer, she becomes the acrophobic hero’s (Jimmy Stewart) unhealthy compulsion. They torment each other until the very last obsessive frame of the film.

Soyuz Blue puts this smart, strong willed, and flawed Hitchcock persona into the unforgiving crucible of space exploration: a hostile environment where the slightest misstep can lead to disaster. Add to the mix: corporate politics, scientific fraud, international terrorism, a love triangle, and you have a supercharged stage on which to tell a tale of suspense.

What will icey blonde Elizabeth Floyd’s fate be?

Did I capture the spirit of Hitchcock’s frosty heroines? Check out the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Space weather is not science fiction.

Space weather can be complex and dramatic. In volume one of Soyuz Blue I depict the International Space Station’s orbit degraded by sunspots and solar flares. Solar storms can indeed degrade the orbits of satellites by heating and expanding the upper atmosphere and increasing drag. The erosion of orbit due to solar weather was one of the main reasons that NASA was unable to rescue America’s first space station, Skylab, from a fiery re-entry in 1979.

These kinds of solar events can also generate radiation and put astronauts and cosmonauts at risk. During solar flares they will need to fall back to more shielded parts of the Space Station. As depicted in my novel, these “safe” areas are in the Russian sections.

How bad can space weather be on the Earth’s surface? We only have been aware of this phenomena for 200 years, which is nothing in the life span of our 5 billion year old sun. Thousands of miles of exposed wires in power grids are at risk of overload from storms. Transformers can explode, and once destroyed, are difficult and expensive to replace. Oil and gas pipelines are also at risk, and it is thought that sunspots can increase corrosion and degrade the integrity of the metal.

The worst recorded solar storm is the Carrington Event of 1859. This storm generated intense aurora borealis displays that were seen from Canada to the Caribbean. The auroras were so bright that people were able to read a newspaper in the dead of night. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed. Sparks flew off pylons. Telegraph operators received electrical shocks. Even when the power supplies were disconnected, some telegraph stations could continue to receive and send messages.

Sun weather comes in 11 year cycles, and in 2014 we were at a period of “solarmax:” a period of intense activity. Fortunately, this “max” seems much quieter than in previous years.

What would a really gnarly solar storm look like?
Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue