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Fiction Science Club

Prophetic sci-fi tale retold in a not so comic book

Climate catastrophes? Gang violence? Political divisions? A president whose slogan is “Make America Great Again”? In the 1990s, that was the stuff of science fiction for Black author Octavia E. Butler.

“Just really hard-to-believe fictional stuff,” cartoonist/writer/teacher Damian Duffy says. “I keep doing that joke, and it’s not funny at all.”

Today, the outlines of the apocalyptic world that Butler described in her Earthseed novels — “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents” — are all too close to reality. And it’s up to Duffy as well as his longtime collaborator, illustrator/professor John Jennings, to adapt those works to the graphic-novel format for 21st-century readers.

Although graphic novels are often thought of as comic books for grown-ups, there’s nothing funny about the late novelist’s books, or the adaptations created by Duffy and Jennings. Duffy even acknowledges that working on “Parable of the Sower” — which has just come out in paperback — added to the “depression stew” he’s been dealing with.

But in the end, he thinks it’s worth it.

“You feel a little bit stronger for having survived it,” he says. “I think that’s true as a reader, and I think it’s also true as adapters.”

Duffy and Jennings discuss the process of creating graphic novels, and their work with Butler’s novels in particular, in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. Fiction Science, co-hosted by science-fiction writer Dominica Phetteplace and yours truly, focuses on the intersection of science and fiction.

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GeekWire

Dutch teen set to become world’s youngest spaceflier

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says the beneficiary of the $28 million auction for a spot on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship is Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands.

Daemen is due to take a trip to the edge of space next Tuesday, sitting alongside Bezos and his brother Mark — as well as female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, who at the age of 82 would become the oldest person to go to space. Daemen would become the youngest.

The actual winner of last month’s auction is still anonymous. Blue Origin said the winner had to forgo the milestone flight due to scheduling conflicts, and will instead go on a future flight. (Although there may be more to it than that: Couldn’t someone reschedule things to make history in the company of the world’s richest person?)

A spokesperson for Blue Origin told GeekWire that Daemen was a participant in last month’s auction. After the sale, Blue Origin followed up and arranged for him to go on the second New Shepard flight. His reservation was moved up when the seat on the first flight became available, the spokesperson said.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin spreads the wealth from space ticket sale

There are only so many postcards you can send to space and back, even if you have $28 million to work with.

That’s one reason why the Club for the Future, the educational nonprofit foundation created by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, is giving 19 space-related charities the lion’s share of the proceeds from the $28 million fare that a mystery auction winner is paying to go on a suborbital space trip.

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GeekWire

Facebook’s satellite team switches over to Amazon

Facebook has struck a deal to have more than a dozen of its wireless internet experts move over to Amazon to work on its Project Kuiper satellite broadband network, The Information reported today.

An Amazon spokesperson told me that the report was accurate.

Such a deal represents another step in Amazon’s efforts to get its Kuiper operation up and running — and try to catch up with SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation, which already has more than more than 1,600 satellites in orbit and is expanding its beta program.

Amazon has vowed to spend more than $10 billion to get Project Kuiper off the ground. Under the terms of an authorization order issued by the Federal Communications Commission last July, Amazon has to have half of its planned 3,236-satellite constellation launched by mid-2026, and the rest by mid-2029.

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Federal funding goes to nuclear propulsion systems

Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies and its partners are among three teams winning $5 million contracts from NASA and the Department of Energy to develop reactor designs for space-based nuclear thermal propulsion systems.

USNC-Tech’s partners include its parent company, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp., and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — as well as General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Electric Research, Framatome and Materion.

The team will work under the direction of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory on a concept known as the Power Adjusted Demonstration Mars Engine, or PADME.

Another contract went to Virginia-based BWX Technologies for a reactor design that it will develop in cooperation with Lockheed Martin. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of San Diego received the third contract, and will partner with X-energy and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

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GeekWire

OceanGate sub makes its first dive to the Titanic

After years of building, testing and dealing with setbacks, Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate has sent a next-generation submersible and its crew down to the wreck site of the Titanic for the first time.

“We had to overcome tremendous engineering, operational, business [challenges], and finally COVID-19 challenges to get here, and I am so proud of this team and grateful for the support of our many partners,” OceanGate’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, said today in a news release.

The first fruits of OceanGate’s 12,500-foot-deep dive in the North Atlantic include photos that show the frame of a stained-glass window and fragments of floor tile from the ocean liner, which hit an iceberg and sank during its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912.

The loss of the ship and more than 1,500 of the people who were on board — plus the wreck’s rediscovery in 1985 — made the saga of the Titanic one of the history’s best-known sea tragedies.

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How tech titans gave a boost to space tourism

The suborbital spaceships built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceline may look totally different, but financially speaking, they have something in common: They both have connections to Seattle tech billionaires.

The connection is obvious in the case of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship. Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, about six years after he founded Seattle-based Amazon — and he has said he sells off a billion dollars in Amazon stock annually to fund his privately held space company.

Today the Federal Aviation Administration said it has issued its formal approval for New Shepard’s launch on July 20 from Blue Origin’s West Texas spaceport, with Bezos and three crewmates seated on board. It’ll be the first crewed mission for the suborbital craft, which has been put through 15 uncrewed test flights over the course of more than five years.

Bezos’ trip is due to take place just days after Branson took a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, known as VSS Unity. Both trips are meant to blaze a trail for tourists and researchers to get a sample of the space environment, including a few minutes of zero gravity and wide-angle views of the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space.

Blue Origin’s headquarters has been in the Seattle area from the company’s inception. But Virgin Galactic, which is headquartered in New Mexico, has a less obvious connection to the Seattle tech community.

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Billionaire Richard Branson savors his trip to space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson rode his company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane into the skies over New Mexico today and did something that no billionaire has done before.

In the company of five crewmates, Branson became the first billionaire to take a rocket-powered ride on his own company’s spaceship, rising above the 50-mile mark that the Federal Aviation Administration considers the boundary of outer space.

Only two other billionaires are in the same class: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who flew to New Mexico to see Branson off and has reportedly reserved a ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight; and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who’s getting ready for a suborbital space ride on the rocket ship built by his Blue Origin space venture.

At its peak, the VSS Unity plane rose to an altitude of 53.5 miles (86.2 kilometers). On the way down, Branson said it was the “experience of a lifetime.”

“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid,” he told the crowd at New Mexico’s Spaceport America during a post-landing ceremony. “Honestly, nothing could prepare you for the view from space. The whole thing was just magical.”

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GeekWire

Blue Origin fuels space feud with Virgin Galactic

Jeff Bezos has a longstanding rivalry with SpaceX’s Elon Musk, but now his Blue Origin space venture is upping the ante in its spat with fellow soon-to-be space traveler Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic — and the Twitterverse is not amused.

Today’s escalation from Blue Origin came in the form of a tweet drawing distinctions between a suborbital ride on its New Shepard spaceship and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne rocket plane.

The tweet’s infographic noted that New Shepard would fly above the 100-kilometer (62-mile) altitude that is currently considered the international boundary of outer space, while New Shepard’s target altitude is 50 miles, which is accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration as astronaut territory. New Shepard’s other advantages — including the size of its windows — were noted as well.

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WellSaid gets a $10M boost for its synthetic voices

WellSaid Labs will have a lot more to say in the years ahead, thanks to $10 million in new investment that’ll be used to beef up the Seattle startup’s efforts to put a widening chorus of AI-generated synthetic voices to work.

The Series A funding round — led by Fuse, an early-stage venture capital firm that counts Seattle Seahawks star linebacker Bobby Wagner among its partners — follows up on $2 million in seed funding that WellSaid raised in 2019 when it was spun out from Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

One of the investors in that earlier seed round, Voyager Capital, contributed to the newly announced Series A funding. So did Qualcomm Ventures and Good Friends.

WellSaid CEO Matt Hocking said the new funding will go toward growing the text-to-speech startup, which currently has a dozen employees and plenty of customers.