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Astronaut Chris Hadfield helps kids face fears

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Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is arguably best-known for his orbital rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Bowie gave his approval for Hadfield’s performance. (Credit: CSA)

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says he wanted to be an astronaut ever since he was a kid – but he had to get over one big problem: Outer space is dark. “Like really, really dark,” he said.

“I was afraid of the dark, so it made me feel sort of daunted,” Hadfield recalled Sept. 13 during an evening talk at Town Hall Seattle.

Recognizing and overcoming that kind of fear is the focus of Hadfield’s totally biographical storybook for kids, titled “The Darkest Dark.” During the first official book-tour stop, Hadfield wowed the crowd with a reading, plus an airing of a song that ties in with the book. Then he took questions.

One of the high points came when a young boy clad in a spacesuit costume came up on stage to ask a question: How high can you jump in space? Hadfield and the boy took turns jumping, and figuring out how high the jump would have been in Mars’ one-third gravity, or the moon’s one-sixth gravity.

Then Hadfield explained that a jump off the side of a spaceship in zero gravity might never end. “You can jump forever,” he told the boy. Hadfield waited several beats to let that sink in, and then added: “So you want to be careful.”

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Obama puts ‘Seveneves’ on summer reading list

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“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson. (Credit: William Morrow)

Seattle science-fiction author Neal Stephenson’s tale about the moon’s destruction and what happens next,“Seveneves,” has won a place on President Barack Obama’s summer reading list.

Obama, who’s beginning his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, isn’t the only one who has put Stephenson’s 880-page novel on a short list. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates put it on hissummer reading list in May. And let the record show that I featured the 2015 book in my holiday book guide last December.

“Seveneves” is the latest dense-with-detail saga from the author of “Snow Crash,” “The Diamond Age,” “Cryptonomicon,” “Anathem,” “Reamde” and the Baroque Cycle.

Obama might want to pay attention to what happens to the fictional U.S. president after she finds out that the moon has been blasted apart and Earth appears doomed. (Spoiler alert: It’s not pretty.)

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6 bright ideas for summer science books

Lumin-essence
Swirls of bioluminescent dinoflagellates, called Noctiluca scintillans, sparkle under the night sky in a quiet cove on Shaw Island. To learn more about how Floris van Breugel took this picture, visit ArtInNaturePhotography.com. (Copyright 2011 Floris van Breugel)

Summer reading is often light and airy, but those are qualities that don’t usually apply to science books. Now that school’s out, summer blockbusters are showing up in the theaters, and the vacation season has begun, here are a few recently published books that provide a completely different kind of “light reading,” plus some heavy-duty science to balance things out.

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Scott Kelly says he suffered stress in space

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Scott Kelly peers out one of the International Space Station’s windows. (Credit: NASA)

During his year in space, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said he could do another year if he had to. But now that Kelly has returned to Earth and retired from NASA, he says the experience took an emotional and physical toll.

The down side of long-term stints on the International Space Station came up today when Alfred A. Knopf announced it would be publishing Kelly’s memoir, titled “Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars.”

The announcement included a telling quote from the 52-year-old spaceflier:

“During my time in orbit, I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied, and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained my heart. Every day, I was exposed to 10 times the radiation of a person on Earth, which will increase my risk of a fatal cancer for the rest of my life. Not to mention the psychological stress, which is harder to quantify and perhaps as damaging.”

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The Force is strong with sci-fi shows on TV

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Like Han Solo, spaceship pilot Alex Kamal (played by Cas Anvar) has a complicated past in “The Expanse,” which has its TV premiere on Syfy tonight. (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

While you’re waiting for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to invade theaters this week, you can tune in a couple of other star wars on TV – with settings and themes that hit much closer to home than the goings-on in a galaxy far, far away.

Starting tonight, the Syfy channel is bringing two classic science-fiction sagas to the small screen: Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End,” a novel about space aliens that was written before dawn of the Space Age; and “The Expanse,” a series of future-looking novels and short stories by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).

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Season’s readings: 12 gift books for geeks

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NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins reads a book titled “Max Goes to the Space Station” in 2014 during a space station outreach activity called Story Time From Space. (Credit: NASA / STFS)

In this age of e-readers, there are still occasions when it’s nice to have a book printed on actual paper – like holiday giving, for instance. But which book works best as a gift for a science geek?

In honor of the 12 days of Christmas, here are a dozen recently published science books that have been well-received and are well-suited for gift wrapping. And if you still want to save a tree, some of them work just fine as e-books as well.

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Free e-book shares sci-fi’s ‘Future Visions’

"Future Visions"
“Machine Learning” by Nancy Kress is one of the tales in “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft.” (Credit: Joey Camacho / Raw & Rendered for Microsoft Research)

When you’re developing technologies that sound like science fiction, why not use science fiction stories to show what you’re up to? That’s the motivation behind“Future Visions,” a free e-book from Microsoft Research that highlights the gee-whiz ideas its researchers are working on.

“We have a group of people who are trying to turn science fiction into reality, and it seems fitting that we’d want to tell that story with science fiction stories written by science fiction authors,” Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s chief storyteller, told GeekWire. (And by the way, Steve, how did you get that job title?)

The authors are top-drawer: Eight short stories come from science-fiction luminaries Elizabeth Bear, Greg Bear, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Jack McDevitt, Seanan McGuire and Robert J. Sawyer. There’s also a graphic mini-novel by Blue Delliquanti and Michele Rosenthal.

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6 small steps toward cooler spaceships

Image: Magbeam station
An artist’s conception shows a Magbeam station emitting a plasma beam to propel a target spacecraft beyond Jupiter. (Credit: UW Advanced Propulsion Lab)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Is there a better way to power a spaceship? The basic tools of the rocket trade have been refined over the course of nearly nine decades, but there’s only so far the physics will take us. If we ever want to send anything to another star system, as described in Kim Stanley Robinson’s newly published book“Aurora,” we’ll have to come up with new technologies.

Some of those technologies were laid out at Sasquan, the world science-fiction convention playing out this week in Spokane, during a session on the art and science of spaceships. And it turns out many of those technologies have a Seattle spin. Get a quick rundown on six research areas, with links to the local connections.

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Will HBO finish ‘Game of Thrones’ first?

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“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin sets the scene for a reading at the Sasquan science-fiction convention in Spokane. (Credit: Alan Boyle)

SPOKANE, Wash. — “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin acknowledges that HBO could air the final episode of the show based on his books even before the last book in the series comes out — and he’s OK with that.

“Anything is possible,” he told GeekWire during Thursday’s Q&A at the Sasquan science-fiction convention in Spokane. Martin took questions after reading a chapter from “The Winds of Winter,” which will be the sixth book in what’s expected to be at least a seven-volume series.

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