Launchpad 2013 Review

The class of 2013 from left to right: Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Claudine Griggs, Douglas Dechow, Jay O'Connel, Jennifer Marie Brissett, Brenda Clough, Jamie Todd Rubin, Liz Argall, Andy Romine, Caren Gussoff, Chaz Brenchley, Jeri Smith-Ready, Anna Leahy, Doug Farren. Kneeling in front: Andria Schwortz, Me, Mike Brotherton
The class of 2013 from left to right: Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Claudine Griggs, Douglas Dechow, Jay O’Connel, Jennifer Marie Brissett, Brenda Clough, Jamie Todd Rubin, Liz Argall, Andy Romine, Caren Gussoff, Chaz Brenchley, Jeri Smith-Ready, Anna Leahy, Doug Farren. Kneeling in front: Andria Schwortz, Me, Mike Brotherton

Over the weekend, we said goodbye to 14 newfound friends from the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop for Writers. It was a long, fun, and challenging week but by far the hardest challenge was realizing that had come to an end. Here’s why:

Launchpad is essentially astronomy 101 crammed into a one-week crash-course tailored for science fiction & fantasy writers, editors, filmmakers, and other creative professionals. It’s held on the campus of the University of Wyoming where my friend Mike Brotherton is an Associate Professor of Astronomy. Last year, he invited me to be a guest instructor and as much as I enjoyed myself then, I had a much better experience this second time around for several reasons.

For one thing, I had a much better idea of what to expect this year, and was able to prepare my lectures accordingly. Mike had me teach the same topics as last year, plus asked me to teach some new topics, including binary stars and exoplanets. In fact, I have a post on my slides from launchpad you can peruse, though it may not make as much sense without me explaining them. In any case, the great preparation and coordination with Mike and fellow instructor Andria Schwortz meant that I wasn’t staying up as late preparing for my talk the next day. I did, of course, stay up just as late talking with Mike about all sorts of nonsense.

As much as I enjoyed giving and watching the lectures, getting the attendees out of the classroom and into the lab was even better. Attendees got to try their hand at identifying elements from their spectra, detecting exoplanets from Kepler data, and processing Hubble images.

Chaz Brenchley having a go at identifying elements from their emission spectra
Chaz Brenchley having a go at identifying elements from their emission spectra

Even better, we were able to get up to the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) on Jelm mountain on Wednesday night. It’s always a treat to come face-to-face with a 2.3-meter telescope. Even better, the students were taking spectra of a binary star system, which is a topic that is always near and dear to my heart 🙂

The 2.3-meter Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) telescope atop Jelm Mountain.
The 2.3-meter Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) telescope atop Jelm Mountain.

As much fun as it was, it was a lot of hard work so taking a break with a hike in Vedauwoo national park was a nice change of pace, even if 1/3 of our group fell at some point.

A view of our hike in Vedauwoo National Park.
A view of our hike in Vedauwoo National Park.

But my favorite part of this year’s Launchpad was that my wife joined me this time. Jeri is a pretty good writer in her own right and it was great being in an environment where she could talk shop with fellow writers as well as geek out on astronomy. As much as she already knew about astronomy, this was her best exposure to it yet. Besides, we like being together:

As much fun as it was, it was a lot of work, especially for us instructors. And yet, we’re already thinking about next year!

For others’ perspectives on this year’s launchpad, check out my listing of everyone’s blog posts and recaps. And once again, a huge thank-you to our funders this year, without whom, none of this would have happened!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.