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[Comments] (1) : Last week I wrote a bit of my novel that involved the phone system ISS astronauts use to to call their families. I presumed this system existed but couldn't find any technical details, so I made up a space-to-ground radio-based system that let me write a farcical scene. In retrospect, I guess I could have asked my boss. But anyway.

Yesterday I found two amazing HTTP resources, both probably via BoogaBooga, which make it much easier to write about the ISS: Bruce Sterling's interview with astronaut Nicole Stott, and Michael Barratt's video tour of the entire ISS, which apparently underwent spring cleaning recently because he's very proud of how tidy everything is.

In the interview, Nicole Stott says "The main tool we have for communicating with our family friends (aside from email) is an IP phone." So my space-to-ground-radio solution is officially non-canon.

I try somewhat hard not to contravene established facts, but I'm not gonna change this, because 1) it's too messy for fiction. Why do they have an IP phone but no Web access? I'm sure there's a reason, but in writing group that would get me dinged for inaccuracy. The whole reason this phone conversation is happening is because the offworld Internet gateway isn't working, so the IP phone wouldn't work either and they'd have to fall back to something like the solution I came up with. But my POV character doesn't know any of this and I only have 20 words to set up the phone call. This is the slippery slope that gives us magic movie computers that do things computers can't really do.

2) I set my 'realistic' works in alternate universes, precisely to give me some Finux-like wiggle room. In "Mallory" I reinvented the whole history of the personal computer. In the novel, the space shuttle was retired after the Columbia disaster, and there's an abandoned moon base. I've got room to play around with minor things like phone systems, without feeling the guilt I'd feel if I introduced psychic powers or faster-than-light travel.

Anyway, check out the interview and video. It's like an early Christmas gift to me--the gift of worldbuilding!

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Posted by Jeremy Penner at Sun Dec 06 2009 17:12

If you're curious, my boss says that the reason they don't have web access is to prevent space virus / spyware infections, more or less. All of the software on board the ISS is thoroughly audited for security, and I guess Firefox just doesn't cut it.

Also, if it helps, the ISS is equipped with a ham radio.


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