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By Vicky Dorvee

Niwot’s famous author is out of this world


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Released May 1, the book “Chasing New Horizons, Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto” was written by Niwot’s Alan Stern and co-author David Grinspoon.

May 1, launch day for the book Chasing New Horizons, marked the beginning of a 21-day, 11-state book tour for author Alan Stern of Niwot. While this journey is very exciting, it’s comparatively short for the scientist, whose new book chronicles spacecraft New Horizons’ three-billion mile adventure to Pluto and beyond.

Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, and his co-author, David Grinspoon, take readers deep inside the project to get an understanding of its intensity and how what started out as an audacious vision became a powerful scientific victory.

An award-winning planetary scientist, aerospace consultant and space program executive,Stern has been integral to a multitude of space exploration missions. Co-author Grinspoon is a former professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the past curator of astrobiology for the Denver Museum of Natural Science. He’s the brilliant author of books about planetary exploration.

The two men, having crossed paths in various capacities, teamed up to write this book by meeting more than 50 Saturday mornings over the course of a year as Grinspoon interviewed Stern on the mission from its origin through execution. Grinspoon also interviewed dozens of others involved in the mission.

Their long-distance writing process took place with Grinspoon initiating the first draft for each chapter and both men passing the text back and forth “countless times” making changes until it read well. The authors whittled down the 500-page draft to a 280-page book, with dozens of photographs.

New Horizons’ flyby to Pluto, on July 14, 2015, was a monumental success. But, knowing that fact won’t stop readers from being on the edge of their seats as they learn about the hard fought battles it took to get there.

Stern describes the book as a compilation of six plot lines. First off, there was a group of young scientists who wanted to explore the farthest known planet and would not accept “no” as an answer. Then there’s a plot line covering why this exploration is of huge scientific importance. There’s the mounting political maneuvering or “David and Goliath battle” as Stern termed it, to move the mission through governmental channels. The “nerdy story” of designing and building the spacecraft itself is amazing. Lastly, there’s the actual famous flyby and the impact of the scientific results being sent back from New Horizons.

Stern’s previous books were strictly academically oriented. When asked who the audience is for this book, there was a brief silence followed by Stern responding, “My mom.” Stern explained that she is over-the-moon proud of him and has been doing a fair amount of maternal marketing.

But, she’s not alone in her praise. Book reviewers such as Jeff Foust of the The Space Review and Steven Andrew of the Daily Kos have given the book high marks.

Because of the compelling twists and turns of this mission, there’s a sense that a movie or, better yet, a series awaits production. The mission is still underway, including a flyby of Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt this New Year’s Eve. It would also be no surprise if there was a sequel to the book.

“We hope this book will break out beyond people who are interested in space and astronomy to be a much more interesting tale of people with a dream and determination, who go through a lot of setbacks and ultimately triumph,” Stern said. “I think it’s a very human story in the end.”

With Stern’s experience on running enormous space missions, the publisher of Chasing New Horizons contracted with him for yet another book – this one on leadership and management principles. Titled Launch to Leadership, the book will be available early next year.

Stern and Grinspoon will be joined by local New Horizons’ staff when they come through Colorado on their book tour. They will be at the Boulder Bookstore at 5 p.m., Saturday, May 19, and at the Tattered Cover in Denver at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 20.


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