Thursday, January 09, 2014

Courageous Canine Seeks Space Station

In a heart-warming, ironic twist, a child’s book about a dog’s trip to the International Space Station is currently en route to that very place.

Today, at 1:10 p.m. EST time a rocket, the first of eight commercial logistics deliveries launched by Orbital Sciences Corp., fired up its rocket boosters and embarked on the roughly 260-mile trip to the ISS. Orb-1, as Orbital Sciences calls it, will resupply the ISS and its residents with experiments, spare parts, fresh fruit and more.

Perhaps the most exciting of Orb-1’s cargo is a dog, named Max. Max is a one-of-kind, wildly intrepid Rottweiler who has a knack for space travel. In the Max Science Adventure book series for children, author Jeffrey Bennett has sent Max to multiple destinations throughout our Solar System including the ISS, Mars and Jupiter. Bennett based Max on his own Rottweiler who has passed but who lives on in Bennett's endearing stories.

The International Space Station. Credit: NASA

In his latest book, Bennett sends Max to the Moon. The panting pooch’s fictional experiences with space suits, microgravity, and playing Frisbee on the cratered satellite’s surface inspired a judging committee of scientists and journalists to award Bennett the AIP Science Communication Award for Writing for Children in 2013.

Last night at this winter’s 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Maryland, AIP Executive Director and CEO Fred Dylla proudly presented Bennett with the award and thanked him for Bennett’s efforts to make space exploration clear and engaging for a child audience. (Dylla also presented Tom Siegfried the AIP Communication Award for Science Writing for his Science News essay about the Higgs Boson.)

I imagine the astronauts aboard the ISS are anxious to learn about Max, his brave caretaker, Tori and their many adventures together. But that’s not the whole story for why Orbital Sciences is sending Bennett’s Max Goes to the Space Station and the other three books in the series to the ISS.

The book is part of an educational project that astronaut Alvin Drew and educator Patricia Tribe proposed and call Story Time From Space. Astronauts will videotape themselves as they read different children’s books brought to the ISS over the course of the eight Orbital Science deliveries. The recordings will then be edited and posted for audiences worldwide on

“Story Time From Space is intended to ignite children’s engines of adventure, imagination and curiosity and to let those engines take them to any place and time of their choosing,” Drew told Robert Pearlman for

Cute and cuddly. Credit: Malcolmdenham
While Bennett’s books are intended for children of ages 7 through 9, the content to appear on the STFS site will be catered to parents, children and educators. In addition to reading children’s books, the astronauts will also demonstrate experiments that complement some of the books’ science concepts like the effects of microgravity.

Once launched, a rocket will reach the ISS in 8 minutes, but it takes about 3 days to actually dock with the station and begin transferring cargo. Although Max Goes to the Space Station will be the first book to be read and recorded for STFS, it is unclear what date the first recording will air online.

What I’d like to know is when Bennett’s fearless, howling protagonist will have some children of his own and where in the universe their puppy curiosity will lead them.

Check out an earlier Physics Buzz post for more information about the books, which are also adapted for planetarium shows.

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