Back to the Moon was Homer’s first book-length fiction, published in 1999. It is an adult, page-turning scientific thriller with lots of insider information about NASA. Like all of Homer’s books, this one also has comic situations that will have readers laughing out loud. But when Homer shifts gears and the drama kicks in, the action is incredible. Back to the Moon, besides being a heart-pounding adventure, is a wonderful, sensuous love story of the near future like only Homer can tell. It is available in hardcover, paperback, abridged audio book, electronic book and Chinese. 

Technical Questions, Space Litter, and more

From Mary (Sep. 2001)

Dear Mr. Hickam, I loved reading Back to the Moon, your book about your cat Paco flying on the shuttle, but….. I have a cat too. How did Paco get fed on the shuttle? How did the “box” question get taken care of?

– Mary

 

Dear Mary,

You obviously are telling the truth about owning a cat since your questions have to do with feeding and taking care of that other thing, the two fundamental reasons cat-owners exist (at least in the opinion of their cats, I suspect).

How did Paco get fed on the shuttle? Surely the same way every cat gets fed, by nagging his owner(s). He learned fairly early in the mission that Jack and Virgil were usually too preoccupied with keeping the shuttle life systems on line to care whether he got fed or not. Penny, however, was easy. He’d grab her shoulder, purring in her ear until she couldn’t stand it any more and then she’d go see what was up in his food locker. Although the feeding station (called FOOD for Feline On-demand Operational Diet) in the locker had been designed for automatic feeding, it usually didn’t work. Paco was supposed to nudge a lever with his paw (he was trained to do this by Skinnerian rote) and then a worm screw device was supposed to be activated which would in turn deliver moist food lumps into his bowl, a device that required Paco to push his head through a soft membrane that kept the lumps from escaping in zero-G.

Unfortunately, the worm screw device was a miserable failure, often getting clogged with the food lumps. Penny was good about cleaning it but sometimes she just said to hell with it, and reached inside the container and gave Paco a wad of lumps in his special bowl. Fortunately, water for Paco was not a problem. A permeable membrane that he licked delivered water from a tank through osmosis and worked quite well. It was called FLUID for Feline Lappable Unit In-watering Device. It may have had a lousy acronym but nobody could deny that it was good engineering.

Now, as to the litter box. Here, Jack and Virgil were also slothful, willing to tolerate the occasional ugly smells emanating from the device until Penny couldn’t stand it any more and took over. The device was really not cat-friendly but neither is the waste control system for humans aboard the shuttle. The device, called FECAL (Feline Environmental Control Automatic Lavatory), was a stainless steel bowl with a small opening in it. Paco was required to enter through a plastic curtain so that nothing nasty could escape. His presence tripped a sensor which started a vacuum pump that sucked air down the bowl. Paco was supposed to position himself over the bowl and do what came naturally. From there, the “material” was to disappear down the bowl into a holding tank. Just as with the WCS, this complex system often failed, the material instead bouncing off the bowl and left hanging around the box until somebody (Penny) used her hand (gloved) to push the material into the vacuum air stream. Paco was as disgusted with the arrangement as anybody and once left a major calling card floating around the cockpit as a warning that he wanted it fixed. After considerable nagging from Penny, Jack increased the suction of the pump in FECAL. This made it work better although it was a bit noisy. Jack considered bringing back some moon dirt and devising Paco a proper box but because some other things happened down there, it slipped his mind.

Hope this answers your questions, Mary. Pet your cat for me. He/she probably needs fed about now. And I’ll bet his/her litter box needs cleaning, too.

– H3

 

From retired Intel Engineer Bill Hendricks and assistant Marta

Dear Mr. Homer,

I am interested in designing a FECAL upgrade unit for Earth use. Could I place my cat Honda in front of a vacuum cleaner and get the same affect here in Arizona?

-Martha and Bill, cat owners.

 

Dear Martha and Bill, cat owners:

Yes, although the suction of the vacuum along with the gravitational constant (32 ft. per sec per sec) combined with the aiming technique of the feline is critical.

Good luck. You might want to have Marta nearby wearing rubber gloves during your initial trials.

– HHH

 

From the Hendricks, Intel Engineers


I am concerned about the backup plan regarding the Earth Fecal Unit. I do not have good eye-hand co-ordination and am afraid I may miss a critical output. I am considering using a net instead.

Thanks for the help.
– Martha

 

Dear Cat Owners: I am eagerly waiting the results of your experiment. Well, not exactly the “results” results, if you get my meaning, but at least a report. Perhaps you have unwittingly stumbled upon a new Olympic sport, feline feces catching. If more than one participates, perhaps it will be synchronized feline feces catching. Talk about your TV ratings going through the roof!

Good luck.
– H3

 

From Frank Stewert, Stewert Engineering, Bozeman Montana
Dear Rocket Person(s): I have installed a combination feeder/evacuator centrifuge for our cat Marvin. The cat is placed in the unit with the tail end toward the outside, and plastic tubes are installed in each end of the cat. When the centrifuge is turned on, food is forced into the front end of the cat, while excretia is blown out of the other end. I think this may be an exciting idea to use on astronauts for long space missions.

– Frank

Dear Frank: I think you’re on to something. In fact, I’m for using your idea on some astronauts whether they’re in space or not. I think it might work on certain politicians as well. Keep inventing, you smart person you! Hello and sympathy to Marvin.

– Rocket Person Homer

 

From Troyce Walls, Rocket Scientist, Kennedy Space Center, FL.

Sir: I can only add that if most feline units were designed and mfg. Using similar plans to the qty two (2) units partaking freely of sustenance and shelter at my abode, some form of re-alignment of on-board feces targeting parameters must be considered. I note this because extended observations indicate the two noted f-units are somewhat indiscriminate as to the apparently randomly selected sites chosen for off-loading of fecal and urinary material.

Based on the above, some complications may arise in situating oneself or one’s appendages with any degree of accuracy in possible target areas. Therefore, the plan proposed by our learned colleague Mr. Stewart may have great validity in that the input into the f-units is controlled, thereby controlling the frequency and timing of the output with some predictability, as well as providing for a constrained target area via the ‘other’ end of the tubing.

Regards,
– Troyce Walls 


Dear Mr. Rocket Scientist: As the PI (Principal Investigator) of the FECAL experiment, I have received your comments as to the design (with changes) of the device in question. While I appreciate your “hands-on” experience in feline feces (FF), as well as Professor Stewart’s suggestion for modification, this mod would result in a change in crew procedures that would severely impact the mission timeline. Under the present restraints, FECAL must be designed so as to be entirely autonomous with no crew activity required. This means the feline to be used must be trained sufficiently that the FECAL is used as designed with zero defects. The Feline Training Team at MSFC has assured me that the feline-in-training is doing a good job and the newspaper article referring to the training team’s use of “electroshock” and “cattle prods” was a gross exaggeration. We anticipate no problems with the present design and therefore your comments are rejected. We certainly appreciate the input from one of our esteemed colleagues at KSC but also feel compelled to comment: Butt out, buddy, or we might start launching rockets off of Monte Sano. Who needs all that sand and mosquitoes, anyway?

Thank you,
– H3

CDR (Critical Design Review) passed and FECAL baselined September 2000

Thank you for your input,
– HHH

Book Reviews

From Library Journal
It’s the year 2002. No more moon shots. Cape Canaveral has been abandoned. The U.S. president is about to sign the World Energy Treaty outlawing nuclear power and thus dooming future space travel. A renegade scientist hijacks a space shuttle and pilots it to the moon, where there is a rare isotope of helium that, combined with seawater, generates cheap, clean fusion power. Sound familiar? We’re back in the world of Fifties SF by authors like Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov. Hickam, a former NASA scientist and author of the acclaimed memoir Rocket Boys, has written this sweet novel of high-spirited adventure of guys and gals in space with a decidedly upbeat message. “This rocket flies on dreams,” says the hero. You better believe it! Recommended.
A David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. 

Amazon.com Reader Review rating: 5 stars out of five