Friday, February 26, 2021

Ottawa author’s novel headed to the moon in lunar time capsule

Ottawa author's novel headed to the moon in lunar time capsule

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Mike Blouin was a starstruck nine year old, glued to the fuzzy screen of the rabbit-eared, black-and-white TV set at his parents’ cabin on Big Rideau Lake, when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong first stepped on the surface of the moon.

“I remember walking out on the deck of the cabin,” the Ottawa/Kemptville writer recalls, “just after watching the landing, and looking up at the moon in a clear night sky, and just being in wonder that people could do such things.”

Blouin was, and remains, fascinated with space exploration. Like so many youngsters at the time of the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo missions, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut and one day similarly dipping his toe in the Sea of Tranquility. To this day, he is drawn to the celestial heavens.

“Almost every time I look up at the moon, I can summon that experience of being nine years old and looking at it in wonder.”

Blouin’s dream of following in Armstrong’s footsteps didn’t quite pan out. He became a high school teacher, husband, father, poet and novelist. But, more than half a century after Apollo 11’s historic journey, the circle on his extraterrestrial aspiration will come to a completion of sorts this fall, when a digital copy of his latest novel, Skin House, will be part of a payload going to the moon.


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And, adding to the adventure’s drama, it’s going as a stowaway.

The Peregrine Lunar Lander Mission, a cooperative effort by NASA, Astrobotic robotics company and courier firm DHL, will carry a lunar rover to the moon, as well as numerous other items for governments, companies, universities, non-profit organizations and individuals. Included in the cargo will, for example, be human ashes and DNA, including some hair that was once attached to science fiction author and 2001: A Space Odyssey screenplay co-writer Arthur C. Clarke’s head. Books by more than 125 authors, including Blouin, are also going — a lunar library, if you will.

“I only found out a little over a week ago,” says Blouin. “I’m still gob-smacked.”

Blouin’s contribution to what amounts to a lunar time capsule involved a bit of happenstance that began with Susan Kaye Quinn, a U.S. author of Young Adult science fiction and former rocket scientist, who, upon hearing of the mission and the possibility of private citizens sending along materiel — at a cost of $1.2 million U.S. per kilogram — decided to spend a few hundred dollars to send her works on a micro SD card. When she discovered there would be room for far more than just her books on the card, she decided to hold a lottery to allow 50 other authors to participate. She named her project Writers on the Moon.

Unfortunately, Blouin was not among the 50 lottery winners. In fact, he wasn’t even among the 125 or so entrants. He didn’t hear about the contest until a couple days after the entry deadline, so even when Quinn realized all 50 winning authors didn’t fill the card and allowed everyone who entered a “seat” on the flight, Blouin was nowhere nearer the moon.


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“I was hitting my head, thinking, ‘I just missed it,’” he recalls.

But a friend of his, Newfoundland author Carolyn R. Parsons, had won a spot (No. 40 on Writers on the Moon’s manifest), and asked him if he’d like to essentially hitch a ride with her.

The small step/giant leap, he says, was an easy one to make. “I said yes, and I think I swore quite a bit in the excitement.”

Missions such as this fall’s, which will alight on the moon’s Lacus Mortis, or Lake of Death, will support the next manned mission to the moon’s surface, scheduled for 2024. “With all the horrible things people are capable of,” Blouin says, “the Moon and Mars missions to me represent the better and more noble things we can aspire to and accomplish, and the next steps in our journey. Particularly now, they are a light in a dark time.”

And if your book, in this case a “comedy crime caper with dark undertones,” is part of that journey, so much the better.

“In some ways, this is the most exciting thing that’s happened to my writing career,” he says. “I think of some of the highlights — my first book being published, publishing with Coach House Books, or winning awards — but this has a whole other dimension to it. Winning awards is one thing, but going to the moon is quite a different thing. My book is going to the moon and staying there conceivably forever.

“It’s still sinking in,” he adds. “It’s a gob-smacking amazing thing. It’s one thing to think that this project you’ve been working on in isolation for x number of years is now out in the world and in the hands of other people. But it’s a completely different level to think that your work is going to be sitting on the moon. And for the rest of my life, every time I look up at the moon, which has always been a special thing, it will have a personal significance to it.”


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