Guest Post: Writers on the Moon by Susan Kaye Quinn

The following post was written by a DHL MoonBox program participant, aboard Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One

Much of my life has been driven by the desire to be an astronaut. My father was a rocket engine designer for the Saturn V on the original Apollo missions to the moon. I grew up in the 70’s, reading all the classic science fiction, watching Star Wars and Star Trek, and dreaming of space. When I was sixteen, a Navy recruiter told me girls couldn’t fly the kind of planes that would let them become Shuttle Commanders (18 years later, Eileen Collins proved him wrong), so I pursued the route open to me at the time—Mission Specialist. That meant getting degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering, designing aircraft engines while keeping my eyes on the stars. In the 90’s, I got a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, studying global warming, as it was called then, because I knew much of space research was looking right back at our home and solving the problems here.

I applied to the space program. Twice. Spoiler alert: I’m not an astronaut.

But what I learned from all those years of studying and working as an engineer and a scientist—all that time pursuing the long-odds dream of personally going to space—was that dreaming big was worth all the risk, even if you fail. Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. I managed to invert this positive-thinking exhortation of unknown lineage—by shooting for the stars, I’ll eventually land on the moon.

In a surprising twist, the Writers on the Moon project will get me there.

I skipped a few parts—the time I stayed home to raise three amazing kids, the point when I realized that my passion lay in writing science fiction rather than returning to the world of engineering, and how I parlayed that passion into a business, self-publishing dozens of my own works and networking with thousands of other indie authors—but last year, in the middle of the pandemic, I found myself landing in a most peculiar and fortunate spot.

I had a chance to buy a payload on Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One.

I was busy, like most moms, making sure my family was weathering the pandemic while keeping my business afloat. My husband had landed his dream job designing moon rovers for Astrobotic, a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year. One night, he said, “You know you can buy a payload, right?”

I’m sorry, what?

It took a half-second for me to decide of course I would buy one. Another half-second to decide to send my books—all of them, the entire catalog—on a microSD card in the tiny hexagonal payload tin. But when it dawned that the card could hold a lot more than just my books… Writers on the Moon was born.

My initial idea was to send a hundred authors’ books to the moon, but the project quickly evolved as I gathered up all these creative people who are my friends—folks instantly as excited at the prospect of sending some of our work to our breathless moon.

You see, for an author—or really anyone who creates—a little piece of you goes into your work. Every story contains characters who speak your beliefs, villains who voice your rage, love stories that hold the fullness of your hopes. Like a Horcrux, the incantations required to create a work impart a small piece of your soul into the art itself. Our stories are our immortality… and the Writers on the Moon project was a chance to preserve that. A time capsule of the souls of today sealed and sent to the readers of tomorrow.

We writers can be a dramatic lot.

But I tell you this because that’s truly the energy that sizzled through this group of writers as we madly scrambled to put the payload together. Not until 2021 did the project earnestly get off the ground, and then we had a limited time to bring it all together before we had to deliver it to Astrobotic (a wonderful ticking clock, as any writer will tell you, is necessary to good drama). I selected 125 of my fellow authors, each with a limited slot on the card for their books. I encouraged them to send personal pictures, songs, videos, anything that would speak to who they were as people. Had I discovered a time capsule of stories from 100 years ago, I would want to know the writers behind the works. We imagined our future lunar anthropologist opening our time capsule and wondering who were these creatures from 2021? I asked my Writers on the Moon to write the stories behind their stories, what they chose to send and why, and then something magical happened…

They brought more. Instead of just their own books, my writers chose anthologies they’d been part of, simply so they could bring more authors on board. One had been the editor of a whole series of anthologies, single-handedly bringing hundreds of others along. Some brought outright stowaways—works of special author friends, including some who had passed away. One writer’s father was tremendously excited about the Writers on the Moon project… but then he tragically passed just days before we uploaded the final works to the payload. She asked to include a special tribute to him (which I did, through tears).

This project is magic in dozens of ways, just like that. Moments of heart and creativity and generosity. I don’t have a final count of all the authors and stowaways on board, but it’s well over a thousand.

I ended up with eight official stowaways—special readers sending their reviews, my brother’s unpublished musical, my father’s photos of the Shuttle Mission pins he had collected over the years. The daughter of one official Writer on the Moon also had dreams of being an astronaut—and a special connection to the moon goddess Chang’e, who she whispered those dreams to each night. But tragedy struck in her teen years, disability cutting those star-filled dreams short. Those prayers held her through difficult times, and she became an artist instead. We’re honored to have her drawing, Chang’e Holding the Moon, aboard our Writers on the Moon payload.

This project, born of a desire to reconnect to my childhood dream, grew into something more incredible than I could have imagined. The best stories are like that. Wholly unexpected and affirming everything that’s good about humanity.

Thank you to Astrobotic for daring your big dreams. For building this spacecraft, a vehicle for so many more dreams than I’m sure you realize. What you’re doing is the special kind of magic made of science and hope. Thank you for letting us ride along.

Susan Kaye Quinn, Ph.D., payload coordinator for Writers on the Moon

Image: Chang’e Holding the Moon by Ambrose Beaulieu