'Read With Me' Author Explores Private Space Travel

Jun 18, 2018

The Mission to the Stars series about faster-than-light (FTL) travel begins with a family tragedy. Married couple Jeff and Jennifer Bindl are killed while testing the first spaceship designed for FTL speed. When news of the ship's demise reaches Earth, the Bindls' four sons are left to carry on the mission started by their parents through their company Space Tech.

We meet each member of the Bindl family in the prologue of Mission to the Stars: Book One: The Search for FTL, our Read With Me selection for June. 

Before continuing their parents' FTL mission, the surviving sons need to know what happened to the spacecraft and why; none of them knew their parents had embarked on the mission.

Each brother brings different skills and viewpoints to the investigation. The oldest, Alec, is in law enforcement. The middle kids are twins Orion and Ty. Orion is about to graduate from MIT, while Ty hopes to succeed his father as company president. The youngest, Zach, is still in high school. He's the wild one, having stowed away once on a flight to an orbital lab.

Right away, the reader sees the author deciding to have four people solve the mystery of the ship's catastrophic failure. Author Ted Iverson says he wanted to create a family saga.

"I thought four would be a good number," he said. "Eventually down the road -- planning ahead here -- I could spin them off into their own adventures for each book. And the other ones would be minor characters."

The main question to be solved -- Did the spacecraft break apart because of a flaw or sabotage? -- also concerns the Outer Exploration Committee, the Senate panel that oversees space exploration. When the OEC holds a press conference, Senator Pitor Axion steps forward to tell the world, including the Bindl Brothers, what happened:

At approximately 0900 the Bindls' craft, known as the StarDancer, launched from an undisclosed location and began its mission. The mission was to achieve a speed faster than light, which I will henceforth refer to as FTL. All of the ship's instrumentation was functioning normally. The Bindls were in constant contact with their base. The OEC was being continuously updated on the mission's progress. By 1900 hours, the Bindls reported that all was functioning well and readouts were normal. At this time they had already achieved an incredible speed and were still accelerating toward their goal. Some of you may be interested in the technical side of these achievements; however, those are considered to be vital secrets, and will not be available for anyone to see. As the mission continued, it looked as if they might succeed. However, at approximately 2310, the instrumentation readings began to deteriorate rapidly, actually, in seconds. Radio contact was officially declared lost at 2315, fourteen hours and fifteen minutes into the mission. As I mentioned previously, the invesgtigation is ongoing , so I cannot even begin to answer what went wrong. The OEC held an emergency session. We have decided to suspend further research in this area until the investigation is complete.

The brothers are upset that the OEC knew about the mission, while they didn't. And at least one sibling, Orion, starts to question the government's account of the tragedy, which adds a layer of political intrigue to the story.

Iverson later adds elements more in keeping with a thriller. He reads another excerpt in the video below.

Most people know of one privately-held space company, SpaceX, which was founded by Elan Musk in 2002. In an interview with WNIJ, Iverson said SpaceX provided "probably zero" inspiration for his fictional company, Space Tech. Nevertheless, Iverson says private research and development is the key to future space exploration. "I don't feel that NASA or the government is really capable of doing anything more because NASA's more politically involved," he said. "SpaceX and the other ones that are trying to come out, they're going to be the ones to forward space exploration. I just think that's the way we're headed."

Like many who write about space travel, Iverson believes there are other planets which could sustain human life. "There has to be," he said. "When you look out there and realize the billions and billions of galaxies -- and within those galaxies all the different solar systems, planets and stars -- my mind won't allow me to think that there are not other habitable planets out there."

So which planet should we explore next? For Iverson, it's a no-brainer.

"The obvious choice is Mars," he said. "I believe that at one time it had an atmosphere, it had water. All the signs point to that, even though a lot of people don't believe that. It's a good place to try to terraform."

Days after our interview, NASA's Curiosity Rover found evidence for the chemical building blocks of life on Mars. If further studies bear fruit, so to speak, it would be another example of science fiction becoming science fact.

The first Mission to the Stars book is followed by Book Two: Hostile Takeover. The latest, just released, is Book Three: Arbitration. This is about a divided alien race at war for 200 years until both sides agree to send 30 percent of their population to a new world. Fifty years later, the exiled population creates a weapon capable of destroying all life on their former planet. They launch it but it never arrives at the target. Centuries later, the Bindls find that weapon while mining in the Kuiper Belt.

"And they decide to arbitrate peace when they find out what happened," Iverson said.

Ted Iverson lives in Rockford, Ill. He is a member of the In Print professional writers group.

Next month, our "Read with Me" series digs into the archives; we'll revisit our 2013 interview with Marnie Mamminga, author of Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts.

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