Kevin Schillo is a Graduate Research Assistant at University of Alabama in Huntsville in Aviation and Aerospace. He has worked on a wide variety of engineering projects, including aircraft, rocket, and satellite design and optimization. His novella Apotheosis is one of five stories that span a ten thousand year timeline in the Orion’s Arm Anthology Against a Diamond Sky.
1. How would you explain the fusion propulsion research project to my daughter’s sixth grade class?
Have you ever wondered what makes the sun and the other stars shine? The culprit behind that is nuclear fusion. That’s the process by which atoms of the same or different elements combine to form a heavier element. If we could harness this power ourselves, we could send bigger and better spacecraft to Mars, Jupiter, and elsewhere than we could with any other kind of propulsion system.
2. Is “BOINC” some kind of onomatopoeia or is it an acronym that only rocket scientists understand?
BOINC stands for Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. It is an open-source middleware system that has been used to develop many distributed computing projects, such as SETI@home and Folding@home. By taking advantage of the processing power donated by volunteers’ computers via the internet, computationally intensive problems may be addressed that otherwise would require large and expensive supercomputers.
3. What has been your educational path so far, and how far to you plan to go?
I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering and a minor in mathematics. During my studies, I participated in many different engineering projects pertaining to space technologies, including the design of a hybrid rocket, a piocsatellite, and a nanosatellite.
I am currently pursuing a Master of Science in Aerospace Systems Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where I am researching fusion propulsion. I do intend to complete my Master’s, and if I am bold enough, I will pursue a PhD in aerospace systems engineering here at UAH.
4. What will you be doing at the NASA Robotics Academy at Marshall?
I will be working on a next-generation solar sailcraft that will utilize solar wind for propulsion and attitude control.
5. How has NASA inspired you?
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a profound interest in space and space technologies. With my passion and imagination having been captivated by every NASA endeavor from Mercury to the International Space Station, I have always known that the career I make for myself must be in the field of space technologies.
This is the reason why I am majoring in aerospace engineering, and why I have taken every opportunity that has been made available to me to become involved with projects related for space technologies.
6. What do you love about Arthur C. Clarke’s The Star?
I love it because of how it perfectly captures how difficult it can be for a theist to justify their religious beliefs in an otherwise cold and uncaring universe. It’s a quick but enjoyable read, and I hope that no one will mind if I present a few spoilers here.
The story follows a starship crew exploring a distant star system, where they discover a time capsule left by an alien civilization that was destroyed when its star went supernova. The time capsule contains all of their history, knowledge, and culture, showing an advanced, peaceful people that calmly accepted their fate when the star that gave them life turned on them. The story’s narrator is the crew’s astrophysicist, who is a Jesuit priest. This discovery causes him to suffer from a severe crisis of faith. But this crisis of faith is not caused by learning that such a peaceful society could be destroyed in a natural disaster. The priest has long since accepted that such tragedies are inevitable, and yet perfectly reconcilable in a universe governed by his interpretation of god. But what does shake his faith is when he discovers that when the light of this supernova reached Earth thousands of years ago, it was seen as none other the Star of Bethlehem.
This raises the question: what would it take for the most devout believer to have their faith shaken so severely that they cannot hope to reconcile their beliefs? I plan for this to be a major theme in my future novels.
7. Do you identify as a geek or a nerd?
I identify myself as both a geek and a nerd.
8. Do you and your peers identify with any of the characters on The Big Bang Theory?
I myself do not. Some of my friends do, but I don’t name names, or which characters they identify themselves with. I do find the show to be entertaining at times, but I also find the characters to be a little too stereotypical.
9. Have you ever used the line “Yes, I am a rocket scientist…” to impress a date?
I use this line all the time. It works like a charm.
10. Are you a writer who studies science and engineering, or an engineer who also writes?
I am an engineer who also writes. I’ve always known that I want to have a career in engineering. At the same time, I have felt compelled to write works of my own. There are a few things that I really want to write and have published over the next few years, but I don’t expect to ever have a full-time career as a writer. It is my intention to be able to support myself entirely with a career in engineering. If I can’t do that, I’ll have failed as an engineer.
11. What is The Orion’s Arm Universe Project?
It is a vast online world-building project. The people who put it together pride themselves on it being hard sci-fi. This means there is nothing in the setting that is known to be impossible, in stark contrast to much popular sci-fi. There are no humanoid aliens, no faster-than-light travel or communication, no psychics, and no transporters. The setting is about ten thousand years in the future, where civilization spans the stars, with innumerable clades of robots, genetically engineered humans and animals, and aliens. And presiding over civilization are powerful, godlike AIs with computation nodes the size of planets, with thoughts beyond our comprehension, and yielding technology utterly incomprehensible to anyone other than themselves. Anyone can contribute to Orion’s Arm if they are willing to conform to the established canon.
12. Why are there no lightsabers in the Orion’s Arm Universe?
They’re not included for the simple fact that lightsabers are impossible, for a number of reasons. For one, if we’re to assume that the blade of a lightsaber is a laser, that’s impossible, simply a laser is light, and you can’t just stop a beam of light at some arbitrary distance without some material to absorb it. Not only that, but lasers don’t block each other; they pass through each other. Sure, in the Star Wars movies we see lightsabers deflecting “lasers.” I put that in quotations they’re clearly not lasers, since they can be seen moving at only a few tens of miles an hour, dramatically slower than how fast lasers really move (186,000 miles per second). Some apologists say that a lightsaber blade isn’t a laser, but plasma. But that has its own problems, such as generating the magnetic fields needed to contain the plasma, the vast amounts of power that would be needed to do this, and the colossal amounts of heat that it would produce.
But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that lightsabers are possible. How effective would they be in an actual battle? This brings to mind my favorite scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana is challenged by a threatening swordsman. Undeterred by the swordsman’s skills, Indiana simply pulls out his gun and shoots him, demonstrating how useless swords are in a world where guns exist. This scene would play out exactly the same if the swordsman had a lightsaber.
Back in 2008, The Orion’s Arm Universe Project had a writing contest, where anyone with two much time on their hands had an opportunity to given the opportunity to compose a novella between 20,000 and 25,000 words in length and set within the canon of the Orion’s Arm Universe Project. People were allowed to vote via email on which entrant they liked the most, and the five most popular would be published in the anthology “Against a Diamond Sky.” I provided copies of Apotheosis to my friends and family so that they could judge its merit to determine if it was worthy of publication. They all told me how much they enjoyed my novella, finding it to be the best entrant in the contest, and they graciously voted for it to be included in the anthology.
14. What kind of hard science is in your novella?
Biology, physics, and astronomy are all featured in my novella.
15. What kind of soft science is in your novella?
Psychology, sociology, economics, and anthropology are in my novella.
16. What else have you written, and what will you write next?
I wrote my essay “Allure from Afar” as a way to convey the beauty and majesty of the cosmos and humanity’s role in it. This essay won me the student essay award at the Next Generation Sub-Orbital Researchers Conference in 2011.I also wrote a paper detailing the research on the nanosatellite that I worked on, which was accepted as one of only six entrants from around the country to participate in the annual Frank D. Weld Scholarship Competition at the Small Satellite Conference in 2011.I have also written a collection of short stories. Some are dramatic in tone, depicting life on an Earth ruled over by an immensely powerful alien entity known as the Overseer. Others are science fiction stories with a dark sense of humor. One such example follows a brilliant up and coming engineering student, who is slowly driven insane when he meets a mysterious janitor, ultimately discovering how the two of them are destined to preserve the fabric of the space-time continuum.I am in the process of writing a science fiction novel. I intend it to be the first in an epic saga that will span a minimum of four books. After I have completed this quadrilogy, I would like to write three additional novels, which may or may not be related to the first four books.I am also writing a script for a graphic novel that I would like to make some day. It centers on the story of an average everyday guy, who, after being exposed to nuclear waste, obtains a very bizarre superpower. He attempts to use his superpower to help his community, leading to disastrous consequences. An evil genius with aspirations of world domination acts as the antagonist when he uses his peculiarly vast resources in an attempt to realize his megalomaniacal goals. And for ill-defined reasons, he also feels compelled to make himself the would-be superhero’s archenemy. I’m writing this to be a satire of various comic book and superhero clichés. It is my hope that if I manage to find a skilled comic book artist, this could be the first in a trilogy of graphic novels.
17. Are there any SciFi shows you really enjoy in spite of their implausible science?
I do enjoy Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5, and their various spin-offs. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and I do enjoy them in spite of the fact that they all have rather terrible science.
18. What SciFi works, either books or shows, do you think have the best science?
I think that books tend to have better science than shows and movies because generally, the authors don’t feel that they need to appeal to audiences that are somewhat scientifically illiterate. I particularly enjoy the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Stephen Baxter.
19. What is your dream job?
I would love nothing more than to work for either NASA or a private space company that pushes the boundaries of human spaceflight.
20. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Since the films are owned by George Lucas, are we compelled to accept whatever changes he makes as being for the better? No. But why not? Because films, like all forms of art, are open to interpretation by whomever views it. But does it matter who shot first? In the context of the films, are any of the events effected by whom shot first? No, but characters are just as vital for a plot to unfold as the events. And this is a defining way in which viewers are first introduced to Han, and how they view him is greatly affected by this scene.
Whenever someone edits their work, they risk alienating those who enjoyed it to begin with. So should they refrain from making any changes whatsoever after their work has entered the public’s eye? No, of course not. As the creator of any work of art, that creator is free to do anything they feel is best. But just as they are free to change their own work, so are viewers free to judge the creator and their creation in whatever way they feel is most appropriate. And if the creator continually changes their work, their indecisiveness could prove to be as detrimental as whatever changes they may have made.
In my mind, Han always shoots first, and altering this scene in any way has made me lose all respect for George Lucas.
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