Jay Gallentine discusses ‘Infinity Beckoned’ in exclusive interview
Noted space author Jay Gallentine has completed another tome covering efforts to have robotic pathfinders explore the inner parts of the Solar System with The Outward Odyssey’s Infinity Beckoned: Adventuring Through the Inner Solar System, 1969-1989. Gallentine sat down with SpaceFlight Insider to discuss his latest offering, providing unique insights into the research required to produce such a book.
SpaceFlight Insider: First of all Jay, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
Gallentine: “Sure, no problem at all!”
SpaceFlight Insider: What was the impetus behind this book?
Gallentine: “Well, the basic impetus behind this book was that the University of Nebraska Press was expanding the series and was interested in another book about unmanned Solar System exploration. At that point in time, my first book for them [Ambassadors from Earth] had just come back from peer review with many positive comments, so I jumped at the chance to write a new proposal for a publisher who was already interested in what I had to offer.
“In what now seems to be a pattern, the stories I found while writing the proposal were just a scratch on the surface of what was really there.”
SpaceFlight Insider: Who are some of the people who helped you produce Infinity Beckoned? What were their contributions?
Gallentine: “I received an immense amount of help from a space buff named Alexander Dzhuly who lives on the Crimean Peninsula. A lot of Soviet space history takes place out there, and to travel to Crimea would’ve frankly been an inefficient use of time considering the wide scope of the book. And, anyway, there really wasn’t anybody to talk to out there – just a bunch of locations.
“Well, Alexander went to a lot of trouble to educate me about the history of the area. He’d write me about its geography and its attractions. He found old road maps from decades ago, and other such details, right down to what color the bus tickets were. He traveled to many locations, shooting pictures and video, and then he’d send that stuff my way. He’d point out certain things, like, ‘The winter winds here can be very strong’, or ‘Back in the 1970s, the trolley buses were the main form of public transportation.’ Then he’d ask, ‘What else do you want to see?’ So in the book, people read all these details about things in Crimea – the high-curbed streets, what building materials are used, how certain roads angle and whatnot – and they ask, ‘When were you over there?’ And the truth is that it’s not me at all! It was Alexander sending me videos!
“Part of the book became sort of a love letter to Crimea, and that’s because I discovered how much of a fascinating place it is.”
SpaceFlight Insider: What were some of the greatest challenges you faced in its production?
Gallentine: “The biggest challenge on this book was, by far, the language barrier. I’d started learning a little Russian for my last book. But on this one, probably 70 percent of it takes place in the Soviet Union, and I wanted to incorporate more original sources this time around. Also, a number of people I wanted to connect with spoke no English whatsoever.
“So I hit it hard – Rosetta Stone at home, Pimsleur CDs in the car, YouTube clips whenever I could squeeze them in. I joined a Russian social club. I bought a Cyrillic keyboard. I changed my iPhone to Russian. I started going into Russian bakeries, and at this one store I’d always go through the checkout lane of a nice Russian woman so that I could practice with her for a minute or two. The effort started to make a difference. Even so, Russian – like any language – is so complicated with so many subtleties that, realistically, I would have needed a time machine in order to learn enough. So this effort got me only part of the way. Google Translate got me another part of the way, and then bi-lingual friends helped me cross the finish line.
“On a related note, I was saddened to discover that many Soviet space veterans do not want to speak with Americans. There were a few times where I’d managed to connect with some key person – he’s the only one still alive of everyone who was at a meeting, right? – only to get a response back to the effect of, “I don’t work with Americans.”
SpaceFlight Insider: What was the most surprising thing you learned when conducting research?
Gallentine: “Hmm… what was the most surprising thing? Probably that the Soviets were able to accomplish so much with so little. There have been entire missions that completely failed because one little parts supplier decided to cheap out and use aluminum instead of gold. In that country, mission success often came down to a group of people deciding to give it their all, NOT because of pay bonuses or career-climbing, but because they wanted to do great work. But, just because the parachute guys, for example, decided to do great work, that doesn’t mean the radio guys felt the same way, or the heat shield guys, or for that matter the booster rocket guys. I think the Soviets kind of hit their stride in the late 1970s because the U.S. was focused almost exclusively on the Space Shuttle and not doing much in the way of planetary exploration. I think that helped amp up the Soviets, to the point where ALL the little groups of people were all on board with the mission goals. They were working hard, not only in the pursuit of great results but [also] because they were edging ahead of the Americans in planetary exploration.”
SpaceFlight Insider: What’s next for you?
Gallentine: “I’ve got one proposal out for a science-based novel. It’s derived from a screenplay I wrote many years ago and I’d love to do that. I’ve also got a proposal out for another book about Solar System exploration. It seems like on every project I find great stories for which there’s no room in the current project, so I file those away for the next. We’ll see what pops!”
Infinity Beckoned: Adventuring Through the Inner Solar System, 1969-1989 is 496 pages in length and contains some 53 photos from the missions themselves. It retails for $36.95 within the United States, $47.95 in Canada and £25.99 in the United Kingdom. As is the case with all of the Outward Odyssey series – this book is a welcome addition to any space enthusiast’s library.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.