Friday, 31 October 2014

Voyage to the Stars Blogathon

November marks the release of the long-hyped science fiction movie Interstellar, and what better way to celebrate than with an exciting space-themed adventure in outer space with lots of action and high stakes? It will be the greatest opportunity you will ever have to bring together your favorite science fiction characters (and perhaps some not-so-favorite ones, too) for an epic journey beyond the limits of our Solar System and into the stars.

Incidentally, this exciting adventure was inspired by Wendell Ottley's Back to School Blogathon. The basic gameplay dynamic (picking out characters from different movies to fill a set of pre-selected roles) is more or less the same, but this time I'm experimenting with a more competitive atmosphere and adding in some new steps so that in addition to picking your characters you actually get to do something with them.


Interstellar explores a vision of the future in which humanity makes its first grand leap towards the stars. Our galaxy alone contains 100 billion stars across 100 thousand light years, including our very own sun. Many of those stars also have worlds of their own. Perhaps somewhere there is even a planet capable of supporting life. In any case, we have taken our research as far as observations from Earth will permit. It is now time to begin the greatest adventure awaiting humanity with a plunge toward the universe.

Venturing into the blackness of space is an idea that has fascinated the human imagination for hundreds of years. We've only made the first steps, putting a man on the moon and launching probes to other worlds. The greatest adventure for all mankind lies beyond the orbit of our sun. We can scarcely imagine what we may find out there. It may seem like nothing more than science fiction, but with the right people and a solid plan of action you might just be able to accomplish it.

You have been hired by NASA/the Russian space program/Canadian Space Agency/European Space Agency/Multi-million dollar corporation to organize the first manned mission into interstellar space. You are therefore entrusted to assemble the finest men and women you can find for the job. You will want a team of well-trained astronauts with courage to go where no one has gone before. You're going to need a plan of action, a ship, and a crew willing to take on the challenge.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what you can expect to find in any of our neighboring solar systems beyond vague observations and spectral analysis. The one thing we do know is that other countries and other parties are also planning the same thing. They are recruiting astronauts as we speak. You have got to work fast to get your expedition in order and get your crew off before someone beats you to it.

Assembling Your Team

The first thing you need to do is find a team of brave men and women capable of carrying out your expedition. Keep in mind that the ship you will be using is a tight space and you need to conserve supplies: fuel, water, food, oxygen, and other essential items for the trip. This means that you can only assign one person to each of the essential roles.

The catch is that other parties (i.e. anyone else who is participating in this blogathon) are also trying to put together their own missions. You've got to put together the best crew that you can, and if you know who you want you will want to recruit them before somebody else does. In assembling your team, make sure you address the following positions:
  • Engineer
  • Medic
  • Mission Commander
  • Mission Controller*
  • Navigator
  • Pilot
  • Science Officer
* Because they are not actually on the spaceship, you can have more than one mission controller. They also do not necessarily have to be an astronaut in their own right, but due to the nature of their job they should have sufficient technical or mechanical knowledge to comprehend how your spaceship works.

Of course, include a few words on each choice. There is no specific length your description has to meet. Just try your best to explain why you picked that character for that role and what you think they can contribute to the mission. Your chosen astronauts are not required to fit precisely the same roles they did in their respective film, especially since it might be harder to label them in some cases.You could put Commander J.J. Adams from Forbidden Planet as the medic, Peters from Event Horizon as the engineer, and Talby from Dark Star as the mission commander provided you have a valid reason for each.

Since you can only have one of each, you will have to make your choices count. For instance, when selecting your science officer, you will either have to determine what skills (i.e. biology, geology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) are most valuable to your mission or find someone with multiple disciplines.

Plan of Action

Once you have a group of brave men and women for your mission, you are going to need a plan of action. The closest Solar System to ours, Alpha Centuri, is 4.37 light years from our Solar System, meaning that any others will be even further. If you want to go for the speed of light, you will have figure out:

A) How you're going to reach such speeds.
B) How are you going to deal with the time dilation that comes with travelling at the speed of light? This concept is not always easy to comprehend (even I only partially understand it), so for those of you that haven't taken astronomy here is Neil Degrasse Tyson to explain how it all works:

Travelling at the speed of light is not the only way to get into interstellar space. You may wish to explore other venues as well, but keep in mind that most solutions will have a few problems you need to work out.

You have to figure out how to get your crew to another solar system taking this logic into account. While I encourage to try and make your solution seem plausible, don't let this hinder your creativity. This is a chance to let your imagination run wild with possibilities. Your plan can be your own, it does not have to come from a specific movie.

Whatever plan you have for getting out of our Solar System, there is one other problem you will have to consider. You see, the further you get form Earth, the greater the radio delay. Because radio waves are a form of light, it would take about eight minutes to transmit a signal from Earth to the Sun, and it gets longer the further you out you get. We're looking at years, possibly centuries, in between radio transmissions. You want mission control to stay in contact, so you'll have to figure out how to deal with that problem as well.

Update: I have reason to suspect that some potential contributors are uncomfortable with the next stage. If you wish, you are permitted to stop here.

Status Report- Optional

The last step is to write up a report on the mission. You've put together this great crew of yours and this time around you get to work with them. I want to hear how the mission goes, so that's where this final step comes into play. Try and include as much detail as you can, though how you want to write the report is up to you. You could do it as a summary highlighting the key events or you could describe in-depth the day-to-day lives of the crew.

Here are some questions to consider when writing your report. You don't have to answer all of them, but they should help get you thinking about what to say:
  • How did the crew get along? What sort of relationships developed among them?
  • Where did the crew travel? 
  • What did they find when they reached their destination? 
  • Was there anything notable about the system to which they travelled? 
  • Did it have any planets worth visiting? If so, why?
  • Was there any sign of life on any planets in the system?
  • Did the crew make it back safely?


Now that you understand the gameplay, I'm going to have to go over a few specific rules and regulations. This will help keep some order and hopefully give each participant a fair chance:
  • Use characters who are astronauts in some sense of the word (men and women who live and work in space).
  • I don't want to see any crews made up exclusively of white men. There must be racial and/or gender diversity. Variety in sexual orientation is also great, but since it may be hard to find explicitly gay astronauts* I won't make it a requirement. If you do make an all-white, all-male crew, the funding for your expedition will immediately be pulled. Your crew members will then be disbanded and free for other people to recruit.
  • Human characters only. Since we have not yet made contact with any extra-terrestrial civilizations we can't recruit aliens into our space programs. 
  • Please only use characters from our Solar System. Characters from other systems or other galaxies (i.e. the cast of Star Wars) are off-limits.
  • Once a blogger has selected an astronaut for their crew, that same character cannot be chosen for another.
  • Using different versions of the same character is acceptable provided their is sufficient distinction between them. For instance, if one blogger recruits Dr. Sartorius from the 1972 version of Solaris, his counterpart Dr. Gordon in the 2002 film would remain a valid choice for another. However, one blogger could not recruit both for the same crew.
  • You cannot choose two astronauts from the same film. Even if the characters make up a duo you will have to pick one or the other. This is primarily to encourage diversity and to keep people from monopolizing one one film, as they might if they tried to claim say... both Frank Poole and David Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Keep in mind that you don't have to like a specific movie to pick a character in it, nor do your choices have to be from films that I like. If you hated Prometheus but find Elizabeth Shaw to be a good choice for the medic than go for it. You can even draw from Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris if you want and I'll try not to bother you with comments about how slow that movie was (emphasis on the try).
  • Don't worry about exactly what time your movie is supposed to be set in (i.e. near future vs. present day) or social circumstances surrounding the production of certain movies (i.e. gender roles in the 1950's). You could in theory put General Samuel T. Merritt from Conquest of Space with Ryan Stone from Gravity if you can make a good case for each.
  • Include a banner in your post. There are several on this page you can choose from or you can make your own (see below for details). Also include a link back to this post, so that if any of your readers are interested in participating they'll know where to go.

* Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was revealed to be gay after her death in 2012. While there may have been other gay astronauts, she is the only one whose sexuality has become public knowledge.


You will need to include a banner in your post to mark it as part of the blogathon. I've got a really nice one at the top of the page which features lots of great stuff, along with several others you can choose from. Each banner includes a unique combination of characters and scenery, so you'll have plenty of choices.

(I apologize for my extensive use of the spacesuits from Conquest of Space; the opaque visors and androgynous shape really lent themselves to me putting different characters' faces in them).

Making Your Own Banners

While I would like you to include a banner of some sort for your post, it is not required to be any of the ones above. Those of you who have access to Photoshop or another image editing software are permitted to design banners of your own should you choose to do so. If you decide to make your own, I encourage you to go all out and make it unique. 

It only has to conform to the above design patterns insofar as it should include the title of the blogathon and imagery that fits the overarching theme of space exploration (i.e. astronauts, spaceships, planets, stars, etc.). As long as you meet those two requirements, you can design a banner of your own however you want. That said, if you do want to use one of the cool LEGO Space backgrounds I've been working with, you can find some of them here.

If you do select this option, I'll even post your banner on this page so that other people can use it (unless you request otherwise). Here are some other posters designed by contributors:

Thanks to Mariah M. of A Space Blogyssey

Recruited Astronauts

This is a competitive blogathon and one where you'll have to be on your toes. However, I understand that it may be hard to keep track, so I'm including a database here of astronauts that are off-limits. I will not give names as to the specific bloggers who claimed them (you'll have to wait until I post the final links for that), but if you see a character's name on here it means you cannot recruit them. Remember that your pool of options may grow increasingly limited as more people join in, so I would advise you to check back here frequently to see make sure none of your candidates have been added to the list.

Here are the astronauts who have already been taken, sorted alphabetically by name:
  • Eleanor Arroway (Contact, 1997)
  • Bishop (Aliens, 1986)
  • David Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)
  • Cassie (Sunshine, 2007)
  • Tom Creo (The Fountain, 2006)
  • Rosa Dasque (Europa Report, 2013)
  • Commander Doyle (Interstellar, 2014)
  • Dr. Gordon (Solaris, 2002)
  • Akima Kunimoto (Titan A.E., 2000)
  • David Levinson (Independence Day, 1996)
  • Jim Lovell (Apollo 13, 1995)
  • Daniel Luxembourg (Europa Report, 2013)
  • Dr. Josh Keyes (The Core, 2009)
  • James Tiberious Kirk (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979)
  • Matt Kowalski (Gravity, 2013)
  • Imoto (Conquest of Space, 1955)
  • Janek (Prometheus, 2012)
  • Nadia (Pandorum, 2009)
  • Penny Robinson (Lost In Space, 1965)
  • Peters (Event Horizon, 1997)
  • Ryan Stone (Gravity, 2013)
  • Elizabeth Shaw (Prometheus, 2013)
  • Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Star Trek, 2009)
  • Trey (Sunshine, 2007)
  • Victoria (Oblivion, 2013)
  • William Xu (Europa Report, 2013)

If you have any further questions you can post them in the comments, and otherwise I look forward to seeing what people come up with. This was going to be a month-long event, but if you're anything like me I suspect you'll have a growing pile of homework assignments that might get in the way. In order to avoid rushing you, I have to decided to let this go through December as well.

On January 1, I will post a list of all the people who participated and provide an overview of how it all went down. Good luck to everyone, because it is now time to boldly go where no one has gone before on an epic voyage to the stars...


  1. Wow! I can't wait to read what people will do to create this and who they will choose. I am so sad that, right now the only names that popped into my head was Lee Majors-Steve Austin, Barbi Benton (why? no clue) and Jet Li. Honestly Jet Li would be the only survivor

    1. Well, we should certainly get some interesting things with this event. I set this whole thing up so that it could allow people to take their imaginations in all kinds of directions. Regular cast-a-thons are fun, but I liked the idea of setting it up so that we actually get to do something with our cast of characters instead of just making a single list.

  2. Thanks for the long deadline. While this is going to be fun, it looks to be very challenging, as well. I hope people take it head on.

    1. Well, I've found extended deadlines often help with blogathons. It ensures that players don't feel rushed. I was going to just make it a month-long thing but then I remembered how busy I often get in November, which led me to consider extending it into December, but I didn't want anyone to feel rushed if they didn't have time so I decided to allow it to run through all of December as well.

      I certainly intended this to be a bit more challenging than a typical cast-a-thon (more reasons for an extended deadline) so I'm glad that you approve. Seeing what you come up with should be very interesting.

  3. John, this is an impressive blogathon mission. Good work. Don't know how much time I can devote to this, but I will try to contribute something.

    1. I had a feeling a lot of people would be busy this month. That's why I extended the deadline to ensure any potential contributors wouldn't feel rushed. I'm looking forward to seeing what you can come upw ith.

  4. Hi John, I'm submitting my entry for the Voyage to the Stars Blogathon. Thanks for hosting.

  5. I've got my entry up!!!