Robert A. Heinlein

This week, we will be focusing on Robert Heinlein. He was a science fiction writer that sparked the imaginations of many great minds that have created what we consider modern society. He was called the "dean of science fiction writers," and imagined things over 50 years ago  that have now become reality. Without people like this leading the way in science imaginings, we would not have much of the technology today. 

Here are the top ten facts about this literary giant:

A Hugo Award from 1996. 

A Hugo Award from 1996. 

1. He won seven Hugo Awards. These awards are given to the very best science fiction writers of that year. However, they broke the rules for Heinlein and awarded him three of these for work he had created in the years past. 

2. Heinlein attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1925 and was a commissioned officer in 1929. As a Lieutenant, he served five years as a gunnery officer until he was discharged due to contracting tuberculosis in 1934. 

3. After leaving the Navy and trying a variety of other occupations, Heinlein found himself broke in 1939. There was a contest for fiction writing that awarded $50 to the winner. He ended up writing his first story Life Line, but actually sold it to Astounding Science Fiction magazine for $20 more than the contest offered. 

4. By 1941, Heinlein was writing one-fifth of the content for Astounding Science Fiction. So he also wrote under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald. He ended up tying with "MacDonald" (himself) in the readers' polls.

5.  Heinlein created the idea for the waterbed while he was being hospitalized for his tuberculosis. In his novel Stranger In A Strange Land, he called it a Hydraulic bed. 

6. He is considered one of the "Big Three" of science fiction writers. The other two are , Isaac Asimov, known for I Robot, and Arthur C. Clarke, known for 2001: Space Odyssey. 

7. One of his more popular works that you may be more familiar with is Starship Troopers. The films are loosely based on his novel. 

8. He was one of the first science fiction writers to ever to break into the mainstream when his work was featured in The Saturday Evening Post. 

9. It took Heinlein 13 years to finish Stranger In A Strange Land. 

10. The last fun fact about Heinlein is also about his book Stranger In A Strange Land.  Not long after its release, a new religion called The Church of All Worlds. Heinlein never joined or endorsed the church however. 


Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was born in 1934 in Brooklyn, New York. He developed a love for science and space early in his life when his mother sent him to the library at the age of five. He graduated high school at the age of 16 and then went on to get a BA in physics from the University of Chicago. A year later, he obtained his master's and four years after that he had a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics. He brought the wonders of the universe to TV and helped to create a culture that was in love with space and science. He also authored some very popular books like Dragons of Eden, Pale Blue Dot, and Contact.  Here is this week's top ten. 

1. Sagan was the original host and creator of the television show Cosmos. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has since then brought the show back for a whole new generation of stargazers. 

2. Known for the quote, "Billions and billions," Sagan never actually said them. In fact, it was Johnny Carson that said it while doing an impression of him. The actual phrasing Sagan used on his show Cosmos was, "Billions upon billions." 

3. Sagan believed in fringe science. In his 30's he began speaking about things like interstellar space flight, aliens, and strange creatures living in Venus' atmosphere. He even testified to Congress about UFO's, and also wanted to terraform Venus. 

4. His novel Contact, which Sagan wrote 30 years ago this year, was turned into a movie that starred Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.

Photo: Copyright 1968 Warner Bros Pictures

Photo: Copyright 1968 Warner Bros Pictures

5. In 1968, Sagan briefly consulted on the Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space OdysseyThe film was way ahead of its time and is heralded as one of the best science fiction films about exploration of the unknown of all time. 

6. He won a Pulitzer Peace Prize for his book The Dragons of Eden: Speculation on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. In the book, he uses anthropology, evolutionary biology, computer science, and psychology to try to give some idea on how human intelligence may have evolved. 

7. Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan put together the "Earth Guide for Aliens," that was launched into space on the voyager probe. In fact, it was during this project that they fell in love and were engaged to be married after she found a 2500 year old Chinese piece of music called Flowing Streams. 

8. The "Earth Guide for Aliens," is meant to survive billions of years in hopes that it will come across an alien civilization one day. 

9. Sagan thought Star Trek was racially biased. He was quoted in a piece he wrote for the The New York Times, "In a global terrestrial society centuries in the future, the ship's officers are embarassingly Anglo-American. In fact, only two of 12 or 14 interstellar vessels are given non-English names, Kongo and potemkin."

10. He thought we should leave Mars alone. Sagan felt that if there was life on Mars that the planet belonged to the Martians. "If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes. The existence of an independent biology on a nearby planet is a treasure beyond assessing, and the preservation of that life must, I think, supersede any other possible use of Mars."


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Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is quite possibly the most interesting man in the universe and one of my personal heroes. He has a way of taking the most complicated astrophysics and reducing them to something not only understandable but often even funny. If you don't believe me, check out his radio show StarTalk Radio

Here are 10 facts worth noting. 

1. He is a social media master. He is the most followed astronomer with 3.6 million and counting followers on Twitter.

2.  During an interview with Time, he was asked, "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe?" His response was,

"When I look up at the night sky and I know that yes we are a part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us," Tyson said. "When I reflect on that fact, I look up, many people feel small cause they're small and the universe is big, but I feel big because my atoms came from those stars. There's a level of connectivity."

Image credit NASA

Image credit NASA

3. In 2004, he received the NASA Distinguished Public Service Award. This is NASA's highest form of recognition that is awarded to any non-Government individual or to an individual who was not a Government employee during the period in which the service was performed, whose distinguished service, ability, or vision has personally contributed to NASA's advancement of United States' interests. The individual's achievement or contribution must demonstrate a level of excellence that has made a profound or indelible impact to NASA mission success, therefore, the contribution is so extraordinary that other forms of recognition by NASA would be inadequate.

4.  IN 2000, People magazine named him the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive. 

5. Neil was quoted saying, "All I did was drive the getaway car," when he was accused of "killing off" the planet Pluto in 2006.  Check out the NOVA broadcast, The Pluto Files, where Neil travels across the country to discuss the rise and fall of this planet. 

6. In 2014, Tyson hosted the television show, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. The series was a remake of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. In both series, they try to provide the audience with a greater understanding of the universe and the origin of life.  

These limited edition Montblanc pens cost more than $3,000 a piece. (Photo: Montblanc)

These limited edition Montblanc pens cost more than $3,000 a piece. (Photo: Montblanc)

7. Tyson is an avid fountain pen collector. When asked about his love for writing utensils, his response was, "''People think a word is just a word, but depending on how it's written, you can convey emotion,'' he said. ''Because writing is now done on computers, we've lost the edge of conveying emotion. I like to slow down and remove myself to another era, and that gives me context for the present.'' So it isn't really about the pens but the expression. 

8. He served as a presidential adviser for George W. Bush in 2001 and three years later, he was commissioned once again to examine US policy on space exploration. 

9.  Tyson demanded changes be made to the movie, Titanic, when he noticed the sky was wrong in the scene where the ocean liner goes down. He wrote the James Cameron about the famous scene where Rose (Kate Winslet) is floating on driftwood, "There she is looking up. There is only one sky she should have been looking at … and it was the wrong sky! Worse than that, it was not only the wrong sky; the left-half of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right-half of the sky! It was not only wrong, it was lazy! And I'm thinking, this is wrong." When the film was re-released in 2015, the night sky had been fixed.  

'Titanic' director James Cameron was a stickler for historical accuracy in this film -- except when it came to the night sky. © Imaginechina/Corbis

'Titanic' director James Cameron was a stickler for historical accuracy in this film -- except when it came to the night sky.
© Imaginechina/Corbis

10. Tyson was also featured in DC Comics 14, where he helps Superman see his home planet Krypton.  He was more than happy to help keep the story line grounded in scientific fact. Tyson chose a red star named LHS 2520, an actual star, for Krypton to orbit but added the fiction that they saw the planet explode.  He added the fact that what they were witnessing was actually 27 years in the past due to the distance the light had to travel for them to see it. 





Elon Musk

Over the last four weeks, we have focused on heroes from the past. This week, we are going to focus on someone who is making great strides in our current times. Though he may be a bit controversial, he is doing some amazing things. 

Here is his top ten facts. 

1. He is the founder of PayPal, Space X, Solar City, and Tesla Motors. 

2. He became a multimillionaire in his late 20's. 

3. In 2012, his company Space X launched the first commercial flight into space. 

4. He bought his first computer at the age of 10 and taught himself to program. At 12, he created and sold a game called Blaster. 

5. His company, Tesla Motors, is dedicated to creating affordable fully electric cars.  In 2008, they revealed a sports car called the Roadster. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds and travel almost 250 miles before it has to be recharged. 

6. Musk has released a concept for a new form of transportation in 2013 called the "Hyperloop." It would propel people at speeds of more than 700 mph and claims it will be safer than riding in a train or a plane. 

Here is a video of the Hyperloop. 

7.  He is an avid environmentalist. His company, Solar City provides solar panels to people to lease with a free installation. Saving them money and the planet. 

8. At the Paris talks this week, he has said that, "Only a carbon tax, not innovation, conservation, or renewable energy, will accelerate the transition from carbon-producing fossil fuels to sustainable energy. 

9. Inspiration for Tony Stark's character in Iron Man was largely due to Musk. Parts of Iron Man 2 were actually filmed outside of Space X and you can even see him briefly in the film. 

10. He named one of his sons, Xavier, after Professor X of the X-men. 

You can learn more about this inspiring man in the videos and the links provided below. 

Marie Curie

Marie Curie contributed to the modern world significantly throughout her life despite quite a lot of opposition. Here is a top ten list of much of her life's work. 

  1. Marie Curie was born in Russian-controlled Poland in 1867. 

  2.  She discovered the two elements radium and polonium

  3. She won two Nobel Peace Prizes for her research in chemistry and physics. 

  4. Marie graduated top of her class at the age of fifteen. 

  5. When she was younger, she could not attend college in Poland due to the fact that there were no schools that would teach women. She and her sister wanted to attend so badly that Marie worked as a tutor and a baroness to put her sister through college in Paris. 

  6. After several years of saving, Marie moved to Paris and managed to get top honors and received her masters physics degree. 

  7. When her husband died, she took over his teaching position at Sorbonne. She was the first woman to ever teach at this university. 

Sorbonne University, Paris 

Sorbonne University, Paris 

Marie Curie (second from right) instructs nurses in radiology, via Médecins de la Grande Guerre

Marie Curie (second from right) instructs nurses in radiology, via Médecins de la Grande Guerre

8. She and her husband's research led to the development of x-rays in surgery and in WWI, she helped to equip ambulances. She actually drove one herself on the front line. 

9. She was made head of The International Red Cross's radiology department and trained medical orderlies and doctors in new techniques. 

10. The Curies have the 96th element on the Periodic Table named curium named in honor of them. 

There is so much more to this woman's life. Check out the video below for more. 

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was a brilliant engineer and inventor whose findings alternating current electricity are used to this day.

There is just so much that can be said about this man. Therefore, we have decided to change it up for you guys a little. This week, we are going to highlight 10 of his more interesting and unusual facts.  

1. Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in what is now known as Croatia. There was a severe lightning storm raging at the time, and his midwife was said to have thought this was a bad omen.  She believed he was going to be a "child of darkness." However, his mother believed the opposite and replied, "He will be a child of the light."

2. He once tried to fly by jumping off a barn while holding an umbrella. 

3. He developed Smartphone technology in 1901. He believed that he could create a new means of communication that would gather stock quotes and telegram messages. He would then encode the information and assign it new frequencies where it would then be broadcast to a handheld device. He basically envisioned the smart phone and internet decades before modern day scientists.

4. He was a germophobe and used up to 17 towels a day. 

5. He also had an aversion to pearls. His assistant wore a pearl necklace to work one day and was sent home immediately. 

6. Thomas Edison and Tesla worked together for a time until Tesla decided to pursue his own project. They had both created ways to harness energy which put them in direct competition with one another. 


7. The Tesla Coil laid the ground work for wireless telecommunications and are still found in radios today. He had hoped to create an electrical system that was completely wireless instead of the power lines we live with today. Make your own Tesla Coil. 

8.  Having been mesmerized by Niagara Falls as a child, he designed the first hydroelectric plant that harnessed the power of the falls to create clean energy. 

9. Teslas are units used to measure the strength of magnetic fields and are named after the inventor.

10. He died in a hotel in New York of heart failure on January 7, 1943 penniless and alone. 


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Helen Keller

Helen Keller is a woman of great achievement as well as great triumph over adversity. At 18 months old, she became ill with what many people believe was scarlet fever or meningitis. After her fever broke she had lost her senses of sight and hearing. Her parents relentlessly tried to find her help and after speaking with a specialist, they were referred to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. He suggested they take her to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston and that is where Keller met Anne Sullivan. 

Now Keller was not a great student at first. She was prone to tantrums and had a hard time connecting between objects and the finger spelling that Sullivan was attempting to teach her. It was not until Sullivan took her to the water pump did Keller connect. After that first moment, she went from object to object learning their names. By the end of that day she had learned 30 words. 

After that moment, there was no stopping Keller.  She mastered several methods of communication including touch-lip reading, Braille, speech, typing, and finger spelling. She even graduated college with honors from Radcliffe in 1904 at the age of 24. 

Image of Braille

Image of Braille

Keller became a well known champion for people with disabilities. She wrote several novels and gave lectures about her experiences.  She helped found the American Civil Liberties Union and co-founded Helen Keller International. She was also an active member of both the American Federation for the Blind and American Braille Press. She also wrote a series of essays on socialism called, "Out of the Dark." 

Keller was appointed counselor of international relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind in 1946, and between then and 1957, she traveled to 35 countries on five continents. At the age of 75, she went on a  40,000-mile, five-month trek across Asia. All the while, she brought inspiration through her speeches and appearances. 

Her autobiography, "The Story of My Life," was made into a movie called the "Miracle Worker," and was turned into a Broadway play.

Keller died at the ripe old age of 88 in 1968 and during her lifetime, she received many honors in recognition of her accomplishments. This included the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal in 1936, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and election to the Women's Hall of Fame in 1965. She also received honorary doctoral degrees from Temple University and Harvard University and from the universities of Glasgow, Scotland; Berlin, Germany; Delhi, India; and Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Additionally, she was named an Honorary Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Helen Keller is the hero of the week because, let's face it, she accomplished so much even after she was given a major handicap.