Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Taste of Zero-G Dance

As you can gather by the previous posts we got some good footage, but not in the exact way we had hoped. We haven't edited anything together yet, but we did promise a taste of the results.

Here's Kathleen dancing in Zero-G - accompanied by the music of our composer James Raymond.

You've been patient, thanks. (Our apologies in advance for the reduced quality of the YouTube conversion - we will optimize in the next week.)

In the mean time - Here you go.

The best laid plans...

I am happy to say, that for my money, we had a successful flight in Zero-G. As I write this I am capturing the footage from the day's shoot. You will all be able to see SOMETHING soon, if only a single clip teaser of what's to come.

As Jeanne mentioned, our plans went out the window with Marry Poppins when we discovered the conditions far less controllable than we had originally planned.

(Below is some random footage from our pre-flight inspection of the airplane.)

Yes, we had an idea of what it would be like, and we knew what we wanted to accomplish up there, but nothing could prepare us for the real thing. And we had planned for that too.

Result: We have footage, good footage. We have experienced microgravity. The information we have gathered will be very important to our film. But most importantly, we have ALL had the time of our lives.

More footage soon. Cheers friends.


Back on earth again.....

"This certifies," says the piece of paper, "that JEANNE ROBINSON has defied gravity, communed with floating objects, levitated, and otherwise successfully completed the zero-gee weightless experience."  

Damn right.

We're back, safe and sound, but exhausted.   Jim will be spending the next few hours looking over the video footage; it'll be a while before we have something to post.  But in the meantime, he did show me the edited version of yesterday's tech rehearsal, and with any luck he'll post it soon.  

As for me, I'm just getting over the disorientation they told us would typically happen.  I may have it worse than my two companions--because I was also more troubled by airsickness than they were.  Which might have been the byproduct of all the things I was trying to do at once in order to help Kathleen, combined with my own excitement.

Things were a bit more chaotic than we'd expected--a lot of our plans went right out the window in the first few weightless arcs.  But we'd anticipated that, and were able to just do what we could and adapt as well as possible to circumstances.

Kathleen said the tendency to drift changed everything.  You never knew whether you were liable to find yourself moving left, right, up or down, or some combination thereof.  In her next breath, she said she looks forward to working with this more, now that she's had some experience of it and knows what to expect.  It's a challenge, but one she found enjoyable. Dancers love physical challenges.

The first few arcs we just enjoyed ourselves, and I had the greatest of times imaginable.  After that, I was just so busy I barely had time to register how I was feeling.  

We both agreed we wished each arc could be about three times as long.  No wonder the APOLLO 13 film crew had to go through 1500 of those arcs, just to get the few minutes of real zero gee seen in the movie.  

The Zero-G Corporation folks MORE than accommodated us--they went miles out of their way to help us and adapt to our special needs.  To start they surprisingly cut back the numbers in our section.  In addition to the 3 of us, there were only 4 others in the Gold Section, who were all very respectful of our needs.  I'm more grateful to the staff than I can say, especially our personal Coach, Chace, and JT, a newcomer to the staff, who held the light for us through each arc.  They were all superb at what they do, from Guest Services Manager Phil Clark to the pilot to the folks who gave us the standard airport TSA "wand" search before boarding.

Upon return we all were taken to a "Re-gravitation Party" complete with a champagne toast.  It gave us all a chance to share our experiences....and also to begin to come out of that disorientation I mentioned earlier.  Each of us got to keep our Zero-Go flight suit, duffel bag, a t-shirt, and a framed 8X10 photo of our whole flight team, with the certificate attesting to our flight mentioned above.  And a dvd which includes both video and stills will be sent to us later.

In mid-flight, by the way, one young man topped all great-memory moments by tossing his partner a diamond ring and asking her to marry him.  Fortunately she said yes, so gravity probably has not returned to him YET.  (She told me later she had been wondering why he was so uncharacteristically nervous before we lifted....)  

It couldn't have been a more breathtaking and memorable experience--everything I imagined and more, and as you know, I've been imagining this for decades.  My deepest thanks go to Dr. Peter Diamandis, without whom I'd still be at home imagining it instead of remembering it. We found everything about Zero-G Corporation's operation to be impeccable.  

I hope some of you readers will get the chance to enjoy the Zero-G experience yourselves.

And now I'm going to rest.  Oddly tiring, floating....


The View From Down Here

Spider here, using Jeanne's laptop to blog. They just left the ground--Jeanne, Kathleen and Jim--bubbling with excitement and happy as pigs in Parliament. I've got a couple of hours to kill now while I wait for them to come back down. As I type this, I can't stop thinking of Anousheh Ansari, who, to the best of my knowledge, was the first woman ever to blog from space--an achievement for which I once nominated her for the annual Heinlein Award for fiction and nonfiction promoting spaceflight. We all owe her a great deal; the Stardance Team salutes her.

The preflight briefing was most impressive: thorough, careful, thoughtful. The video they showed of people experiencing parabolas featured Dr. Peter Diamandis himself, front and center, clearly and unmistakably having the time of his life. No question, he GETS space. I think of him as the closest living equivalent to Robert Heinlein's immortal character Delos D. Harriman, The Man Who Sold The Moon. Dr. Diamandis makes him look like a piker, really, because he's The Man Who Sold Space itself.

By the way, has everyone heard by now the story about where he originally got the money for the famous ten million dollar X Prize? Talk about a Delos D. Harriman: when he first announced the X Prize.......Dr. Diamandis was BLUFFING. Up there on stage with astronauts and politicians, announcing the ten megabuck prize, he didn't have ten million CENTS. "Nobody ever asked me," he told me with a grin when I met him this summer in Kansas City at Robert Heinlein's 100th birthday party. Fortunately, one day he was reading an article in FORBES about the Ansari family and their fabulous achievements, and it mentioned peripherally that one of the Ansaris, Anousheh, had always cherished a deep interest in space and space travel. Peter was on the phone to her five minutes later....and the rest, as they say, is social studies. And seriously, I recommend you hunt down her blogs on the net: they're well worth reading even if you've spent your life imagining this stuff. She observes well, and she writes well.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say that the jumpsuit Zero-G Corporation uses was designed specifically to make my wife even more beautiful than Nature did--a formidable accomplishment. Kathleen too looks stunning in the outfit. Jim doesn't look bad either, for that matter. Me, while nobody was looking I snaffled a pair of gold Zero-G socks, so I have at least some of a "spacesuit" I can wear when I get home.

I'm totally impressed by the whole Zero-G Corp package, start to finish. These folks are really really good at what they do. I have absolute confidence in Jeanne's safety--but more than that, everyone here rates at least 11 on a scale of 10 for friendliness and kindness. They're all the kind of people you instantly wish you knew socially. And they have more than gone out of their way to accommodate us and our special needs. Jeanne and Kathleen and Jim are sharing their section of the plane with 7 or 8 other people, but I have the feeling some good video will come out of it.

Perhaps someone else in this blog has been correcting the impression being given by some newspaper copy-rewriters....difficult for me to tell on this flaky wi-fi interface......but just in case The Three have all been too busy, I'd like to make it clear that, contrary to what one or two newspapers have said, no Imax footage is even being attempted here. For one thing, we don't have that kind of gear to play with yet. And as I say, we're sharing a space with 8 strangers this time, and our basic purposes are to familiarize Jeanne and Kathleen with zero gee, to check out at least some of the choreography Jeanne has been creating in her mind for the last 31 years and see how well it works in practice, to get some footage that will hopeably help us in fundraising efforts for the movie......and to have fun.

By my calculations their plane, G-Force One, should have just about reached their dedicated flying area by now, which means any minute they'll start their evolution. So I'm going to sign off now and try to join my wife telepathically as she and Kathleen slip the surly bonds. (Oh, and one last thing to mention: last night when we got back to our hotel room I put on the TV....and the very first image to appear was, incredibly, Jeanne's sister Kathy, conducting and playing piano for Dionne Warwick! Talk about good omens....)

Join me now as I wander the spaceways with my beloved and her buddies......

(Thank you all so much for the help, support and encouragement that got us this far! All the way back to those of you who voted us the 1977 Best Novella Hugo for "Stardance"...)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Finally On G-Force One

We've made it, we are in VEGAS. And we have just gotten back to the hotel after some pre-production and full-g rehearsal time aboard G-Force one. The folks at Zero-G are a wonderful bunch, and they are doing their level best (no pun intended, sorry Spider) to accommodate our particular needs.
Here are the four of us are on G-Force one - the plane that will take Jeanne, Kathleen and I aloft. More to come this evening, but it's dinnertime for some weary travelers.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Rite Stuff

I thought perhaps I ought to mention that AFTER Jeanne chose and hired Kathleen as her Stardancer, we learned that Kathleen has a kind of personal interest in the project. Her own father was a Canadian helicopter test pilot--a contemporary and cohort of the men who were the first to go into space, men like Yeager, Glenn, Grissom, and Young. Sadly, he was one of the all-too-many unlucky test pilots who "augured in," as they say. The Right Stuff can kill you just as easily as put you on the moon. Anyway, I think Kathleen may feel a personal connection to this project--and if her father is still aware of events on this plane, I'm quite sure he'll be wearing a proud grin on Sunday, as she slips the surly bonds. So will we all.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Stardance podcasted

I just wanted to mention that this week's Spider On The Web podcast () contains a lengthy reading from the last section of the original "Stardance" novella that started all this, and made Jeanne the first woman ever to win a Hugo and a Nebula with her first published work. There's also some amazing music as usual, this time by Graham Nash and Janis Ian.

It will be posted on Friday Dec 28, and can be accessed either through my website, or by going to the iTunes Store and searching for Spider On The Web.

Back to packing for the flight to Vegas!


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No Fear (but hand me that lorazepam)

With four days left until we lift off on our Zero-G journey there are a few thoughts going through my mind. (This is James speaking - co-director and producer of this flick - FYI)

My first thought is this: Very few directors have gotten to experience Zero-G before directing a picture that includes extended Zero-Gravity scenes. (I can only think of Ron Howard...and he actually directed scenes shot in Zero-G, depending on how things work we might too.) But hey, I'm ahead of Kubrick in at least this regard...and we'll see if it makes a difference in the end product.


To a darkened screening room, the light from the projector lamp above silhouettes the DIRECTOR and the PRODUCER. The producer is agitated, gesticulating wildly.

They ain't gonna buy it, Jimmy.

But this is how it really is in Zero-G,
I was there. It's an exact representation.

The public don't care...see. They know
it ain't real floatin' - and they won't buy it
even if you give each of 'em a certificate of
authenticity with their thee-aa-ter ticket.

I don't care if they "won't buy it." It's
the truth, and it will set the new standard
for what an audience expects a space picture
to be. I'm going to change what they'll buy.

The director storms out and leaves the producer shaking his head and lighting a cigar - the producer suddenly remembers that it's not 1957 but in fact 2007, and searches in vain for an ashtray in the non-smoking facility.


My second thought is the BIG QUESTION: "Will we be able to function in Zero-G as we imagine?"

Needless to say, neither Jeanne, Kathleen nor I have even experienced microgravity (in my case the closest experience would be the 12 foot drop into the local pool from the high board) - and though we have imagined what it might be like for as long as we can remember, we won't know until we're there whether we will react and move in the ways we are rehearsing in our heads.

Our fellow passengers will be at a distinct advantage, as they will NOT have our same concerns. They will be there for the experience only, to have fun and frolic. Our party will be both adapting to free-fall and, at the same time, trying to get things done. Even in Spider and Jeanne's Stardance series of novels (and scores of other speculative fiction stories that attempt to realistically depict space) parts of the plot center around the length of time it takes to adapt to this wonderful yet strange environment.

I'm not telling this to "manage your expectations", because I fully intend to focus on creating fantastic and inspiring footage of Jeanne's choreography and Kathleen's performance.

I'm just thinking...this isn't going to be any float in the park.

Brave souls, we are.

Co-Captain's Log Entry -- Stardate minus four

Today was mostly another day of details and prep.....until Spider called from the other end of the house, "Put on Channel Four!"  And there it was: the community channel's traditional Christmas log.   At once my shoulders relaxed.  NOW it's officially Christmas.  For some reason they didn't run the Yule log as usual yesterday, replacing it with some dopey decorated Christmas tree, and we both phoned in to request its return.

It just didn't feel like Christmas until I heard logs crackling.  We didn't have time to light a fire ourselves....because every minute we're busy burning the Stardance Log, preparing for liftoff, working away at those details I mentioned.  

But don't get the idea I'm feeling harassed: I feel blessed.  The crackling Christmas fire reminds me of what an incredible gift I'm receiving this year....and leaves me exhilarated, warm, and grateful.

--Co-Captain Jeanne

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

The three wise men pursued a single star in the East.  They came back with Christianity and Christmas.

We Stardancers are after all the stars.  Who knows what we'll bring back.


Signing On

It's the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature is stirring....because I'm outside in my office, getting ready for bed. We've been working long hours preparing for Jeanne's liftoff, and Christmas has more or less taken care of itself. It's getting exciting.

I'll be there in Vegas--though I'm not actually going up with Jeanne, Kathleen and Jim—and I'll do as much reporting as I can, while holding Jeanne's hand with at least one of expect poor typing skills. Jeanne has waited a long time for this, and I've waited a long time to see it happen for her.....pretty much ever since I made her sit down beside me, and added her name to the byline of a story in progress called "Stardance,"

Happy Christmas to you all, and to all a good night....


Monday, December 24, 2007


In between today's list of details of preparing to enter zero gee--e.g., finding a Vancouver pharmacist who can concoct Zero-G Corp's required motion-sickness brew (if you live in the US, that is done for you), and scheduling a final costume fitting for Kathleen with brilliant dancewear designer Ainslie Cyopik, working out the final details for our Zero G Corp media release with Jim, taking care of last-minute Christmas details, and hugging my husband, I still found time to sit zazen in the sun today.  I try to meditate every day--but a day warm and dry enough to do it outdoors is always a gift at this time of year.  

If you're wondering where choreography was in that list of tasks, rest assured that part has been ongoing for weeks.  Kathleen and I think/hope we're prepared for whatever the experience throws at us, and the choreography has been memorized even down to the details of the possible improvs.  We're ready on that front.

It's Christmas Eve and Spider was just looking for the burning Christmas log channel to have in the background while Maria Rita sings to us as we begin to prepare dinner.  The music is helping us feel more connected to our daughter, Terri Luanna, in Rio.  She and her husband, Heron, are visiting his family in Brazil for the holidays. 

 All the details add up to a warm glow, and I'm going to go enjoy.  I wish the same for you.

--Stardancer Jeanne

Sunday, December 23, 2007


In just 7 days, we'll be flying high in Zero-G Corp's refitted 727 out of Vegas.  Dreams really do come true!  Thank you, Dr. Peter Diamandis.

We'll be sharing the Gold Section of the plane with several other guests, making it challenging for Captain Jim to film Kathleen McDonagh dancing in zero-g.  I've choreographed several sequences for Kathleen.  We're prepared to adapt the movement, and improvise, if need be.  Like my Zen teacher wisely told me the first time we met, "Be ready."  I assure you, we are doing our best.

If we're lucky, each of the 12 weightless parabolas will be 20 to 30 seconds long.  I've watched footage of past rides and noticed that parabolas can be as short as 16 to 18 seconds each on any given ride.  Not a lot of time to dance.  But I've designed the movements to be broken down into shorter phrases.  If we're lucky, we may get enough time and space on our flight to shoot Kathleen performing the entire dance.  It depends on several factors, all out of our control. 

This is the opportunity I've been waiting for since Spider came up from his pit and announced he was going to write a story about a zero gravity dancer.  That was 30 years ago.  As you can imagine, I'm ready for this ride.

Stardancer Jeanne

Thank you for traveling with Stardance Spaceways

Things are starting to ROLL with "Jeanne Robinson's Stardance Experience" the Large Format (you know, IMAX) film we are developing. And as our first foray into honest-to-God microgravity is eminent it has been brought to our attention that certain folks will want to share in the ride (not only the ride into Zero G, but the far more perilous ride into Large Format Film Development and Production.)

Welcome aboard, please strap into your acceleration couches.

Captain Jim