Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’re interviewing Alexandra Siy, author of this month’s featured deep space book, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space. The book is a “soundtrack” that takes readers on an epic journey into interstellar space thanks to NASA’s Voyager program and its twin robotic space probes.
The author’s enthusiasm for Voyager’s accomplishments shines through her words: “Planets dance around the Sun. Moons and rings dance around the planets. And the Voyagers danced around them all, taking pictures, collecting data, and transforming how humans see and understand the solar system.” Voyager’s Greatest Hits received a starred review from School Library Journal, calling it “An engaging and captivating STEM title.” The book was also chosen for NSTA’s Best STEM Books 2018.
Alexandra Siy is a science writer and photographer for kids who thinks that science is fun, artsy, and cool. She’s written many books that combine science and art through imagery that reveals both microscopic and far away worlds. She also visits schools and libraries nationwide, sharing her passion for science, books, and photography.
Mary Kay Carson: What inspired you to write Voyager’s Greatest Hits?
Alexandra Siy: Back in 2005, I was following the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity for my book CARS ON MARS. One day, while trolling the NASA website I read about a record album flying through space. What?!
Launched back in 1977 on the Voyager Planetary Mission, the “Golden Record” instantly captured my imagination. What was on it? How do you play it? Why was it made? Did scientists really think there are aliens out there who might someday find it? Where is it right now? One question lead to another—and suddenly I was researching the heliosphere, plasma waves, gravity assist, the interstellar medium, and termination shock. At that point, the Voyagers were far beyond the outer planets, but they were still on a mission. Now called the Voyager Interstellar Mission, the twin spacecraft were speeding toward interstellar space, and I wanted to hop onboard. But the only way to go was to write a book.
Voyager’s Greatest Hits was inspired by the Golden Record. It was fun weaving the titles of pop musical recordings from the past forty years into the narrative’s chapter titles and subtitles. A book is the voice of the person writing it, and Voyager’s Greatest Hits became my personal journey to the cosmos. “I’ve been flying with the Voyagers ever since,” I wrote in my author’s note. “And now, so are you.”
MKC: Could you share a favorite research moment or finding?
Alexandra: Although I interviewed several scientists while researching Voyager’s Greatest Hits, my favorite moment was not my interview. It occurred on December 3, 2013 (which was my birthday). I discovered the interview online over a year later. Voyager Project Scientist, Ed Stone, who I’d come to know only through research, was on the Colbert Report talking about “humankind’s greatest—and certainly most extensive—journey of exploration.” When Stephen Colbert floated across the stage in a spacesuit and presented Ed with NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, Ed was genuinely surprised. His passion for science, exploration, and discovery was as engaging as his great big smile. Check it out the Colbert interview and the fun award presentation.
MKC: Why do you write STEM books?
Alexandra: I have a lot of questions. I want to know things. I majored in biology in college because I literally wanted to know what life is—the reason for it, and how and why it exists. This question of life, which is the ultimate existential question, bothered me a lot. When I realized I would not be finding the answer in upper level bio courses, I signed up for classes in Shakespeare and Writing Poetry. I minored in writing and eventually discovered that nonfiction writing is “thinking on the page,” as Philip Lopate described it in his 2013 title, To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. When I write, I come to understand.
Writing STEM books is a holistic approach to understanding. I like to say I write STEAM books because I incorporate art into all of my titles. Primary source scientific imagery is also artistic expression, and I love fusing science and art in books for young readers.
MKC: Any book recommendations for fans of Voyager’s Greatest Hits?
Alexandra: A Wrinkle in Time, the novel by Madeleine L’Engle. In her 1963 Newberry Medal acceptance speech L’Engle concluded: “A book too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” Mary Kay Carson’s outstanding Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt. And for the 2019, 50th Anniversary of the first lunar landing check out Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.
Win a FREE copy of Voyager’s Greatest Hits!
Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.
Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow space geek and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson