Much fanfare is made about successful spacecraft missions. But what about those spacecraft that were never built? They deserve interest, too. We spoke to Samuel Benjamin, who recently wrote a book on such spacecraft that have been “lost in time”. Besides describing how he created the book, he also shares his thoughts more generally about writing.
What are some of the more interesting spaceships “lost in time” that you cover in your book?
I concentrated on twenty-six cancelled manned spacecraft programs. I started off with the Sanger Silbervogel, which was designed in Nazi Germany as a suborbital antipodal bomber. I proceeded chronologically from there, leading up to the recently cancelled XCOR Lynx spaceplane. Some of the craft I discussed are relatively well-known in the space community, such as the Soviet space shuttle Buranand the X-20 Dyna-Soar. Others are more obscure – the Lunar Gemini and the Space Shuttle’s Apollo Escape System, for example. I even discovered a few cancelled spacecraft which I’d never heard of before. I never knew, for instance, that the British Interplanetary Society wanted to build a manned V-2 called “Megaroc” in 1946. Another aircraft I became fascinated with was the Martin “Space Taxi” Lifting Body.
Why did you decide to write the book?
I’ve collected many books about aircraft and spacecraft, and I’d always wanted to own one which focused specifically on those which never actually flew. Unable to find such a book for sale, I eventually decided to create one of my own. The decision was an impulsive one, and the whole creative process moved very quickly; I began my first draft on November 16, 2019 and published on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was up to the task because I’ve never formally studied engineering or history, but I decided to press on anyway.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring authors who would like to write about space?
You can never do too much research! I amassed a huge amount of information while putting together Spaceships Lost in Time. (The bibliography takes up five of the book’s 85 pages – in small print, no less!) After I published, though, I learned that I’d still overlooked some things. There are always more sources of information to be found. I also didn’t consider that some of my sources might have been in error. I’ve found a few mistakes since the book went to print, thanks in part to some awesome folks on social media. I’m not ashamed to admit that I should have done a better job cross-referencing a few of my sources. Thankfully, the errors that I made were relatively minor, and they’ll eventually get corrected in a later edition.
…That being said, don’t let yourself be discouraged by what might seem like a daunting or insurmountable task! Anyone who’s interested in space can write a book about space, even if it’s just a children’s book or a work of fiction. One constructive critic called Spaceships Lost in Time a “really good summary”, and I think that captures it perfectly. I probably could have done a more in-depth “deep dive” and churned out a longer, more detailed book over the course of several years. That being said, a summary is more accessible to casual readers who may not have a background in engineering. Someday in the future, I may challenge myself further and write something more technical. I guarantee I’ll make mistakes along the way, but I’ll learn new things as well, and that’ll make it all worthwhile.
After Spaceships Lost in Time, I decided to broaden my horizons. Almost immediately after publishing, I began work on my first novel, The Sea of Ashes, which involves a fictional Apollo mission to the Tsiolkovski Crater on the lunar far-side. That novel is now complete and is currently being edited, so it will hopefully be available within the next few weeks. I also have an interest in amateur photography, and I’ve published two collections of my work: Looking Skyward and In the Open Air. Looking Skyward focuses on aerospace photography (pictures from air and space museums, air shows, and aboard military aircraft). In the Open Air is mostly landscapes taken across the United States in places like Michigan, Florida, Wyoming, Idaho, Georgia, and Oklahoma. More photography books are definitely on the way. All of my books are independently published via the Amazon KDP program, which is an excellent way for aspiring authors to publish paperbacks and e-books without dealing with big publishing companies.