In this life, there are two things that are very important to me: space and the A Song of Ice and Fire series. And earlier this year, I made a fun discovery that these two subjects share a similar problem. I’ve been waiting the same amount of time for The Winds of Winter to come out as I have been waiting for NASA astronauts to launch from US soil again.
Since this realization, I’ve been truly torn over which event I thought would happen first. But with the news that The Winds of Winter won’t be coming out this year, I’m convinced: US rockets will again carry humans before I learn whether Aegon is really the mummer’s Dragon.
George R.R. Martin released the fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, on July 12th, 2011 (which also happens to be my birthday). A little over a week later, on July 21st, the last flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program came to an end with the landing of Atlantis in Florida. It was the last mission in which US astronauts flew to space from US soil.
Since that final flight, NASA astronauts have been hitching rides to space on Russia’s Soyuz rocket instead. It’s not the best deal — our space agency pays Russia about $80 million per seat to ride on the vehicle. But plans are underway to get NASA astronauts launching from the US again. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has tasked two commercial companies, SpaceX and Boeing, with developing spacecraft that can take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
In the meantime, Martin says he has been working on The Winds of Winter. And to be fair, there is evidence that this is true; he’s read and posted nearly a dozen sample chapters from the book. However, the publication date is a mystery. Martin admitted in January 2016 that he tried to complete the book before the sixth season of the show adaptation aired, but failed to meet the deadline. Then in 2017, he replied to a comment on his blog that he thought the book would be done that year. It wasn’t.
But just like writing The Winds of Winter, developing new human-rated spacecraft has also taken much longer than expected. The first crewed flights of SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles were supposed to take off in 2017. But the Commercial Crew program has suffered numerous setbacks and safety concerns, which have delayed the first missions. As of now, crew are scheduled to fly on the companies’ vehicles for the first time later this year. But a recent audit from the Government Accountability Office casts that timeline in doubt, making it very likely that astronauts won’t fly on SpaceX or Boeing’s spacecraft until 2019 at the earliest.
Because of all this uncertainty, I once believed Martin would finish his book before the Commercial Program got into full swing. Creating new spaceflight capabilities is difficult, and NASA has imposed a particularly strict safety standard on its two commercial partners. Plus, Martin has insisted multiple times that he saw the book’s completion on the horizon. He even has a team of researchers and assistants helping him maintain Westeros continuity.
But now that Martin has admitted that The Winds of Winter won’t be coming out this year, he has left me with no choice, and no doubt: SpaceX and Boeing will launch NASA astronauts first. It’s not just that the book is delayed again. Martin is instead releasing a 640-page history book about the Targaryens — that’s 989 manuscript pages! About a single family in Westeros! Sure, both SpaceX and Boeing have other projects they’re working on, too, but these companies have staffs of thousands of people. Only one person can write the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and if Martin is working on a separate “imaginary history,” it doesn’t get written.
Naturally I made a poll for all you ASOIAF/space lovers out there. Which will come first?— Loren Grush (@lorengrush) February 16, 2018
No, the rockets will take off first, I’m sure — and that’s ultimately a great thing. We’re currently in the middle of the longest gap in US human spaceflight since the advent of NASA. And NASA is running out of Soyuz seats to send its astronauts to the International Space Station. So getting SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles off the ground is important for the future of the space program.
I highly doubt I’ll have The Winds of Winter in my lap when I watch the rockets go up — but at least one kind of Dragon will fly.