GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

Guest Post by Suzanne Slade

Nearly 50 years ago astronauts landed on the moon for the first time.

I still can’t believe humans achieved this monumental feat!

Growing up, my understanding of the first landing was rather simple: Apollo 11 landed and Neil Armstrong took man’s first step on the moon. As an adult, I was surprised to discover that the earlier Apollo missions (1-10) faced many little-known trials and tragedies. (Did you know the Apollo 1 astronauts died on the launchpad during a test?)

50th Anniversary of First Moon Landing

About 9 years ago I decided to create a special book for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing (July 2019). One that shared Team Apollo’s remarkable ingenuity and bravery, as well as their surprises and setbacks. As a mechanical engineer who used to worked on rockets, I knew writing about spacecraft, flight trajectories, and mission details would entail a lot research. Just like the precise moon missions, there was no room for error. So I dug in. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know!

In September 2018, COUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON (illustrated by NYT best-selling illustrator Thomas Gonzalez) released. It shares the incredible 2979 days leading up to the first moon landing—from President Kennedy’s 1961 announcement that America should land on the moon, to Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

Ironically, this book took me about 2979 days (8.2 years).

Timeline of Writing COUNTDOWN

For those who like the “inside scoop,” here’s a brief timeline of that process.

Day 1: On November 20, 2009 I began research for COUNTDOWN with astronaut autobiographies, reliable books, and NASA websites.

Day 44: Dove into the Apollo mission transcripts (Apollo Flight Journal and Apollo Lunar Surface Journal). Read the astronauts’ own words as they worked and joked together. (Did you know the astronauts called each other “Babe?” Ah, the groovy 60s!)

Day 198: Began studying the mesmerizing photos in the Apollo image gallery.

(COUNTDOWN contains 52 phenomenal Apollo pictures.)

Day 370: Completed a detailed story outline.

Day  685: Visited Chicago Adler Planetarium “Mission Moon” exhibit and examined Apollo module, spacesuits, helmets, a moon rock, and more.

Day 1485: Awesome day! Interviewed astronaut Alan Bean (4th man on the moon). He discussed how he became an astronaut, his harrowing Apollo 12 launch (his rocket was hit by lightening twice!), and his one regret—he wished he’d smuggled a football to the moon and thrown the longest pass in the universe.

Day 1500: Exchanged emails with Apollo 7 astronaut, Walt Cunningham.

Day 1660: Finally began first draft. The first lines came out in short, lyrical lines or free verse. The voice felt right for the immediacy and tension of the story, so I went with it.

Day 1850: Shared manuscript with critique friends. They provided feedback on various versions over the next two years.

Day 2111: Made list of “echo words” that appeared in the story often (“spacecraft,” “small,” “powerful”) and replaced many with other words.

Day 2510: Peachtree Publishers acquired the project. (Happy dance!)

Day 2630: Sent my 51-page Sources Doc with sources for all facts to illustrator Tom Gonzalez, who’d signed onto the project. (Another happy dance!)

Day 2766: Tom Gonzalez emailed about Apollo 8 details. As the project continued, we chatted many times about Schirra’s beard, Schweickart’s spacewalk, gloves, and other tedious details.

Day 2874: PDF of Tom’s first sketches arrived. Over time, I reviewed several rounds of sketches/art for technical accuracy.

Day 2920: Dr. Dave Williams from NASA agreed to vet the story. Over the next year we exchanged dozens of emails. Dave sent an audio recording of the final transmission of the Apollo 1 crew which allowed the book to accurately share their last words.

Days 2934-2964: Worked 60+ hour weeks on final edits and fact checking.

Exhausting, yet exciting to see the book coming together so beautifully.

Day 2979: After 8+ years on the project, I submitted last edits January 15, 2018.

Finally, the 144-page book was going to the printer. Whew!

Countdown Cover

“Stunning… Truly out of this world. A must-buy for most poetry collections.” — STARRED Review, School Library Journal

Free Resources for COUNTDOWN

COUNTDOWN Book Trailer

COUNTDOWN Teacher’s Guide

If you attend the NSTA National April Conference in St. Louis, I’d love to see you at the “Conversations with Authors” session Friday afternoon. Also, please stop by to see me Saturday 10:00-11:00am in the autograph area for a free “Astronaut Selfie” photo*.

(*You in an astronaut suit soaring through space!)

More great “space” resources:

Story Time from Space – Videos of astronauts reading books on the International Space Station. My book, ASTRONAUT ANNIE, is blasting off on the next resupply rocket and will be read by an astronaut on the ISS!

NASA TV – Live transmission of astronauts working on the International Space Station.

NASA Kids’ Club – Exciting games, crafts, and activities for students.

Click “Find Out Who Is on the Space Station” link to see who’s on the Space Station now.

Spot the Station – Input your location to see when the International Space Station will be passing over your town.

NASA Teach – Awesome rockets activities for grades K-12.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books. A mechanical engineer by degree who worked on Delta rockets, she often writes about STEM topics. Along with Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, other recent titles include: Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, Astronaut Annie, The Inventor’s Secret, and Dangerous Jane. Free Teacher’s Guides for these books and more at @AuthorSSlade

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