Les Johnson is a husband, father, physicist, manager, and author of science fiction / science fact. In his "day job" he serves as the Senior Technical Assistant for the Advanced Concepts Office at the NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Find Les' BLOG here.
Les is seen here holding a sample of solar sail material that may one day be used to send a spacecraft deep into the outer solar system using only the pressure of sunlight for propulsion.
Ben Bova & Les Johnson
Booklist says Rescue Mode is "... a suspenseful and compelling narrative of the first human spaceflight to Mars." And, "…the narrative highlights many positive aspects of human nature, including the wonders of innovation in stressful situations and the fierce will to survive despite impossible odds."
The first human mission to Mars meets with near-disaster when a meteoroid strikes the spacecraft, almost destroying it. The ship is too far from Earth to simply turn around and return home. The eight-person crew must ride their crippled ship to Mars while they desperately struggle to survive.
On Earth, powerful political forces that oppose human spaceflight try to use the accident as proof that sending humans into space is too dangerous to continue. The whole human space flight program hangs in the balance. And if the astronauts can’t nurse their ship to Mars and back, the voyagers will become either the first Martian colonists—or the first humans to perish on another planet.
Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth
Greg Matloff, C Bangs and Les Johnson
A space-based solution to the pressing energy and environmental problems facing humanity.
Sky Alert: When Satellites Fail
The book explores for the first time what our modern world would be like if we were suddenly to lose most, if not all, of our space assets. We are now dependent on space satellites -- what might happen to various aspects of our economy, defense, and daily lives if they were suddenly destroyed?
"Vital underpinnings of the global economy and U.S. national security, satellites are assets all too easily overlooked despite their constant presence overhead; this book seeks to spare us all the experience of appreciating them fully only through their loss." Checkout the Pittsburg Tribune's complete review of Sky Alert here.
Going Interstellar Les Johnson and Jack McDevitt
"Exploration and discovery are alive and well in current science fiction. Jack McDevitt, a Nebula winner who needs no introduction in these pages, joins with Les Johnson, Deputy Manager of NASA’s Advanced Concepts Office, to bring us eight short stories and four nonfiction articles, all based on the best current physics ideas for travel between the stars. Analog readers will feel particularly comfortable in this volume.
First, the nonfiction. Dr. Gregory Matloff, a retired astronomy professor with a list of credentials that itself stretches halfway to the Moon, discusses antimatter starships in one article and fusion drives in another. Dr. Richard Obousy describes a proposal called Project Icarus, a real-world design study for an interstellar spaceship. Finally, Les Johnson gives the lowdown on solar and beamed energy sails.
The roster of SF writers is equally impressive, including such familiar names as Michael Bishop, Ben Bova, Sarah A. Hoyt, Jack McDevitt, and Mike Resnick, as well as relative newcomers Dr. Charles E. Gannon, Les Johnson himself, and Louise Marley.
All of the stories are enjoyable." ANALOG MAGAZINE (Jan 2013)
"Thinking about distant futures has often been categorized as ‘science fiction’ or the now more-popular ‘speculative fiction.’ Either way, this body of literature has faced twin perils. On the one hand, stories focusing on the technologies of human space colonization feel detached and inhuman because, of course, those technologies are only tools for the larger project of dispersing humanity from Earth. On the other hand, stories focusing on the human domain of space colonization can feel like a cop-out, ignoring the massive technical issues to replay ancient dramas of human relationships. Combining both elements to make a story that feels technically realistic but does not ‘lose’ humanity is a tall order.
Many of the stories in Going Interstellar fill that order. And as a bonus, the volume includes a number of exciting and clarifying popular-science essays on the technologies needed for dispersing humanity far out from Earth." SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN BLOG (June 15, 2012)
Some humans may be content staying in one place, but many of us are curious about what’s beyond the next village, the next ocean, the next horizon. Are there others like us out there? How will we reach them? Others are concerned with the survival of the species. It may be that we have to get out of Dodge before the lights go out on Earth. How can we accomplish this?
Wonderful questions. Now get ready for some answers.
Here is the science behind interstellar propulsion: reports from top tier scientists and engineers on starflight propulsion techniques that use only means and methods that we currently know are scientifically possible. Here are in-depth essays on antimatter containment, solar sails, and fusion propulsion.
And the human consequences? Here is speculation by a magnificent array of award-winning SF writers on what an interstellar voyage might look like, might feel like—might be like. It’s an all-star cast abounding with Hugo and Nebula award winners: Ben Bova, Mike Resnick, Jack McDevitt, Michael Bishop, Sarah Hoyt and more.
Released June 2012 from Baen Books. You may purchase an autographed copy from Leslie's Good Books in Amazon Marketplace. The book is also available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or a book seller near you.
Back to the Moon Travis Taylor and Les Johnson
"For everyone who felt a shiver at Lovell's words on that long-ago Christmas, or who held their breath until Apollo 13 emerged from the far side; for everyone whose heart skipped a beat at Armstrong's first step and who still believes that July 20, 1969 was the greatest date in history -- Back to the Moon is a reminder of a lost era." ANALOG (May 2011)
Decades after the last footprints were left on the Moon, the U.S. was preparing to return to the Lunar surface in a new class of rockets, when the mission suddenly became much more urgent. It would have to be a rescue mission.
Unbeknownst to the rest of the world China had sent its own Lunar expedition. A manned expedition. Until a distress call was received, no human outside of China even knew that the mission was manned—or that their ship had crash-landed and couldn’t take off again.
Time was running out, and if the four Chinese astronauts were to be rescued, the American lunar mission would have to launch immediately, with a only a skeleton crew. Once the heroic U.S. astronauts were underway the army of engineers and scientists back home had the daunting task of deciding what equipment could be left on the Moon to permit the lunar landar to lift safely from the Moon with the two U.S. astronauts and the four stranded Chinese taikonauts! Could the U.S. mount such a mission succesfully—and would thousands of years of instilled honor “allow” the Chinese astronauts to accept a rescue?
Published December 2010 by Baen Books. You may purchase an autographed copy from Leslie's Good Books in Amazon Marketplace. The book is also available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or a book seller near you.
Paradise Regained: The Regreening of Earth Les Johnson, Gregory Matloff and C Bangs
The environmental challenges facing humanity today are too serious to be resolved only by conservation and current technologies. Rather than losing heart, we need to recognize that the answer to these problems lies in the development of space. Not only will extraterrestrial resources avert a crisis, but they will also provide the basis for continued technological and societal progress. The resources of the Solar System will help us meet our projected industrial needs. Space-based power generation systems will work synergistically with Earth-based conservation. Paradise Regained shows how environmentalists and space advocates can work together to achieve a common goal -- the regreening of planet Earth.
Published in December 2009 by Praxis & Springer/Copernicus. You may purchase an autographed copy from Leslie's Good Books in Amazon Marketplace. The book is also available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or a book seller near you.
WHAT THE REVIEWERS ARE SAYING:
"Paradise Regained ... is a scientifically informed voice of reason that addresses the environmental state of our world and how space technologies can improve it. It also might provide the intellectual stimulus needed for space and environmental activists to work together as one cultural movement to create a better future." (Ad Astra, The Magazine of the National Space Society, Spring 2010.)
“The daily news is full of global climate change stories. … This book is a welcome addition to the discussion - one that focuses on the prospect that space can be a restorative ingredient to Earth’s future. … There’s a very helpful chapter-by-chapter summary at the start of this book - making this book all the more accessible and enjoyable. The reader will find healthy sections on the use of raw materials found in space … . put together a potent, thought-provoking book.” (Leonard David, The Space Coalition, January, 2010)
Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel Giovanni Vulpetti, Les Johnson, and Gregory Matloff
Solar sail propulsion will make space exploration more affordable and offer access to destinations within (and beyond) the solar system that are currently beyond our reach. This book describes solar sails, how they work and what they will be used for in the exploration of space in an easily readable manner which does not necessitate any prior knowledge of physics or solar sailing. It discusses current plans for solar sails and also describes how advanced technology, such as nanotechnology, might enhance solar-sail performance. Much has been accomplished recently to make solar sail technology very close to becoming an engineering reality and it will soon be used by the world’s space agencies in the exploration of the solar system and beyond.
WHAT THE REVIEWERS ARE SAYING:
"Conceptually simple and romantic, solar sailing is an enchanting technological solution for space exploration. … Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel is the latest book to explore this topic … . Aimed at undergraduates, the book convincingly captures the history of ideas about solar sails, their current state of play and their future promise. … Suitable for aerospace students and keen enthusiasts alike, this book may one day inspire some of them to build a solar-sail-powered vessel." (Stuart Clark, Nature, Vol. 452, April, 2008)
"You would … find a more knowledgable team to write a book titled Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel (Copernicus, 2008), and it’s a pleasure to add that despite the sub-title, questions of interstellar significance receive solid treatment. … a title that needs to be on your shelf if you’re seriously interested in the next step as we move beyond rocketry." (Centauri Dreams, September, 2008)
"Solar sails have for decades promised to revolutionize in-space transportation. … In Solar Sails, Giovanni Vulpetti, Les Johnson, and Gregory L. Matloff try to serve both nontechnical and technical audiences by dividing the book into four parts. … The result is a book that provides does provide a comprehensive yet readable overview of how solar sails work and how they could be used in the near future." (Jeff Foust, The Space Review, October, 2008)
"This is a top-notch treatment of a propulsion concept that’s clearly innovative and a ‘must have’ capability to forge outward to the stars. Easy to read … the general reader will find that the authors care about you understanding the implications of harnessing solar sails. … Peppered with illustrative drawings and photos, as well as a glossary of terms, this book is a valuable contribution to the field and helps keep the sunlight shining on an important enabling technology for spacefaring societies." (Coalition for Space Exploration, October, 2008)
"The book is composed of two main sections, one of which takes a look at solar sailing development from a non-technical viewpoint, while the latter section is a technical look at solar sailing mechanics and engineering. … I would recommend this book … . this book has a lot to offer to both non-technical and technical readers." (Visual Astronomy, December, 2008)
"The book is divided into four major parts; the first three are directed towards non-engineers with formulas kept to a minimum, the language here is for entry-level space readers. The last part is slightly more advanced, aimed towards students of engineering and people with a more technical mind. … The book targets a broad audience who would be interested in an introduction to a new technology … . It’s a good choice for someone looking at a new technology and offers a modest price tag." (The Space Fellowship, December, 2008)
Living Off the Land in Space: Green Roads to the Cosmos by Gregory Matloff, Les Johnson, and C Bangs
Drawing parallels with the terrestrial pioneers who had to "live off the land" as they made their way across the face of the Earth, this book describes how space travelers will use the resources they encounter to sustain missions to the furthest reaches of the solar system and beyond. Many of the technologies and approaches discussed have little or no impact on the environment of space -- providing truly "green" roads to the cosmos!
Published by Praxis & Springer/Copernicus. You may purchase copies autographed by the authors at my favorite online book seller, The Missing Volume. Also available now from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Target's online bookstore. Autographed copies are available from Leslie's Good Books.
Did you know that Les was the technical consultant for the movie Lost in Space?
Les and Greg Matloff first published together in the November 2006 issue of Analog Magazine -- "The Interstellar Conspiracy."
Did you catch Les on NatGeo's How to Survive the End of the World?
Les spoke at the 2013 TEDx Huntsville. His talk is available here.
Enjoyed Europa Report? Les was one of the technical consultants.
Les' talk at the Tamke-Allen Observatory in January 2014, "The Stars My Destination" is now available on YouTube.
Les's talk at the 2013 Icarus Interstellar Congress can be found here (beginning at 1:19).
Les is featured in the January 2013 issue of National Geographic Magazine as an "Interstellar Explorer."
Catch Les in the NatGeo Special "Evacuate Earth."
Check out Les's books on Goodreads.
October 4 - 6: Archon-37 Science Fiction Convention in St. Louis, MO
September 12: Les was the first Fall 2013 Cultural Awareness Program (CAP) speaker at Emmanuel College.
August 15 - 18: Icaurus Interstellar Congress, Dallas, TX
June 28 - 30: LibertyCon Science Fiction Convention in Chattanooga, TN
June 20: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
June 16: Huntsville / Madison County Public Library
May 24 - 26: The Alabama Phoenix Festival in Birmingham, AL
Catch Les on The Science Channel series Deep Space Marvels (2012)
Les was an invited lecturer at the International Space University during the last week of June, where he talked about solar sails, space tethers, and going to the stars.
Going Interstellar, a science and science fiction anthology edited by Les Johnson and Jack McDevitt was released by Baen in June 2012.
The paperback edition of Back to the Moon is now available.
Sky Alert! When Satellites Fail will be Les's next popular science book -- to be published in late 2012.
Michio Kaku wrote about Les's work on solar sails in his new book, Physics of the Future. You can read an excerpt here.
Representing NASA, Les attended the 2nd International Symposium on Solar Sailing last July in New York City. The Symposium was covered by Discover Magazine, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Centauri Dreams.
“Discovering Alabama: Alabama in Space,” a nature television series produced for Alabama Public Television, (in which Les is one of several scientists featured) won an EMMY Award! The program may be downloaded for free from iTunes.
Constellation in Huntsville, AL
Contraflow in New Orleans
DragonCon in Atlanta
LibertyCon in Chattanooga
DeepSouthCon in Huntsville, AL
MidSouthCon in Memphis, TN
Lexington, KY Barnes & Noble on Pavilion Way
Atlanta Astronomy Club, Atlanta, GA (February 17 at 8:00)
Barnes & Noble GA Tech, Atlanta, GA (February 16 from 5:00 - 7:00 pm)
FenCon - September 23 - 25, 2011
Constellation - September 16 - 18, 2011
DragonCon - September 2 - 5, 2011
April 16, 2011: The Alabama Book Festival
September 17 - 19: Constellation in Huntsville, AL
September 2 - 6: DragonCon in Atlanta, GA
July 9 - 11: LibertyCon Science Fiction Convention in Chattanooga, TN
May 27 - 31: The International Space Development Conference
March 12 - 14: MidSouthCon in Memphis, TN was a great convention -- looking forward to next year already!
March 4: Les was the guest speaker at the Huntsville, Alabama National Space Society Meeting
January 31, 2010: Les was a guest on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston.
Les appears on the "How to Build A Starship" episode of Michio Kaku's new Discovery Science Channel Series "Physics of the Impossible. The episode premiered on January 5, 2010.
Les was interviewed on Dr. Ginger Campbell's podcast "Books and Ideas" about his newest book, Paradise Regained.
Novelist Stephanie Osborn interviewed Les for PopSyndicate.
Les was the guest speaker at a meeting of the North Alabama Science Fiction Association (NASFA) on Saturday, October 17.
Constellation, Huntsville's own science fiction convention was a great time. I highly recommend it.
Les just returned from a great weekend at DragonCon.
Les was a guest at the LibertyCon science fiction convention during the weekend of July 10-12, 2009.
Les appeared in three episodes of the new Science Channel series Exodus Earth.
Astronomy and Space Magazine (June 2009) published a review of Solar Sails: "In their latest book, Vulpetti, Johnson, and Matloff argue the case for space sailing as a viable technology for travel within the solar system... All in all, Solar Sails is a handsome book and a good introduction to a technology whose time I feel is imminent - may the force be with it!"
2/5/2008: Solar Sails received Honorable Mention (First Runner Up) in the Cosmology and Astronomy category of the 2008 PROSE Awards, given out by the Association of American Publishers!
Les was interviewed on The Space Show March 31, 2009.
Les was a guest at the Alabama Bound Book Festival on March 28, 2009 at the Birmingham, Alabama Public Library.
Les was a guest at MidSouthCon 2009 from March 20 - 22, 2009.
The Huntsville Alabama L-5 Society invited Les to speak at their December 4 meeting held at the Huntsville Public Library.
Les and his colleague, Dan Thomas, just had a technical paper titled, "A Comparison of Lunar Lander Options for Robotic Exploration of the Moon" accepted for publication in The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. It will be published in a few months.
Les recently signed his books at a regional meeting of the National Space Society held in Huntsville.
The 2008 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's (JDRF) Walk for a Cure was held on Sunday, October 19. THANKS to all who donated and especially to the folks at Constellation who allowed me to place a donation box in the art show.
Les was a guest at Constellation, Huntsville's annual science fiction convention held October 17 - 19, 2008.
Les was a guest at DragonCon 2008 from August 29 - September 1, 2008. What a great convention! Special thanks to Rain, the Space Track Chairperson. She did a great job.
A great weekend was had by all who attended LibertyCon 2008 in Chattanooga, TN.
Les was a guest at MidSouthCon in Memphis from March 28 -30.
Les was a guest of the Omegacon Science Fiction Convention in Birmingham, Alabama from March 14 - 16.
Les held a signing event on October 26 in Pablo's on Market bookstore (Athens, Alabama) during the annual Spirit of Athens Storytelling Festival,
Les attended the Constellation Science Fiction Convention in Huntsville during the weekend of October 12 - 14, 2007.
Les conducted a book signing at the Huntsville, Alabama Barnes & Noble on August 11, 2007.
The Oak Ridge, TN Tamke-Allen Observatory invited Les to speak on August 4, 2007 before a night of sky watching.
Les spoke at the Huntsville, Alabama chapter of the National Space Society on August 2, 2007.
On July 24 & 25, 2007 Les and co-authors Gregory Matloff and C Bangs were the guests of the Memphis, TN National Space Society. While in Memphis, they lectured at the Optimist Club and The Pink Palace Museum, received a private tour of the FedEx Institute, and conducted a signing at Barnes & Noble