Friday, 19 November 2010

Dan Dare inspired a lifetime of science for Professor Pillinger

Dan Dare fans inspired by his adventures might well be interested in Professor Colin Pillinger’s new book, My Life on Mars.

Colin gained his PhD from the University of Swansea, Wales, in the late 1960s , and became one of the lucky few Britons to work on the lunar samples brought back by the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission. Later, at Cambridge and the Open University, he developed techniques for classifying meteorites according to their chemical composition, and has worked on a NASA mission to collect a sample of the ‘solar wind’, and ESA missions to investigate how meteorites erode in space.

He’s perhaps best known for his work on the European Mars Express project and the the Mars Lander, Beagle 2 and his experiences surrounding its development are a major part of the new book.

Born in 1943 and growing up in the 1950s, it should come as no surprize to learn that Professor Pillinger was inspired by reading Dan Dare in the Eagle and the BBC’s  Journey into Space radio adventure serial as a child.

Journey in to Space -
like Dan Dare, an
“Like many kids, I used to read Dan Dare comics and listen to Journey into Space on the radio,” he revealed in an interview for the European Space Agency web site. “And I would draw rockets, which, of course, bore no resemblance to how they are now. It was a big surprise when I first saw that spacecraft didn’t have a point at the top and fins at the bottom!

“But I was not an anorak,” he insisted in another interview for the Daily Telegraph. “When I went to class, it was to sit in the back row. School was a place to meet other kids and play football. I didn’t want to be the next Einstein.”

My Life on Mars is a dual autobiography,” Professor Pillinger says of the book. “Mine interwoven with the untold story (including the bits some people didn’t want anybody to know) of Beagle 2. For seven years the British mission to look for life on the Red Planet captivated the public all over the World.”

Stories about about the mission appeared in the media all over the World, particularly in the United States as the following extract from the book’s dust jacket reveals:
On 12 March 2010 Astronauts Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, Gene Cernan, the last man to do so and Jim Lovell, who piloted the stricken Apollo 13 home, broke a journey back to the United States to attend an event at the Royal Society designed to encourage an audience of young people to follow careers in science and technology. Among the Fellows of the Society present was Colin Pillinger.
As Colin got up to leave at the end of the afternoon, he was grabbed by a US Embassy official who said “The Astronauts would like to meet you.” Of course Colin wanted to meet them but he wasn’t prepared for the greeting he received from Neil Armstrong, perhaps the best known man on Earth, “You analysed some of my samples!” Being recognised by such a trio must make Colin, a man with a passion for telling the public about science, one of the best known scientists in Britain.
Colin owed Armstrong et al. a great deal. He had come from what can only be described as an under-privileged background, via the Apollo programme to lead the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission to Mars. In 1996 he gathered around him an unlikely team consisting of the Rock Band, Blur, the country’s most controversial artist Damien Hirst, combined them with top University scientists and engineers from the satellite Industry, designed a spacecraft on the back of a beer mat, built it in a garage and set off 250 million miles to answer one of life’s ultimate questions: “Are we alone in the Universe?” Colin’s wife, Judith, named the spacecraft Beagle 2; it had the British Nation on the edge of its seat at Christmas 2003.
This then is Colin Pillinger’s story and the full, previously undisclosed, account of the Beagle 2 mission.
Published by the British Interplanetary Society, this 369 page book features over 100 illustartions and a foreword by Sir Patrick Moore. It  costs £16.50 (plus £2.50 P&P in UK, overseas please enquire) when purchased from British Interplanetary Society’s website at and is also available from all good bookshops (ISBN 978-0-9506597-3-2).

• For signed and dedicated copies contact the author at

Inside Out – 2004 BBC interview with Professor Pillinger

The Guardian, 16th January 2009: Britain needs a real-life Dan Dare to inspire the young

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

NASA developing Orion launch safety systems

An artist's rendition of Ares I
being stacked in the vehicle assembly
building at NASA's Kennedy Space
Center in Florida. Image: NASA
Aerospace engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center are conducting a series of wind tunnel tests to develop technology for future human space exploration – the kind of technology I like to keep my eye on as background information when writing Ex Astris (when I get the chance to write Ex Astris!)

Orion, for those of you who don’t already know, is NASA’s next generation human spacecraft, which the agency and its contractor teams are in the process of designing, building and testing.

Using a six per cent scale Orion model, featuring complex moving parts, the latest stage in development sees engineers simulating various launch abort conditions the spacecraft might encounter during ascent to characterize the effects of launch abort and control motor plumes on the aerodynamics of the spacecraft.

One of the critical aspects of human space flight is the ability to protect astronauts in case of a failure on the launch pad and during the climb to orbit. (Launching – and landing – a spacecraft in Earth atmosphere is always no easy task and there has been more than one disaster, and not just for the US space program, either).  In case of such an emergency, NASA engineers have designed a Launch Abort System, or LAS, to safely deliver astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft away from the failure and return them to Earth.

There are extremely complex interactions between the launch abort system’s control effectors, or motors, and the aerodynamic environment that the spacecraft encounters. Wind tunnel testing, using scaled models, is one of the means for NASA engineers to better understand and explain this dynamic interaction. (NASA also successfully tested a Launch Pad abort system back in May)

“Simulating launch aborts will help us explain the complex interaction between the plumes from the smaller attitude control motor and the larger abort motor,” said Jim Ross, an aerospace engineer who is leading the team at Ames supporting NASA’s efforts to develop Orion and its systems.

“This is the most intricate wind tunnel model the Orion team has developed and the data we obtain will go a long way toward defining the aerodynamics of the Orion spacecraft during ascent,” he added.

The abort system is a tower atop a cover that fits over Orion during launch and ascent through Earth’s atmosphere. It features a powerful, four-nozzle solid rocket, called the abort motor, which, when engaged, will quickly shepherd Orion and its precious human cargo away from the launch vehicle in an emergency.

It’s also equipped with a smaller, eight-nozzle motor at the top of the tower, called the attitude control motor, which is designed to steer and stabilize Orion towards safety. In the wind tunnel, plumes from both of these motors are simulated using high-pressure air.

“Our team at Ames Research Center conducts simulations that help us develop assured launch abort technology and resolve complex aerodynamic interactions,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Project Office manager at NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston. “The team¹s work greatly contributes to ensuring the safety of the astronaut crew throughout the entire mission. The launch abort system wind tunnel tests were a major factor in the development of the LAS and the recent successful Pad Abort 1 flight test.”

The wind tunnel tests at NASA Ames are part of a larger effort to facilitate the development of Orion, NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Engineers across the agency, including NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston and NASA’s Langley
Research Center, Hampton in Virginia., are involved in successfully completing these tests in wind tunnels across the US.

• For more information about Orion, visit:

Friday, 30 April 2010

UK Team develop award-winning ion engine

QinetiQ Ion Engine
QinetiQ’s ion propulsion team has been named “team of the year” for its outstanding contribution to space exploration at the recent Sir Arthur C. Clarke Awards.
The award comes at the end of a landmark year for the QinetiQ ion propulsion team which saw the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) GOCE Spacecraft become the first to launch with QinetiQ’s T5 ion thrusters on board and QinetiQ begin work supplying advanced T6 thrusters for ESA’s future BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

“We knew about the nomination but winning the award came as a complete surprise to all of us,” commented the team’s Chief engineer, Neil Wallace, as he accepted the award. “It was a great team effort and reflects the hard work of many individuals for almost 20 years.”
He added: “2009 was a busy and exciting year for the Ion Engine Team and we’re thrilled to have our work on the GOCE and BepiColombo spacecraft recognised with this award. Electric propulsion will make spacecraft and satellites lighter, allowing more weight for the real payload, and we are delighted to be at the leading edge of this technology.”

The Sir Arthur Clarke Awards are presented annually at the climax of the UK Space Conference to honour those who have done the most to further the field of space exploration in the past year.

Previous winners have included the ESA ATV team, responsible for creating the Spacecraft which keeps supplies flowing to the International Space Station and the Huygens team which landed the first spacecraft on Saturn’s moon, Titan. QinetiQ beat off fierce competition from fellow nominees SSTL and ESA to win this year’s honour.

Chair of the judging panel, Dr. Lesley Wright said that “This was an outstanding achievement by the QinetiQ team which the judges view as a significant contribution to space exploration.”

The T5 and T6 ion thrusters developed by QinetiQ are ten times more efficient than the chemical engines traditionally used to propel spacecraft making some deep space missions possible for the first time. For ESA’s Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury, the engines make the mission possible by counteracting the sun’s gravitational pull.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

John Freeman at Sci-Fi-London

A quick reminder of two panels I’ll be appearing on at Sci-Fi-London on Saturday (1st May 2010).

60 Years of Dan Dare
A panel on 60 years of the lantern jawed space pilot. Alex Fitch will be talking to: Garry Leach, who drew Dan’s return to print in 2000AD, ten years after the end of the original Eagle, in the late 1970s and more recently covers for Virgin comics’ revival of the ‘Pilot of the future’ in 2008.

Rian Hughes, who drew the Eagle-inspired comic The Science Service in 1989 and then the Mekon’s final revenge in the Thatcherite satire Dare in the adult comics Revolver and Crisis a year later; Gary Erskine, who drew Dan Dare’s most recent official comic book adventures in the Virgin Comics periodical of the same name; Titan Books Dan Dare collections editor John Freeman, who previously wrote The Science Service and now writes the strip Ex Astris in the Dan Dare magazine Spaceship Away; and Rod Barzilay, the editor and one of the writers of Spaceship Away.

• 60 Years of Dan Dare runs from 10.30am on Saturday 1st May

30 years of Marvel UK

Alex Fitch hosts a panel on the British arm of the American Superhero publisher, featuring: Dez Skinn, a pioneering Marvel UK editor who launched titles such as Hulk Comic and Doctor Who Magazine , which featured early licensed work by Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons; Dan Abnett, who gave Captain Britain a new, darker spin in the 1990s by adding him to an Arthurian team of heroes with Gary Erskine, co-creator of the Knights of Pendragon; John Freeman, who edited many of Marvel UK’s early 1990s titles such as Death’s Head II, Warheads, Killpower and Motormouth, contributing strips to several issues as well, and also edited Doctor Who Magazine; and Simon Furman, primary writer for Marvel’s Transformers, and a dozen issues of Doctor Who Magazine. He created some of Marvel UK’s most memorable SF titles including Dragon Claws and Death’s Head.

• 30 years of Marvel UK runs from 11.45 am, Saturday 1st May

All the events – there are plenty more comic-related events – take place at the Apollo Piccadilly Cinema, 19 Lower Regent Street, London, SW1Y 4LR. More info at

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Inker Appeal from Ex Astris comic creator

Bill Storie – my colleague and creator of the Ex Astris strip – has too much work on his plate at the moment and he’s looking for a reliable UK-based inker to work with him.

“There just aren’t enough hours in the day!” says Bill. “I’m currently working on three CGI strips (Ex Astris and two others for a US company) as well as pencils and inks on a new project written by a rather famous UK creator for the European market – but John (Freeman) and I have two more projects which we’re keen to get off the ground.

“Whilst I’m quite fast at pencilling, I’m criminally slow when it comes to inking — so we need to recruit another member for our team who can take care of the inking.”

Bill has sent me pencil samples of his art from one of the new projects (click the image above for full size).

“Unfortunately there are no contracts up for grabs at the moment and therefore no guarantees of untold riches etc – yet!,” Mike points out. “The new projects have not been approved for publication yet and so we can offer no money up front. But John and I have a pretty good record for getting our projects published so you’ll just have to look at the art and decide if you feel we’re worth taking a chance on.”

Monday, 19 April 2010

The battle for Earth’s resources

One of the background elements of Ex Astris is the growing environmental problems facing Earth, right now. So it was interesting to read this a statement from US Rare Earths, Inc. (, a privately owned company, which commended the US Government Accountability Office on its report documenting that China, supplier of 97% of the world’s rare earths, dominates the supply of rare earth materials crucial to the US defence, computer and renewable energy sectors.

Seems to me that the battle for resources (and their exploiatation) is rich territory for Ex Astris “back story” tales.The report, commissioned by Congress, resulted from concerns that China could reduce the rare earth materials supply, curbing US production of guided missiles and other defence weapons as well as commercial products such as computer hard drives, cell phones, MRI machines, hybrid autos and wind turbines, among other sophisticated technologies that employ rare earth materials.

“The GAO report is a timely warning that the US needs to ramp up its domestic production of both light and heavy rare earths immediately,” argues US Rare Earths, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Edward Cowle.

We can bet that will go down well with environmental groups in the US, as the extraction of ‘rare earths’ must, I’m sure have some environmental cost, just like oil, for example, does.
“Idaho, Montana and Colorado were mentioned in the GAO report as states where there was an availability of rare earths,” notes Cowle. Quite by coincidence: “These are the states where US Rare Earths, Inc. owns the mineral rights to the light and heavy rare earths referenced in the latest U.S.G.S. reports.”

The report notes that less-abundant, and more valuable, heavy rare earth ore deposits are currently found in southern China, but such deposits have also been identified in Australia, Greenland, Canada, and the United States. Sounds like a recipe for some

“Perhaps the likeliest source of heavy rare earth elements in the US comes from the deposit at Diamond Creek, Idaho, owned by US Rare Earths, Inc.” notes Cowle. “The US Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) also lists some heavy rare earth elements at the company’s Lemhi Pass deposits on the Idaho-Montana border.

As you can imagine, US Rare Earths stock is considered a hot commodity as investors realize the potential for this company to make a killing, with some scientists predicting a rare earths shortage will hit in about 10 years.

“Rare earths are essential raw materials used in nearly all sustainable energy technologies and a wide spectrum of defence applications,” argues Cowle. “Our rare earth deposits could help supply the projected demand of the United States military and civilian green industries and would assist in eliminating the dependence the United States currently has on Chinese sources.”

US Rare Earths’ founders started the company 15 years ago with its Lehmi Pass deposits. At the time, reports moneyblog, they were only interested in the concentration of thorium, which provides an alternative to nuclear fuel. After 15 years and countless technological innovations, US Rare Earths now finds itself in the position of owning the only known rare earth deposits in the country and for the time being, is concentrating on mining the Diamond Creek land in Idaho because it is closer to civilization and thus more “mining friendly.” But the costs involved in exploiting even these are, apparently, daunting (see this MSNBC report).

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Terraforming Mars – FOCUS points the way

Ever wondered what we’re going to be up to in a couple of centuries time? Science fiction author extraordinaire Stephen Baxter reckons we could have colonised Mars by then, in a feature for the current issue of the BBC science magazine FOCUS which has been out for a couple of weeks but I only spotted it on my way out of the UK for a well-earned break.

In the April issue, ace science fiction author Stephen Baxter writes on how we’d terraform the Red Planet, while Stuart Clark delivers a piece called “Mining the Moon”, looking at the resources we could get – and how. Plus, there’s an interview with a man who researches warp drive and hyperspace travel and a great piece on what our alien neighbours might look like.

Focus is the BBC’s science and technology monthly magazine, described as jargon-free and accessible, so “you don’t need a PhD in particle physics to enjoy reading it”. All you need is a quizzical mind that wants to understand the world around you, and gain a fact or two to keep up your sleeve in a pub quiz emergency.

The issue is well worth picking up if you’re interested in space exploration.

Life Science in Space

NASA scientists are sending three fundamental life science experiments onboard space shuttle Discovery in hopes of better understanding exactly how spaceflight affects cell growth and how cells fight off infections. Future astronauts on long-term space missions need to understand how wounds heal and cells become infected in space to prevent illnesses during space travel.When space shuttle Discovery hurtles into orbit after its scheduled launch on 5th April, in addition to the multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks for the laboratories aboard the station it will carry seven astronauts, two Space Tissue Loss experiments and 16 mice as it rendezvous with the International Space Station.

“As we expand humanity’s reach to other planets we must learn how to live in space for prolonged periods of time,” said Eduardo Almeida, the Space Tissue Loss’s Stem Cell Regeneration experiment principal investigator and scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Calironia. “Understanding how space affects stem cell health is critical to exploration because our health relies on normal tissue repair and regenerative functions.”

Stem Cell Regeneration experiment will study how embryonic stem cells develop into specialized tissue types, or “differentiate” in space. The experiment will use mouse embryonic stem cells and embryoid bodies, or ball-shaped collections of embryonic stem cells, as a model to study the effects of microgravity on adult stem cells’ ability to carry out their normal function of repairing and regenerating tissues. Scientists compare the embryoid body to an early stage of development in mammals because embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any of the body’s many cell types.

In the weeks leading up to launch, scientists working on the Stem Cell Regeneration experiment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, grew mouse embryonic stem cells and prepared them for flight. Scientists will take the embryonic stems cells grown in the laboratory and place them into bioreactors, which are installed into an incubator that fits into a shuttle middeck locker, where they will remain during flight.

“We are trying to get at the root cause of tissue degeneration in space,” said Almeida. “We hope our research will help find preventive measures to address adult stem cell health in microgravity.”

The second Space Tissue Loss (STL) experiment, STL-Immune, led by principal investigator Cheryl Nickerson, associate professor of life sciences at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology in the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, will be the first fundamental biology experiment to conduct an in-flight infection of human cells using pathogenic bacteria. Nickerson’s experiment will characterize the effect of microgravity on intestinal cellular responses before and after Salmonella infection during space flight.

“In addition, this experiment also closely monitors human cells giving us unique insight into conditions faced by astronauts during spaceflight, as well as how cells in our bodies normally behave or transition to disease caused by infection, immune disorders or cancer,” said Nickerson. “Only by studying how cells respond to microgravity can we reveal important biological characteristics that are masked by normal gravity when using traditional experimental approaches on Earth.”

The Immune experiment will help scientists determine whether bacterial responses to spaceflight are also seen in human cells.

“Better understanding how microbes and human cells interact in space can lead to novel vaccines and therapeutics for the general public against infectious disease, as well as other human diseases,” added Nickerson. “Our research has potential benefits and applications for life on Earth and astronauts on long-duration space missions.”

Mouse Immunology, the third space-based experiment, will study the influence of microgravity on mice immune systems. The experiment’s principal investigator, Millie Hughes-Fulford, former NASA astronaut and professor in the Departments of Medicine and Urology at the University of California, San Francisco will test whether an immune system response to a new infection or re-infection is affected by spaceflight.

“Mouse immunology will allow us to pinpoint which genes and pathways are or aren’t working or performing well in space,” said Hughes-Fulford. “We will examine all 8,000 genes of the mouse thymus cell to determine the molecular cause of a suppressed immune system.”

Before launch, half of the mice in both the group that will fly to space and the control group that will stay on Earth received white blood cells that had been inoculated with thymus cells, or white blood cells, that were exposed to a foreign protein challenge. The other half of the mice will not be exposed until immediately after they return from space. Scientists will analyze whether the mice that received white blood cells react differently than those that were not pre-exposed.

All three experiments are managed by the International Space Station Non-Exploration Projects Office at NASA Ames. The NASA Ames Flight Systems Implementation Branch and Space Biosciences Division developed and implemented the Mouse Immunology and Space Tissue Loss payloads, which were all funded by the Advanced Capabilities Division in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA’s Headquarters, Washington.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research based in Silver Spring, Maryland, provided the hardware and the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program developed the payload and managed the hardware integration for the Space Tissue Loss Experiments.

• For more information about science on the International Space Station, visit:
• For more information about the Space Biosciences Division at NASA Ames, visit:

Thursday, 4 February 2010

NASA explores inner space

Learning how to walk again after long-duration space flights is a problem astronauts face as they readjust to Earth’s gravity. To learn how microgravity affects human space travelers, NASA scientists studied the nanomechanics of hair cells in the inner ear.

Their research may also help solve more down to Earth medical problems for ordinary people, such as motion sickness.

Using the toadfish (Opsanus tau) as their model, scientists tested whether hair cells amplify stimuli from very small head movements, and if so, can the brain regulate this enhanced sensitivity and shift this function on or off?

Test results showed that an organism’s ability to maintain equilibrium is regulated by hair cell sensory organs, including hearing organs.

“These hair cells are specialized mechanical sensors that are used to understand sound in the environment, and countermove the head for balance and coordination,” said Richard Boyle, a space bioscientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “Understanding the fundamental physiology of the hair cell in the inner ear is critical to identifying the impact of spaceflight on an organism.”

Boyle is an author of “Mechanical amplification by hair cells in the semicircular canals,” scheduled for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, this week.
The inner ear organs are designed and precisely attuned to changes in the environment: for the hearing organ, a change in the sound pressure, such as caused by a car horn, can deform the ear drum and rapidly lead to the recognition and location of the sound. For the balance organ, movement of the head, such as unexpectedly stepping off the curb, is sensed and rapidly leads to motor reflexes to maintain equilibrium. The more sensitive our ability is to detect these changes, the more acute our sensation. This remarkable tuning and amplification to detect the slightest stimuli, allows us to adjust our posture.

For large movements this amplification is not evident. It is over the very small head movements that the amplification process benefits our ability to sense movement. But this places the hair cell systems at the blink of instability.

Fortunately, the amplification process is not all-or-nothing, but actually controlled by the organism. According to the organism’s intended behaviour, this instability can be turned off through a pathway from the brain back to the inner ear organs. For example, during a large, self-generated movement of the head, as one rapidly turns to view the location of the car horn, the amplification process can be turned off.

Fossil evidence, dating from at least the Devonian Period 400 million years ago, shows that the elaborate sensory structures used to sense the organism’s movement are remarkably conserved among vertebrata. The results demonstrate an active process in the hair cells of an ancient bony fish, thus suggesting that the mechanism is ancestral, and may underlie the broad appearance of active hair cell processes in amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including humans.

During orbital missions, organisms on board the spacecraft are exposed to microgravity. Microgravity exposure causes severe disorientation or “space adaptation syndrome” for many human travelers, a condition similar to what we on Earth experience as motion sickness. The possible cause is a miscommunication of information provided by various sensory systems.

“A change in gravity has a profound effect on how organisms maintain coordination and balance,” said Boyle. “This information is essential to understanding the human condition on Earth, and may contribute to the science that will eventually lead to improved diagnostics and treatment of disorders, such as dizziness and motion sickness,” he added.

• For more information about NASA visit:

Ex Astris Returns to Spaceship Away

The latest issue of Spaceship Away, the science fiction comics magazine inspired by and featuring the original Dan Dare, includes the first part of the Ex Astris strip “Homecoming”, set in the story’s 2511 time period, on an Earth devastated by both environmental and man made disaster.

The magazine has just gone to the printers and will be on sale in all its usual outlets, and online, soon.

Spaceship Away readers will soon realize that our latest episode of Ex Astris for the magazine is a very different beast to “Secrets of Ceres”, which ran in previous issues. This story, reflecting the huge scope of artist Mike Nicoll’s vision for the strip, is set in the 26th Century, at a point where Earth has long been a wasteland caused by a combination of environmental and other disasters, but humans are now fighting to reclaim their planet of birth from mysterious aliens and antagonistic descendants of the survivors of the world’s destruction some centuries previously.

While “Secrets of Ceres” is set before Earth is finally beset by disaster, Sarah Blake lives on in Katherine Blake in ‘Homecoming’, the all-action leader of an elite military squad aboard the Armstrong spaceship. Is she a direct descendant of Sarah, or are there other secrets yet to be revealed? More to the point, is Captain Charles Bryant the same Bryant followers of Ex Astris have seen in “Ceres” and “Return to the Moon” and, if so, how has he survived for almost five centuries?

Although the strip has been previously published – and was previously available online via myebook, where it achieved some 15,000 downloads – I’m looking forward to seeing it in Spaceship Away, simply because of the quality of the magazine. For us, the strip is a good fit with the science fiction vision of the Spaceship Away team.

The issue features a superb cover from veteran Dan Dare artist Don Harley, also continues two ongoing Dan Dare stories, “Green Nemesis” by Rod Barzilay and Tim Booth, and “The Gates of Eden” by Tim alone, a brand new Dare adventure strip, set a year and a half before “The Red Moon Mystery”.

“Garth: The Bubble Man” by Frank Bellamy, beautifully coloured by John Ridgway continues this issue, as does “Journey in Space: Planet of Fear” written by by Charles Chilton, and drawn by Ferdinando Tacconi.

Feature wise, there’s a report on the recent Spaceship Away day event and full information on Alistair Crompton’s new book on Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson, Tomorrow Revisited, out later this year. Graham Bleathman providea a cutaway of Dan Dare’s spaceship, the Anastasia, and there are some images of the original models used in the creation of the Dan Dare strip back in his original Eagle days, and an update on Day2Day Trading’s new Dan Dare action figure which we’ve reported on here.

To order the issue online visit:

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Comic Creators Ally against Human Trafficking

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead
Monday, 11th January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the US. To participate, a number of comics creators including Heroes Inc. creator Scott Austin, writer Peter David and X-Men artist J.K. Woodward – formed the Comic Creator’s Alliance – a group of over 80 comic book creators (both web and print) who volunteered their artistic talents to raise money and awareness for this cause.

While Ex Astris creative team is produced in Britain, trafficking is a global issue – plus, we know several of the creators who’ve got together for this cause personally. So we’re naturally more than happy to promote it here.You may not know it, but there are currently 27 million enslaved people worldwide – more than double the number of enslaved Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children every year are sold into slavery, most of it sexual. The US Department of Justice estimates 16,000 victims of human trafficking are brought into the United States every year.

Unlike slavery in the 19th century, what is happening today is happening in secret. So it won’t end until awareness is raised, and people need to take a stand.

So here’s what the comic creators – all listed here – did: each of them contributed an original drawing of one of their own female characters, and combined them into a single wallpaper image. The preview featured above is just a small snippet of a simply gorgeous montage intended to raise money and awareness for an important cause.

The wallpaper features characters from The Phoenix Requiem, Girls with Slingshots, Earthsong, Looking for Group, Shadowgirls, Marsh Rocket, The Uniques and three IDW Publishing titles: Fallen Angel, The Dreamland Chronicles and The Dreamer, and lots, lots more.

To get hold of a copy, all you need to do is donate to the cause via the CCA website and download this unique, once-in-a-lifetime wallpaper. The Donations Drive will last for two weeks, from 11th – 24th January and all proceeds will be split evenly between Love146 and Gracehaven House – two organizations working on rehabilitation of victims and prevention of this crime.

• To learn more about the Comic Creator’s Alliance visit

• To learn more about the problem, visit (Be warned: contains adult themes and actual accounts of sex slavery.)