On Assignment


On Assignment: How AJ Plunkett Found Freelance Lift-Off

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of On Assignment, a monthly profile of freelance writers on notable assignments.

There is a small bottle of sand I carry with me wherever I’ve lived. The sand is from a beach on Matagorda Island in South Texas, scooped up the day a young upstart company called Space Services Inc. was supposed to test fire the engine for the first commercial rocket into space. I knew if they were successful I was going to be witness to the future and I wanted a piece of it. It was 1982 and I was an intern at my first newspaper job. There were mechanical difficulties that day, and the test didn’t happen. It wasn’t rescheduled until after I’d returned for my senior year in college. But they did launch, and slowly so did an industry.

I still have the sand because covering space has always been my first love. The innovations of space and the companies like Urthecast who want to invest in it are among the most exciting industries of the future.

I hope [my UrtheCast stories] tap into the fascination with space that sustains the human spirit of challenge and innovation, both in space and on Earth. So much is unknown in space that anything is possible. That translates into achieving what seems like the impossible for the benefit of humans on this planet, as well.

The work

Sustainability In Space: ‘ISS Interactive’ Paints The World Green

Sustainability is the key to staying in space — whether it’s for fun or profit — and the key to keeping our own planet livable. So innovations that help the International Space Station operate should be innovations worth trying on Earth. It’s a reminder of what you can accomplish if people just put their heads together.

Space Robotics: New Canadarms On The Horizon

Canada leads the world in developing the space robotics that will do a lot of the heavy lifting as we go forward with staying in space and exploring more of it. Part of a reporter’s job is to remind readers of what’s already out there, hopefully to spark discussion and perhaps new ideas. And it’s all just kinda cool.

New outlets

At first [it was awkward to report for a blog sponsored by a brand instead of a traditional publisher], but then you realize that every platform has it’s own spin and own audience. When I was in South Texas, I wrote about what interested South Texans, in Virginia, Virginians, and so on. Urthecast’s goal is to put a live streaming video camera on the space station. So I write about the space station and commercial space ventures and the like.

My advice to fellow science writers seeking new outlets for their work is that it’s good to have friends and to stay open to all kinds of platforms. I was introduced to Contently through a fellow writer and friend. Almost all of my freelance work has been because someone recommended me.

(Image via NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, CC2.0)

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