Bill Clinton's defense secretary is writing an asteroid-mining novelS

And William Cohen is writing his book with the help of NASA, as part of NASA's new program of outreach to science fiction authors. The former Republican Senator, who has already written a couple political thrillers, is telling a story about politics, murder — and sweet, sweet asteroid wealth.

Top image: Mark Wilkinson

According to a Wall Street Journal article about NASA's program, Cohen "drew on NASA research" for his book about capturing an asteroid, hauling it back to Earth and extracting valuable minerals. Asked whether he thought asteroid mining was a good idea, Cohen responded, "You'll have to read the novel."

NASA has been hosting science fiction writers at midday events called "Science Fiction Meets Science Fact," and also partnered with Tor Books to produce "NASA-inspired works of fiction." The first of those, Pillar to the Sky by William Forstchen, was just published, and it tells a rollicking story of space elevators and political intrigue in a near future where dwindling energy supplies and water wars threaten global stability.

According to the book's cover blurb, there are some heroic characters in the mix, but one entity in particular stands out:

The Goddard Space Flight Center—the novel's pre-eminent hero, it's enormous army of scientists, engineers and astronauts will design, machine, and build the space elevator. They will fight endless battles and overcome countless obstacles every step of the way.

And according to the WSJ article, "tightfisted bureaucrats" who slash NASA's funding are the biggest villains in the novel. At the same time, a NASA official tells the WSJ these novels aren't required to include pro-NASA storylines, and the agency isn't providing any funding for them. Instead, NASA gave Forstchen access to aerospace engineer John Panek, who double-checked his calculations on things like the efficiency of solar cells and how much mass a rocket could launch to orbit.

Still, amidst the pages of highly technical descriptions of carbon nanotubes and propulsion systems, the book's characters take the time to praise NASA, according to the WSJ article. One tech billionaire says, "NASA has created thousands of wonders that impact all our lives." For his part, Forstchen hopes his novel hopes to provide a blueprint for a real-life space elevator. [WSJ]