How I became a space writer and where it’s going

My journey as a globally published science writer in the niche field of space exploration.

How I became a space writer and where it’s going
How it started (2011) vs. How it’s going (2022) for me, Jatan Mehta.

Early days

I started blogging in 2011 out of a desire to share the excitement of science with people. My initial writings were amateur to say the least, and remained so for years. But I kept writing anyway. Fast forward to 2020 and my articles have been published on respected publications around the globe. Here is what my journey looked like.

From 2011 through 2016, I blogged as a hobby. I was then a physics student pursuing a master’s degree, wanting to become an astrophysicist. Blogging was a way for me to share cool science facts I learnt along the way. As is typical for science folks, my writing was riddled with jargon, the dryness of passive voice, and unwieldy sentences. But I kept blogging. Many friends supported me then.

In 2017, while doing an astrophysics research project, I got more serious and started putting out an article every week. I was publishing on Medium at the time, and it took off. I started getting thousands of followers, in part thanks to the growing platform itself. TeamIndus, a private space company building a Moon landing mission, took notice and reached out to me. Their marketing team wanted me to join them to write articles on the science and tech of the company’s Moon mission. Of course, I said yes. This was my first paid writing job.

Professional publishing

I continued writing my own blogs on space exploration on the side through 2018. Inspired by Emily Lakdawalla’s article on challenges of collecting samples from other worlds, I wrote a similar article on space-grade electronics and tagged her on Twitter when sharing. The next thing I know is she loved the piece and asked me if The Planetary Society, where she worked, can republish the article. That marked my first ever piece in a professional, global publication.

In late 2018, I attended a conference where science journalists and scientists had gathered to discuss issues in science communication, and the way forward. That’s when I interacted with Mukunth, the Editor of The Wire Science, and he asked if I’d like to write freelance articles for them. From that point on, I started publishing about one article a month on The Wire Science. Mukunth is the one who beat academic writing out of me, and mentored me as an early career writer.

In July 2019, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched its most ambitious space mission yet, Chandrayaan 2. With it, India hoped to land a spacecraft on the Moon. I took this opportunity to expand my writing to more Indian publications, like The Print and Open magazine. It’s around this time that I quit my job to pursue science writing and communication full-time.

I was the official live blogger for The Wire to cover Chandrayaan 2’s Moon landing phase, which tens of thousands of people read. Among those was Arnab Bhattacharya, a faculty member and science communicator at the revered Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, India. He invited me to work at TIFR as a science communicator for a six-month position. This involved curating and writing content for their website, and handling their social media. In particular, I got to interview eminent scientists visiting the institute and communicate their work in context to a broader audience. After my brief stint at TIFR, I continued to freelance for media publications.

Going solo

In 2020, with the collated experience of different work environments and professional science writing for Indian publications, I expanded to foreign publications, getting my articles on Universe Today, Supercluster, The Space Review and SpaceNews. This was also required for sustenance as freelance writing for Indian publications doesn’t pay enough to get by on.

I also started a way for my reading to directly support my work via donations. Having been in the science writing game for just a couple of years, I wasn’t expecting more than a few supporters. I’m happy to be wrong. At the end of 2020, more than 50 people had supported my work. To know that you have gained a reader’s trust and goodwill is an incredible feeling.

However, the highlight of 2020 has been something even better.

The Planetary Society has been building comprehensive resource pages for anyone to learn why and how we explore space. As part of this effort, I’ve been writing articles and guides for them throughout the year. Jason Davis, their Editor, liked my work enough to give me the title of a Contributing Editor for the Society! Since then, my writing for them has only increased to cover more space topics, missions and themes, and more types of articles. Writing for a global organization like them, with a fascinating and influential history, is full of learning new things, joy, purpose and satisfaction. I’d like to thank Jason for giving me these opportunities, and for pushing me to prune my words to their simplest form.

In 2022, I took the first steps to become a truly independent writer by getting the first sponsors for Moon Monday, my one-of-a-kind newsletter covering lunar exploration, science and commercial developments from across the globe. I’m interested to see if running sponsorships in an ethical and transparent manner will actually work for a niche writer like me. And if it does, it would open up avenues for many more such niche creators across several fields.

That brings us to now, where I’m set to continue through the decade with a lot of momentum to communicate the purpose and joy of exploring space and our Moon to everyone I can. If you’re an aspiring science writer, or a creator of any sort, I just ask you to look at the image at the top of this article. The 2011 me had no idea what the 2022 me is going to do. The takeaway is simple: Keep creating.

If you like my lifelong mission of communicating space and lunar exploration to people, please consider supporting me and my work to help keep it going.

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