When it comes to reporting beats, you can’t get much better than the cosmos. And that’s where Brendan Byrne spends a great deal of his time – journalistically speaking, of course.
At WLRN’s sister station WMFE in Orlando, Byrne reports on space and science news, including launches from Florida's Space Coast. He's also the host of WMFE's weekly space exploration podcast "Are We There Yet?," which examines efforts to get human beings to Mars.
So to fully explain in layman’s terms what “gimbal lock,” “first-stage booster” and “geostationary transfer orbit” mean, you have to be born a bit of an egghead, right?
“I was terrible at math, so I couldn’t be an engineer or an astronaut,” says Byrne with a laugh. “So I became a writer instead.”
Growing up in Broward County, Byrne’s interest in space travel was sparked by his father, who enrolled his son in space camp so he could tag along.
“I wasn’t too excited to go,” admits Byrne. “But my Dad was and he made me go because you could only chaperone if your kid went. So he had a blast at space camp and that kind of rubbed off on me.”
Byrne moved to Orlando in 2005 to attend the University of Central Florida. He began working at WMFE during what he calls the “hangover phase” of NASA’s space shuttle program (the last shuttle launch was 2011).
“There really wasn’t too much public interest in space. And I made the argument that there’s a lot of cool stuff happening; let’s see if our listeners are interested in it. And they were. So we started focusing more and more on space reporting.”
Among the “cool stuff”: in 2012, SpaceX’s “Dragon,” launched from Cape Canaveral, became the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station.
And recent developments are stimulating a renewed interest in space exploration. Just last month, President Trump signed a bill authorizing more than $19 billion in funding for NASA. It also set a timeline for a manned mission to Mars by 2033.
Meanwhile, Byrne says he strives through his reporting to make difficult scientific concepts understandable to everyone. And his favorite gauge is what he calls “the Madeline test.”
“I run them by my wife, Madeline, who doesn’t have a background in science or engineering,” says Byrne. “If she understands them -- or more importantly, thinks they’re interesting -- they get the green light.”