UC Berkeley space scientist Greg Delory devoured Carl Sagan’s books as a kid; now he hunts for extraterrestrial water—and life—in the solar system.
Jeff Greason learned to pick locks at Caltech, from none other than Richard Feynman; now he burns LOX (liquid oxygen) in engines built by his California rocket company.
Alexander Poleschuk spent six life-changing months aboard the space station Mir; now this Russian ex-cosmonaut obsesses over his nation’s lofty space goals—and its inability to pay for them.
Three men, three visions of space exploration. As NASA scrambles to recover from the Columbia tragedy, the next phase of spacefaring has already begun. It’s an era marked by new philosophies and agendas—and, according to Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation, a space-travel advocacy group, by three types of space adventurer. There are the Saganites, who yearn to comprehend outer space; the O’Neillians, who want to colonize it; and the von Braunians—who just want to get there first. Welcome to their worlds.
The Saganite: Too Many Questions to Count
When Cosmos 1, the world’s first solar-sail-powered spaceship, launches, probably in late 2004, events should unfold something like this:
A modified Cold Warâ€era intercontinental ballistic missile, fired from a submarine, breaches the surface of the Barents Sea, with the Russian-built solar-sail craft aboard. The rocket gathers speed over Siberia and noses out over the Pacific. At the top of its trajectory, an engine kicks the craft into a high orbit, and there, at an altitude of about 500 miles, pneumatic tubes deploy its eight vast
The spacecraft orbits Earth five, six, seven, up to 10 times. Then its presence is detected by the telemetry dish at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. In the space operations center, Greg Delory and colleagues get a lock on the spacecraft’s coordinates: It’s where it should be. Data streams in, appearing on the screen of a PC. Delory, one of the scientists who tracks the craft’s position, is in constant contact now with both MOM and POP—that’s Mission Operations Moscow, headquarters of the Russian engineers who built the craft and will steer it, and Project Operations Pasadena, headquarters of the Planetary Society, the space-advocacy organization that is sponsoring this experimental flight. It is a big moment, foreshadowing the day—a “when” not an “if” now—that a craft of similar design leaves Earth orbit and ventures into the cosmos.
Dressed in cargo pants and a black T-shirt, Delory, 35, has the powerfully compact dimensions of a Hasbro action figure (spaceship sold separately) and looks a bit like a young John Glenn. He is an experimental geophysicist here at UC Berkeley, the kind of congenital whiz kid whose high school science project is chosen to fly on the space shuttle (as in fact Delory’s did, in 1991) and who never looks back. His day job includes developing low-frequency sensors to be sent into space to detect, among other things, deep subsurface water and the effects of solar eruptions on Mars and other planets. “Supergeek” might be an appropriate epithet, if he did not also hold a black
belt in karate.