The Right Stuff?
Stone has always wanted to go to space. Growing up, he was enthralled by John Glenn´s historic first orbital mission of Earth in 1962. "From that point on, I focused on becoming an astronaut," he says. "I was motivated to get a Ph.D. [in structural engineering] by that ambition. I built a rsum that included learning to fly with the goal of getting into space." In 1989 Stone got what looked like a big break. He was one of 60 finalists, chosen from a pool of 10,000 applicants, who were summoned to NASA headquarters to try out for the Astronaut Corps.
In Stone´s recollection, he aced a battery of physical, mental and emotional tests (20/50 vision in one eye was the only significant strike against him), and after several days, he was called into a conference room for a critical interview before a panel of senior astronauts. After several easy questions from the group, a space-shuttle veteran named Guy Bluford asked Stone if he had any regrets in life. He said he had none. Bluford asked again. Silence is not Stone´s strong suit-his personality is essentially that of an eight-year-old with attention-deficit disorder-and this time he said, "My financial status. I need about $2 billion." "What would you do with that?" Bluford asked incredulously. "I´d land a private exploration team on the moon," Stone replied.
Over the past decade, Stone had made himself into a space savant. His day job was as an automation expert at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but in his spare time he published scientific papers on life support, rocket propulsion and spacecraft design. His technical genius and space fervor became known, and in 1982 he was selected for a congressional panel that reviewed existing space-station plans and, later, for another federal panel that spent five years developing one of its own.
Still, no matter how much Stone thought he knew, his comment before the astronaut panel showed arrogance and a lack of restraint, and it didn´t go over well. "Son, within your prospective tenure as an astronaut, it is highly unlikely that NASA will return to the moon," growled Don Puddy, a revered flight director at Johnson Space Center.
"It was like somebody taking a pin and sticking it right into that little balloon of hope that I had been growing for all of those years," Stone recently recalled. "It was like, "Dudes, if you´re not interested in exploration, then what the hell are you doing up there?´ " Stone was sent home. And that, he says, was OK. The space agency´s exploration component was "gutless," he decided, and he had other ideas. With a little help from others at NASA-he still greatly respected the agency´s scientists-and a lot of work on his own, he would find other ways to contribute to the exploration of far-off worlds.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.