The Case for Wonder: A Meditation

Perhaps it had no beginning.  Perhaps, being spacetime itself, it is neither where nor when.  Like the scarlet ribbons of song, it came “I will never know from where.”  Yet here I am, awake in this vast improbability for a nanosecond of cosmic time, a mote of life on a fleck of rock afloat in the … [Read more...]

The Launch of Apollo 11 (from The Dream of spaceflight)

Poised on the launch pad and towering thirty-six stories against the stars, the Apollo-Saturn rocket seemed unearthly in the wash of floodlight, glowing icy silver-white, like the moon above it.  A half-million pilgrims had made their way to the mosquitoed marshlands of Florida's Merritt Island, … [Read more...]

The Inner Reaches of Outer Space

It had been a dark and bitter year.  The war languished in Vietnam, students rioted around the globe, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, a B-52 crashed carrying four hydrogen bombs, Chicago police battered demonstrators at the Democratic convention, Robert Kennedy … [Read more...]

The Bomb

Leo Szilard had a dream.  As a boy in Budapest, reading H.G. Wells’ novel about a nuclear war that destroys most of Europe’s cities, he concluded that the world should be governed by a group of gifted scientists.  He envisioned the development of atomic energy as both a limitless power source and a … [Read more...]

Thomas Edison in American Mythology

A story has come down concerning one of the famous camping trips which Thomas Edison took with Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and the naturalist, John Burroughs, in the hills of West Virginia shortly after the First World War.  A village mechanic was inspecting the motor of their ailing car when a … [Read more...]

Carl Sagan: Visionary

Originally written as a memorial speech delivered by Buzz Aldrin, this was subsequently published in the Planetary Society’s Planetary Report, May/June 1997. I can’t think of Carl without seeing that windblown figure strolling on the beach, telling us, over the roar of the breakers, in his emphatic … [Read more...]

A Leap of Faith

Perhaps it had no beginning.  Perhaps, being spacetime itself, it is neither where nor when.  Like the scarlet ribbons of song, it came “I will never know from where.”  Yet here I am, awake in this vast improbability for a nanosecond of cosmic time, a mote of life on a fleck of rock afloat in the … [Read more...]

Touching the Sky

  In 1946, the summer I turned eight, old Uncle George moved into the back room of our house in Palo Alto.  Though he seldom emerged, I would sometimes encounter him in his rumpled coat, high-top shoes, and fedora hat sitting out on the porch under a red sky in a cloud of cigar smoke.  He … [Read more...]