People of our Generation are participating in one of the greatest events in human history. Life has begun to expand its habitat, this time beyond the Earth. The last such expansion occurred hundreds of millions of years ago, when life came out of the sea to occupy the land. Humans have left footprints on the Moon and analyzed its rocks in their laboratories. Our machines have probed the surface of Mars, while other spacecraft have shown us giant Jupiter and ringed Saturn.

In past explorations, a few hardy souls ventured out, while the rest waited for months or years to hear what they had found. In the Space Age we are all explorers. Through the miracles of modern communications we have watched together as these new worlds have been revealed. Simultaneously around the world, we have seen the volcanoes of lo, counted the many rings of Saturn, and learned of Titan's cold, unworldly landscape.

The Space Age is an era of exploration, discovery, and scientific achievement without parallel in history. We have reached not one, but more than a dozen new worlds.

We have observed an invisible universe with our X-ray and infrared telescopes. We are observing our Sun with an increase in clarity comparable only to that achieved by Galileo with his first telescope. We are now studying the interactions that link our world - and its future - to this star. Beyond the Sun, we see a strange new universe of incredible, unexplainable energies, and we have heard the barely audible whisper left from the Big Bang that started it all. We have begun to understand our origin and to search for companions in the universe.

A Meeting with the Universe is the story of what we learned about the universe and ourselves by going into space. It is not a textbook for scientists. It is written for everyone who shared the excitement and wonder of the last few years - students, teachers, scientists, engineers, other professional people, and curious citizens of all kinds. It is not a NASA history. It is a history of space exploration - by NASA, by universities, by other government agencies, and by industries - all of whom have played major roles. We have not attempted to apportion credit here; space has been studied by many, and the discoveries belong to us all.

The book itself is a novel experiment in writing about science for non-scientific readers. It was not produced by science writers or journalists, but written and edited entirely by a group of NASA scientists, all of whom are deeply involved in space science activities and many of whom actively participated in the discoveries they describe. The success of the experiment in producing a readable and exciting book reflects the skill, perspective, dedication, and downright enthusiasm of the writers and editors. Speeial thanks are also due to the reviewers: Kathleen Roedder (Public Library of the District of Columbia), Janet Wolfe (National Air and Space Museum), and Mary-Hill French.

We are now at a watershed in space. After 20 years of challenging and exciting activity, we have done most of the easy things and made most of the obvious discoveries. What do we do next? How do we tackle the many new questions that have arisen about the Sun, the Earth, the other worlds, the universe around us, and ourselves? These are notjust scientific questions. Their answers involve the understanding of the Earth's geology, its weather, and its climatefactors that will affect the survival of our civilization, perhaps even of our species.

Other important questions are taking form in scientific discussions and in public debates. What shall we do with our new domain of space? When will we establish permanent, self-sustaining human habitations on the Moon, on Mars, or in space itself? How will we establish these habitations? What role will machines and what role will humans play? When will we begin to use extraterrestrial resources in space and on Earth? We are acquiring the information and the technology to discuss these questions in detail and to develop plans for moving ahead - when we choose to.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish", says the Bible.

Although we have only begun our movement into space, we have already traveled far and seen much. We have a shining vision of the universe and our future in it. Without that vision, without the will to follow it, something important in us - perhaps we ourselveswill perish.

Dr. John E. Naugle
Chief Scientist

Previous Index Next