A MEETING WITH THE UNIVERSE
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
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
Dr. John E. Naugle