If the gods of physics smile upon Francis Everitt, sometime before the end of this decade four near-perfect quartz spheres spinning away in supercooled isolation 400 miles above Earth will experience an infinitesimal change in the direction of their spin. It will be a change so absurdly small- the width of a hair is huge by comparison- that for a long time it was thought impossible to measure. No less audacious is what Everitt hopes to prove-or disprove-by quantifying this minuscule movement: Einsteinís general theory of relativity.
Itís an undertaking that, not surprisingly, has been decades in the making, and it has drawn some of the brightest thinkers in the fields of physics and engineering. It has also attracted its share of criticism, both from the scientific community and from NASA, which is providing most of the funding. Nonetheless, project director Everitt has managed to counter every challenge with compelling evidence of the programís merit. To put it plainly, Everitt is poised to either confirm or overthrow the entire foundation of modern cosmology.