This article originally published in
Air and Space Magazine

Dramatic as the venture is, you’d never guess as much from a quick look around the project’s main offices. The effort is headquartered in an oversized construction trailer--a "modular pavilion" in Caliorniaspeak--wedged into a corner of a parking lot adjacent to Stanford University’s science and engineering buildings. The trailer hums with a lively mix of physics and engineering professors and graduate students. The former are mostly congenial middle-aged men in sport shirts who wax enthusiastic about magnetic torques and gyroscopic drift rates the way most men do about sports; the latter are socially awkward savants in T-shirts and shorts quietly hunched over computer screens. A total of 100 Stanford staff and students work on the program, which is called Gravity Probe B (Gravity Probe A was a 1976 experiment in which scientists tested the general theory of relativity by comparing the rates of two ultra-precise clocks, one launched into space and one kept on the ground.)

The guts of the GP-B project are crammed into two nearby lab and office buildings, with most of the testing and assembly of the payload being done in what was the first electron linear accelerator, now a series of clean rooms and a maze of equipment, wires, and computers predominantly labeled PROPERTY OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT. Albert Einstein hovers over the entire scene like an ethereal guru, his visage gazing out from pictures on the walls, books covers, GP-B T-shirts, stationary, even the office phone list. A life-size Einstein poster confronts you when you walk in the back door of the trailer. A stand-up cutout of Einstein sits on a shelf in Francis Everitt’s office, looking over the GP-B director’s shoulder as he talks to visitors.