Gravity Probe B
His answer goes to the heart of the nature of a scientific endeavor: "More
than anything it is the continuity of people and the time -
a handful of researchers who kept plugging away," he finally replies.
"There are certain technology developments that take time, rather than
lots of people. This project has been going at Stanford since the early
1960s. The persistence with which this has been pursued is amazing.
A review of project personnel records revealed the human capital
invested in the experiment: Daniel DeBra has been working on the project
for 29 years; Keiser, 14 years; Parkinson, 9 years; John Lipa, a
quarter-century; and Everitt, 31 years, to name only a few.
"When they conceived this project, they thought it was a five-year deal,
not a 30-year deal," Parkinson says. "When you are exploring the
unknown, you can't predict how long it will take. Where it is taking you
is not always obvious."
FOOLISH OR DAUNTING CHALLENGE?
months to come, the pace of the
project will accelerate. The idea conceived so long ago takes its final
form in the curious circuits, baffles, rotors and shielding of an
operational spacecraft. In the not so distant future, technicians will
marry the probe to the two-stage Delta rocket that will lift it high
enough to make its final rendezvous with Einstein's theory. Once the
probe reaches orbit, technicians and engineers will spend 40 days
testing its systems to ensure that the probe survived the shake, rattle
and roll of the rocket flight. Only then will the experiment com-\mence,
revealing a corner of the fabric of space and time for human inspection.
It is easy enough to imagine a Stanford physics class a century from now
poring over the results of Gravity Probe B. But what will be the lesson
those students find in that text that once a group of Stanford
researchers were foolish enough to try and rewrite Einstein or that a
group of scientists