Gravity Probe B
Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow called the gravity experiment a "must."
Princeton mathematics professor Demetrios Christodoulou termed it "a
fundamental physics experiment of the utmost significance." At the
University of Chicago's Enrico Fermi Institute, astrophysicist S.
Chandrasekhar said the experiment is of "central significance not only
to the general theory of relativity but to a wide range of astrophysical
Simply to definitively prove that Einstein is correct would be more than
enough to justify the whole project in NASA's eyes.
"It would really change our perception of the universe," says NASA
Gravity Probe B program manager Frank Giovane from Washington, D.C.
"Everyone realizes it is of earth-shattering importance that we truly
validate Einstein's theory."
In many ways, the Gravity Probe B project is unlike anything NASA -
which has no division devoted to fundamental physics - has ever
attempted. Unlike many astrophysics and astronomy satellites, designed
as instruments of open-ended exploration, the relativity mission is
designed to answer a single yes or no question. And it aims to validate
a theory many scientists today already consider well proven.
It also is unique in another way: A university, not the space agency,
has taken the prime role in a satellite mission. The project is managed
directly by Stanford, with NASA retaining largely an oversight
responsibility. Under contract to the university, Lockheed Martin
Missiles and Space Co. is building the spacecraft and some of the
"For the most part, Stanford is in control of its scientific destiny," says Eugene W. Urban, a
project scientist who is chief of the physics and astronomy division in
the space sciences laboratory at the Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Alabama. "It is unusual," he adds.