POST-HOLIDAY traffic continues light as people use up annual leave. My usual three-bus connection gets me to work 10 minutes earlier than usual.
Division staff meeting. It's like being in a time machine, watching fiscal years flash by. 1979: just finished. 1980: current budget. 1981: budget about to be released. 1982: original date for launching Galileo mission to Jupiter. 1984: new date for Galileo launch. 1985: possible mission to Halley's Comet. Meeting ends; I'm back in early 1980.
Congressional inquiries in afternoon. Help our liaison people find copies of a booklet I wrote about the moon three years ago. Out of print, but not out of demand. Write long letter to irate constituent who has read somewhere that the moon is really an ancient spaceship and wants NASA to stop covering up! I thought 2 had heard every possible theory by this time, but this is a new one. Write to tell him what we really did find. That's pretty exciting, too.
Secretaries stay late, trying to force word processor to disgorge a critical document from its memory. No luck. Ah, technology. Make a note to shock up on quill pens before the rush starts.
Dinner with my wife, Mary-Hill, then a Folger Library concert. "Goldberg, Variations." Relax and let the music ripple over me, smoothing out day's worries. Tuesday
Phone interview with a Reader's Digest reporter about moon rock research. What have we found out 10 years after Apollo 11? Why should we keep on studying them? I've answered those questions dozens of times in the past year, but I still find myself getting excited as I talk.
There is still so much to be learned from these pieces of outer space that we can hold in our hands. There are ancient moon rocks that are telling us about the earliest history of the earth. There are other moon rocks' that have recorded the history of the sun by trapping solar atoms for billions of years. (Yes, we have actually collected pieces of the sun by going to the moon!) There are meteorites in which we find traces of a huge supernova that exploded even before the solar system formed.
And we are now getting new samples: meteorites from the Antarctic icecap, tiny extraterrestrial spheres from the bottom of the sea, microscopic bits of possible comet dust collected by high-flying aircraft . . . I go back to work feeling happy and enthusiastic.
Lunch hour workout in basement gym. Get a quick look at the sky: gray, but not snowing.
Long afternoon discussion about new grant processing procedures. This is the bottom line of my job -- seeing that the papers move and that the money goes out to the right people. I sometimes tell myself, in moments of frustration, that without this tedious, routine work, all the excitement and discovery stop. At other times I have the standard post-Apollo American complaint: If we can put a man on the Moon, why can't we (for example) get money to a scientist a little more easily? The excitement of the meteorites and comet dust seems far away. Wednesday
Phone calls all day. There is a legend that the government once really did function without telephones. I don't believe it. Lots of calls from scientists asking about equipment purchases, deadlines for new proposals, how to write new proposals, the state of the NASA budget and the state of funding for meteorite research. I feel like a cross between a theatrical agent and Ann Landers. Most of my time is spent explaining scientists and taxpayers to each other.
Congressional Research Office calls for some data. How much moon material was brought back by the Russians' automatic spacecraft? 275 grams (about 9 ounces) from three locations. (The Apollo program brought back 842 pounds from six landings.) How many meteorites have been found in the Antarctic so far? More than 600 in two years. (A deluge -- the normal worldwide discovery rate is about 25 a year.)
Because people are out, I suddenly become Solar System Expert in Residence. The National Enquirer wants data on discovery of Uranus' rings and Neptune's clouds. Shouts down the hall to nearby astronomer, get answers. WTOP wants an interview on whether there is life on Jupiter's moon Europa. Maybe. If there is liquid water there, that's a big help. But anything that crawls out on Europa's surface gets zapped by Jupiter's radiation belt. Anywhere you look, life is a chancy business.
Phone calls magically subside in late afternoon -- a sudden quiet pool after the rapids. It won't last long. I get some letters finished while it does. Thursday
Rising sun, strangely pale red and flattened, is framed between two gray Connecticut Avenue buildings. Landscape suddenly seems alien, a set in a science-fiction movie about a strange and unbelievable city.
Meeting to discuss how to prepare a popular publication about NASA's space science achievements. I argue that it should be brief, clearly written, well illustrated, not historical. Everyone agrees, which is bureaucratic body language for: "Why don't you take a crack at it?" I can't possibly. There's too much else this month. Even as I argue, I see it taking shape in my mind . . .
Walk across Independence Avenue to the Air and Space Museum to check new titles in their bookstore. Detour a few steps to touch the moon rock for luck. Wait behind a group of small children, all excited. The smallest one reaches way up to touch the rock, then looks at her finger in awe. I suddenly realize that a whole generation has grown up since that rock came to Earth: millions of people who don't remember when it wasn't possible to go to the moon.
Phone call from Virginia citizen. Wants to know how we have measured the weight of the moon. Well, that's simple, sir, you just . . . hmmm . . . it's got something to do with gravity and Kepler's Laws. Nobody in office knows exact details; it's just one of those things you look up. Spend two hours in borrowed astronomy textbooks learning about barycenters, solar parallaxes and side-real months. It isn't simple, but yes, Virginia, you can weigh the moon.
Then you can use the same mathematics to weigh the sun and even the whole Milky Way galaxy! I am awed at how far we can reach into space with the laws that we see in our little corner of the universe. Board the homeward-bound Metro with visions of well-weighed galaxies dancing in my head. h Friday
Temperatures up in 40s, so we get chill drizzle instead of a road-jamming snow. I cross the street to the other NASA building for a get-acquainted chat about extraterrestrial resources and their possible use in the future. I review for the others what we've learned about what the moon and asteroids are made of. On the other hand, only 15 years ago, we weren't sure we could even get there.
Fridays come in only two types: quiet or completely chaotic. This is one of the quiet ones. I work through my in-basket until late, but I still leave a lot for Monday. Go home with my mind spinning from the week, let it run down with a quiet evening at home.
Fire in the fireplace. Sweet vengeance to burn those stumps that I almost killed myself uprooting in last August's heat. They cast a lovely light. Sit with wife and her mother and read aloud from "The Pickwick Papers." Saturday
Work at home. Answer some scientific letters about meteorite craters. They came in before Thanksgiving and got buried by holidays. After four hours' work, I am almost back to where I was last November. I don't seem to do much science any more.
Drive to Virginia -- birthday party for son and his family. Take my guitar and sing folk songs after dinner and cake. Each song -- "Greenland Whaling," "Deportees," "Don't Think Twice" -- brings memories of other times I sang them. Field trips, graduate school, early work at Goddard. My 18-month-old granddaughter applauds happily; she's getting pretty good at slamming the strings herself. Sunday
Take wife and mother to see "Breaking Away." A beautiful picture. A fine outing, too. Can't remember when I last had popcorn at an afternoon movie.
Usual Sunday evening routine. Watch "Masterpiece Theatre," collect papers for tomorrow.
The moon is high and bright in the sky as I carry the garbage out into the night. It seems so white, so pure, so aloof and so unconcerned. Did I really reach out and touch it only three days ago?