This is all his Dad's fault. At age eleven, Jay Gallentine received a book about Apollo from his father and it's been a magnetic attraction ever since.
Jay authored 2009's Emme Award-winning Ambassadors from Earth. In a casual and lighthearted fashion, this wide-ranging tome chronicled the people behind Earth's initial (and unmanned) forays through the solar system. He described the private emotions of James Van Allen, the heartbreak of NASA's first moon program, and bedded any myths about who originated Voyager's Grand Tour of the outer planets. All from the perspective of those who were there.
More of a complement than a sequel, Touching Infinity will be Jay's follow-on book that continues the adventure. InAmbassadors, little ships flew past moons and planets and took a few vital signs. It was necessary groundwork. With that accomplished, the focus changed to our nearby worlds of Venus, Mars, and the Moon. The strategy changed, too:land and stay awhile. Rove about.Analyze soil. Test for life. Return samples.Infinity will detail the lives and efforts of those - in America and the Soviet Union alike - who took robotic exploration to the next level, during a period when mere fly-bys gave way to the concept of planetary stations: on-the-scene robotic habitats capable of extended scientific research.
A returning Spacefest speaker, Jay will be discussing the Viking biology experiments. In the mid-1970s, two landers set down on Mars with the task of determining whether or not life actually existed there. It sounded so easy!
"Life-detection is a very tricky concept. So much of our conventional wisdom about Mars comes from four little gadgets. They weren't perfect and suffered enormous compromises in design and operation. Some have today even been rejected by their designers."
So, what gives? How did Viking purport to test for life, anyway? How did these experiments work, what controversies surrounded them even at the time, and how have they stood up to the ultimate test: history itself?
Jay will be speaking during the Colin Burgess/Outward Odyssey block on Saturday afternoon.