Great days for a rocket kid

A new space mission has been a smashing -- literally -- success! Stay tuned as they unscramble the fuzzy images at JPL/NASA and bring you the origins of life on earth (perhaps), or at least another installment in the odyssey of a comet through long reaches of nothing.

I find this mission compelling because of its astonishing accuracy and because its aims are so lofty: nothing less than the hope that we might discover how life arrived on earth. Growing up with a scientist father, I was fascinated by the idea that nothing much had been determined about the big questions of life on earth and life elsewhere.

My father read a lot of science fiction, much of it written by rocket and aerospace scientists like himself. Doc Clark (who in an article called "Ignition" recounts the day my father blew up a test lab, to the amusement of all the engineers) and Isaac Asimov (who was still trying to decide whether to be a scientist or a writer) were two of his buddies. Asimov's new books proudly adorned our living room bookshelves. Along with them came fascinating stories about black holes, the new-new things in space theory. I grew up having these concepts explained to me, and having stories read to me by my father from A Space Child's Mother Goose -- a copy of which I still have. Here's a tidbit, a taste of my strange childhood:

Little Bo Peep
Has lost her sheep,
The radar has failed to find them.
They'll all, face to face,
Meet in parallel space,
Preceding their leaders behind them.

It took me awhile to figure out why this was so clever -- about a half hour's explanation of relativity by my dad -- and I never did get parallel space totally, but I finally got the joke. There's more of this in Rocket Lessons. I'll post some more Space Child's Mother Goose excerpts later this week.

Meanwhile, keep your eye on that comet.