JPL aims at the outer planets and the stars

Larry Klaes (
Mon, 15 Nov 1999 13:12:54 -0500

>From Rocketeers to Solar Sailors

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Scientists Are Building Robots to Explore the Solar System -- and Even Making Plans to Sail to the Stars

To quote in part:

"On a sweltering summer day this year, a small team of scientists attempts the unimaginable: Working among the 150 structures on JPL's 156-acre home in La Canada-Flintridge, they are dreaming of a voyage to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, a journey that would take the most advanced existing spacecraft
tens of thousands of years. The JPL team hopes to design a vehicle to fly at one-tenth the speed of light, cutting travel time to less than 40 years. If such a journey seems unfathomable, consider this: These scientists and engineers
are devoting their careers to a mission that won't fly until long after they are dead.

It's like the 15th century explorers who set out for the Americas, for Africa,
says Dr. Charles Elachi, the ebullient but low-key Lebanese-born scientist who
heads JPL's Space and Earth Science Programs. They didn't know, step by step, how they would explore new continents, he says, but they had the confidence that they would figure out ways to overcome the hurdles.