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This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the June 2, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

From the Stadium to the Stars

Imagine the security checks for traveling to the moon. Would you be allowed extra carry-ons because of zero gravity? And how many in-flight movies would it take? The answers to these and a host of equally practical questions will be revealed, at, of all places, this year’s June Fete.

For the last 35 of its 51 years, the Fete has sprawled across the grassy playing fields of Princeton University, beside Washington Road and the Millstone River. This year, with the new venue, comes a look into the future. Based on the theme of “The Rocket Fete,” the massive celebration and medical center fundraiser shifts up the hill to the Princeton University Stadium. And right in mid-field comes the opportunity to learn more about current and not-so-distant space travel from the machines and people who have been there and back.

“We wanted to find some distinctive theme to aptly mark our new location,” says Fete co-chair Jody Erdman, who began pondering the problem with her fellow-chair Karen Fein-Kelly as far back as last summer. The Fete theme, in accordance with tradition, is the furtive decision of the co-chairs, who closely guard the secret until its announcement at the February kickoff meeting. Both Erdman and Kelly searched for something specifically educational and novel that would appeal to all ages and would provide a point of unification for both Princeton University and the newly named University Medical Center at Princeton.

The Rocket Fete seemed the perfect answer, but there is a big difference between having a label and producing an event that lives up to it. Dedicating five to ten hours a day, six days a week, Erdman and Kelly began looking for something around which to build the Fete. Finally, they discovered NASA’s Starship 2040, a traveling exhibit that provides a peek into the possible world of commercial space travel.

“NASA is a government agency,” remarks Kelly, “and while it was helpful, the entire process of booking 2040 was lengthy — a matter of months.” While NASA began grinding its wheels, finding out if the Fete was legitimate, making sure no tickets would be sold or financial gain accrued, Erdman and Kelly studied the Starship and found it ideal.

The 27 tons of futuristic technology that will roll into Princeton Stadium aboard a flatbed truck on Friday, June 4, depicts just how near we are to having commercial space liners launching daily from major airports. Designed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the 54-foot-long by 14-foot-high Starship 2040 is not a blueprint of a specific vessel. Rather, it demonstrates the various foundation technologies that will make popular space travel possible.

Can it all happen in just 40 years? Well, 40 years ago, the Internet, global positioning systems, and palm-size telecommunications were not fully conceived, yet the existing technology pointed in the direction of their invention. Therefore, it is logical to predict at least the possibility of similar advances based on the current launch and land capabilities of today.

Amid the aura of a linear Star Trek Enterprise, visitors can explore Starship 2040, wandering through the mock-up of the control deck, passenger areas, and engineering compartments. From out of the “windows,” visions of the distant earth and the approaching Martian landscape can be seen.

Concerned with logic as well as capability, Starship 2040 guides explain exactly why anyone would want to spend his vacation on the moon. Reaching deep into speculation, they will conjure up the possibility of lunar resorts and perhaps how the Neil Armstrong golf course might be laid out. But before you scoff, just remember that thousands of tourists annually pay lavish sums to visit the South Pole and wander the bleak polar ice cap. We humans are adventurers, and we’re not about to let a little thing like an oxygen void prevent this next and newest exploration.

But as always, tomorrow’s fantasies must be based on today’s real achievements and in that light, this year’s Fete will feature a veteran astronaut with over 1,280 hours in space.

Story Musgrave is a scientist, a physician, and a NASA publicist’s dream. No bashful jet jockey whose conversation is a jumble of numbers and jargon, astronaut Musgrave is a dynamic, coherent speaker whose very voice bristles with energy. Since his retirement from the NASA team in l997, Musgrave has made hundreds of appearances relating his space travel experiences and explaining, in understandable terms, the technologies currently employed in NASA systems.

Born in Boston, the 68-year-old Musgrave spent his youth as a farm boy in the rolling Berkshires, overlooking the Housatonic River. In fact his home, built in 1859, is currently the new Rockwell Museum. At age five, he made a raft and ran the Housatonic, at age 10 he was running the huge combines on his family farm, and by age 17 he had taught himself to fly. “I learned early how to take care of machinery — and how to solve things,” he says.

Musgrave launched his educational career as a high school drop out — a misstep he soon made up for with a vengeance. Following a two-year stint in the Marines, where he served as an aviation crew chief, Musgrave plunged into an overwhelming academic whirl, obtaining a number of advanced degrees, often simultaneously. By his early 30s, he had earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics, science, and chemistry; an M.B.A. and an advanced computer programing degree; and an M.D. and surgical internship. “It wasn’t until I got my doctorate that they decided to award me an honorary high school degree,” laughs Musgrave. “Guess they figured I could probably pass the test.”

Then, in l987, to brighten his copious free hours as an astronaut, Musgrave earned a master of arts in literature. “At heart, I am a romantic — and literarily, while I have favorites in all genres, I really like the romanticists.” A scientist who can see heaven in a grain of sand, Musgrave continues to write poetry, which readers may sample by visiting www.spacestory.com

Musgrave’s incredibly diverse background in hard sciences and his aviation abilities made him an ideal candidate for NASA, and in l967 he was selected as a scientist/astronaut. He began work on the Skylab program, helping design space suits, airlocks, and various life saving systems. For Skylab’s first launch, he was named as backup pilot/physician.

But it was not until l983 that Musgrave got his first chance to break the surly bonds of earth. The space shuttle Challenger was making its maiden voyage with Musgrave aboard. During the five-day mission, he and fellow astronaut Don Peterson took the first space stroll outside a space shuttle to test the new space suits.

Musgrave went on to become the only astronaut to participate in all five space shuttles. In l993 when the Hubble telescope went askew and became myopic, he joined the first servicing and repair mission on a voyage involving three separate space walks. While he jokes about the Hubble repair as merely a matter of giving the scope glasses, he admits that the training was an incredibly demanding piece of choreography.

“I call it space dance,” says the astronaut. “Like a ballet dance or Dorothy Hamill on ice, you choreograph every motion, every finger, every wrist movement. You impress it onto body and brain. But still you have to accommodate the unknown. The real skill comes in your ability to recoup when you get off the groove.”

A veteran of six space missions, Musgrave recollects that “during each flight, I got better. My ability to perceive and understand the beauty increased.” He scoffs at the old l950s concept of conquering space. “People who try to conquer space are saying that they will take their earthly aura with them and not blend into their new environment. Try that and you will die.”

Today, the very unretired Musgrave holds three jobs, one a landscape business in which he personally runs 32 various machines. The night before we talked, he had been repairing the solenoid on one of them. Yet while his hands are laboring in the current realities, he still keeps in mind the future. “On earth, now, we face incredible problems. We have reached a non-sustainable behavior, and as a species are far beyond our critical carrying capacity. But we still need to continue to explore space. It is who we are. It is what we must do.” And what should we do out there? “Listen. Listen and perhaps develop a planetary ethic,” comes the reply.

During his stay in Princeton, Musgrave will be giving two “grand rounds” (major lectures) at Princeton Hospital, presenting awards to the victors of the Fete’s 10 K race, and giving a series of talks. See page 44.

For Princeton psychiatrist David Nathan, Musgrave’s visit is the culmination of four years of persistence. An avid space enthusiast, Nathan first met the astronaut during a tour of NASA’s facilities. “He struck me as an individual who was not only dedicated to the program, but who was personable and wanted to give something back to the public,” says Nathan. When the Rocket Fete theme was announced, Nathan found that Princeton was eager and that Musgrave actually had a free weekend. A perfect match.

An ardent devotee of both space and the Princeton hospital, Nathan has also sought to cap off the Fete experience by donating a Martian meteorite from his personal collection. The inch-and-a-half long specimen, named Dar al Gani 1037, was created in a Martian volcano approximately 474 million years ago. Through an astro-amazing series of events it fell through the Earth’s atmosphere 60,000 years ago onto the sands of Libya, where it was found in l999.

The pyroxine stone, peppered with flakes of olivine matches samples observed and analyzed by the Mars rover. Its estimated value runs about $3,500, but Nathan adds, “It’s an auction, who knows how high it will go.”

Beyond the pony rides, the foot races, the ice cream booths and marvelous sale tents, the 2004 Rocket Fete promises something a little more. With this depiction of our space quest comes a note of hope — hope that human kind can unite and strive for a world beyond things material. As Musgrave says, “The horizon is your past and future, your expectations and dreams. Climb the tree and look out as far as you can.”


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