Why Get Off This Rock?
I’ve known Jeff Greason for years, and we might or might not be plotting to take the sun hostage every night for some hours and not let you have it back until the morning unless you pay us one billion dollars.
Okay, that’s the joke, but Jeff and I share one very strong influence in the works of Robert A. Heinlein, which molded our juvenile minds in dramatically different, but in the end complementary, ways.
Both of us are, needless to say, interested in space. This might be true or not of all Children of Heinlein™, but in our case, it guaranteed we’d eventually run into each other.
Our most recent moment of “running into each other” happened at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, last month. I was there in my own interest, as a science fiction author (and I brought home a notebook of ideas mostly for short stories) and at the encouragement of my editor at PJ Media to cover the event, the people, and the technological ideas for the site.
Jeff Greason was there in his role as chairman of the board of Tau Zero.
While I’ve already written an article about the conference (and I should warn you there is another on the way. Everything was delayed by an attack of the common cold due to the fact the hotel was excessively air conditioned), it occurs to me that I can explain things from the point of view of the layperson, but not the point of view of a technician thoroughly immersed in the field and in what is and isn’t within the realm of current technology. Hence a two-part interview with Jeff, on his perspective on the field right now and the reasons for his interest in interstellar travel.
So, to begin with:
Jeff, unlike a lot of us who are determined to go to space for various reasons, including that freedom thrives on frontiers, you actually have the technical background to help us get there. To those who never heard of you, please give a summary of your qualifications.
Oh, I’ve had a rather varied career. Grew up on Star Trek and Robert A. Heinlein, in the immediate aftermath of Apollo, thinking the space frontier would be open before the year 2000. I always liked circuits and electronics, and I thought that there’d be plenty of jobs in the space field for that skill, so that’s what I studied. I was one of the many students who was inspired by Richard Feynman while at Caltech, and when Challenger was lost and he was one of those who uncovered the flawed NASA culture behind it, I really lost faith that NASA would be the means by which the frontier would be opened. They’ve done great work in robotic exploration, but that was the moment when I really started to realize that exploration and economic use and settlement are different things that take different tools and organizations. I then went to Intel and worked on chip-making technologies; recently someone told me that some of the tricks from my time there, much further developed now, are still in use.