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Beyond, To Mars

by Peter Smith

July 28, 2009 - Revolution was in the air as I completed my undergraduate studies at Berkeley in 1969.

Assassinations of our national leaders, riots in the inner cities and Vietnam War protests rocked the country; violent demonstrations brought the National Guard and martial law to campus. Graduating students felt empowered and began to lead the charge for greater rights for minorities and women. Ironically, my plans were put on hold due to arrogance; I failed to test out of the one-credit American history requirement and had to stay the summer to take the dreaded course. This delay made all the difference.

That's because my daily history lectures that summer were offset by a research job in which I attempted to untangle the structure of the titanium dioxide molecule using a spectrometer (a measurer of light) the size of a banquet hall. Because I lacked one unit of historical knowledge, my career path began to take shape. By the end of the summer I had transferred to my first real job--building a rocket spectrometer that, for a few minutes after launch, popped outside the dense atmosphere 100 miles above New Mexico to reveal an ultraviolet sun.

Meanwhile, midway through the summer, a major milestone in human history was reached: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took a walk on the moon. John F. Kennedy had stated this goal in two pivotal lectures, first to a joint session of Congress May 25, 1961, and again at Rice University in Houston on Sept. 12, 1962.

Continued at Forbes.com