Sixty years ago. It was some time about 1961 and I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. At the time, I was working on my master’s degree in the Speech Department, wherein was housed the Theatre Department, for it was theatre I was interested in, working at trying to become a playwright. At some point that year I would enter the student playwright contest. I had entered the year before, with no success, but that year I wrote a one-act play called A Little Rebellion. It won the contest. The play was staged and published in the student literary magazine … my first publication.
As was common, I lived in an off-campus house with a bunch of guys. I don’t remember their names, but it was all amiable. I have no idea how we got together but a few of the fellows were graduate students in physics. All told, there were maybe five of us, each with our room, the kitchen used in common, likewise the living room.
The living room was open space, and roommates congregated there for the endless talk about every topic in the world, talk being the primary currency of student life. Into that living room, came the friends of room mates, and the talk bubbled on.
One evening, when I walked into the living room, two of the physics guys were there. They had brought a friend, a fellow graduate student. “Avi,” they said by way of introduction, “this is Carl Sagan.”
(At the time, he was a student at the University of California, so I have no idea why he was in Madison. I suppose my room mates were friends of his.)
I sat down and listened. They were talking astrophysics, something I knew nothing about—other than science fiction. The one doing most of the talking was Sagan. He was engaging, indeed, charismatic, and he was holding forth about space travel. It was, to say the least, fascinating. I never forgot one astonishing idea he put forth:
The way to travel in space was to build space sailing ships, whose gigantic sails would catch the force emitted by the sun.
New York, July 31, 2019. CNN About 450 miles above Earth, a small satellite is drifting deeper into the cosmos — powered not by rocket fuel, thrusters or other contraptions. This satellite, called LightSail 2, is sailing on a sunbeam.
The prototype spacecraft is the work of the Planetary Society, an international nonprofit headed by famed science communicator Bill Nye. Its mission was declared a success on Wednesday, marking the culmination of a years-long effort to prove a satellite can surf through space using sunlight as an endless fuel supply.
It only took sixty years.