Chapter One: 2001
"He was moving through a new order of creation of which few men ever
dreamed. Beyond the realms of sea and land and air and space lay the realms
of fire, which he alone had been privileged to glimpse. It was much too much
to expect that he would also understand."
—Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Two boys sit in darkened cinemas, one in London and one in Miami, set to
watch Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is 1968, a
year of worldwide conflict and turmoil: Vietnam, the arms race, political
assassinations, student protests, and rebellions. But all this is forgotten
as the film sweeps the boys along in a glorious tale of science, space, and
The boy in Miami witnessed firsthand the awesome power of technology to
annihilate or inspire. Six years earlier, from his home near Homestead Air
Force Base, he watched missiles being prepared for a strike on Cuba,
knowing that his family and community would be obliterated if the looming
crisis led to a nuclear exchange. Then, as the crisis subsided, he became
galvanized by John F. Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the Moon by the
end of the decade. He emerged from these early experiences optimistic about
the power of technology to improve the future and fascinated by all things
scientific. He kept logbooks of every manned mission and traveled often to
Cape Canaveral to observe the launches. He turned the family garage into a
laboratory with large stocks of chemicals and biological specimens. And he
headed to the Everglades at night, avoiding the city lights and fending off
mosquitoes, to take a peek at the heavens through his telescope.
The boy in London was a refugee from South Africa, where his parents had
been imprisoned for resisting the oppressive apartheid regime. But he too
was optimistic, having seen the determination of people like Nelson Mandela
to build a better future. Upon his parents’ release, the family had left South
Africa for Kenya and then Tanzania, new countries full of natural wonders—the
Serengeti’s wild animals and the Olduvai Gorge, home of the earliest humans.
Under the hot African sun the boy had learned mathematics and science from
spirited young teachers. He’d built electric motors, made explosions, and
watched ant lions for hours. In 1968 his family had moved to England for the
sake of the children's education, arriving in time to watch the Apollo moon
landings on TV.
As young children, both boys had acquired their passion for science from their
fathers. Each night, the father in America told stories to his little boy of Marie
Curie, Louis Pasteur, and other great discoverers. The father in Africa patiently
explained the Pythagorean theorem and spoke of the great achievements of
ancient Greek science. Their words were like water on seeds, feeding insatiable
curiosities. How does the world work? How did it start out? Where is it headed?
The boys asked the same questions that have gripped people from every society
every culture, every religion, and every continent since civilization began.
Kubrick’s film speaks of a time in the foreseeable future when people will devote
their skills and resources to uncovering the secrets of the universe. A space
mission is dispatched to investigate a powerful signal emanating from one of
Jupiter’s moons. Technology, in the form of the computer HAL, threatens to
end the mission, but human ingenuity and adaptability win out. A lone surviving
astronaut arrives to find a giant monolith, appearing like a solid rock two
thousand feet high. As he approaches, he realizes that it’s actually the opening
of an infinite shaft, drawing him into a transdimensional trip through hyperspace
and revealing the creation and the future of the universe. Watching the film,
neither boy realizes how prophetic this story might be.
A Real Space Odyssey
Fast–forward to the real 2001: rather than a lone astronaut, a worldwide
community of cosmologists engaged in an intense effort to understand the
beginning of the universe. The two of us, now grown, are thrilled to be among
them. The boy in Miami, Paul Steinhardt, is now a professor of mathematical
physics at Princeton University. The boy in London, Neil Turok, is a professor of
physics at Cambridge University in England. Each of us, following his own path,
has pursued his dream of becoming an explorer of the universe, albeit with
paper and pencil instead of a rocketship. Three years have passed since the two
of us joined forces on a risky venture to investigate a new, transdimensional
view of space and time that challenges the conventional history of the universe.
Cosmologists celebrate 2001 as the year the U.S. National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) launched a satellite mission from Cape Canaveral
to investigate not the black monolith of Kubrick’s film but a thin, dark layer of
space at the outermost edge of the visible universe. The mission is called WMAP
(pronounced “W-map,”), which stands for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.
On board is a ….
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