A number of months ago my friend Ray Beach at NASA’s Glenn Research Center invited me to come and talk to a meeting of their local INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) group in Cleveland, Ohio. So I got in the car and drove 640 miles last Sunday to be there Monday morning at the Ohio Aerospace Institute where I would give my presentation.
The keynote speaker that day was Dr. Harrison Schmitt. Dr. Schmitt is a member of one of the most elite groups of all humanity: he is one of only twelve men to walk on the surface of the Moon. Dr. Schmitt, back when he was a young man of 37, flew on the Apollo 17 mission to the Taurus-Littrow valley near the Sea of Serenity on the Moon. Dr. Schmitt was the only professionally trained geologist to walk on the Moon, and his mission had a remarkable scientific return because of his presence.
Dr. Schmitt was there talking about how we could go to the Moon and mine it for a rare helium isotope implanted in the lunar surface by the solar wind: helium-3. Helium-3 has some special characteristics in advanced fusion reactors that make it more attractive to some than the standard deuterium-tritium fusion approach pursued. Dr. Schmitt and I had the same goal: clean and abundant energy for humanity.
When it was my turn to speak, I used essentially the same slides I employed in my recent talk at Google, but with some verbal expansion on particular points. Afterward, Dr. Schmitt came up to me in the hallway and asked if I might be interested in giving the presentation at the University of Wisconsin, where he is a professor. I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative.
I do not know whether my arguments for thorium and the liquid-fluoride reactor changed any minds of those present at the meeting, but it was a profound honor to meet a man who has made such an incredible journey. It has never happened in my lifetime and I don’t think it ever will.