Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Frank Drake’s 90th birthday

by Rob - May 28th, 2020.
Filed under: Anniversaries, Tube Alloys.

Today is the 90th birthday of SETI pioneer Frank Drake. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Frank several times, and his work makes an appearance in The Oppeheimer Alternative:

“Yeah, that wouldn’t be so bad.” Feynman held up the latest Astronomical Journal, dated October 1959. “But Frank Drake’s got a note in here. He found decimetric radiation coming from Jupiter. Deci, not deca; DIM, not DAM.”

Oppie gestured for Feynman to hand him the journal. Dick had placed a slip of paper in it to mark the page, but Robert was momentarily confused. There were two notes from Frank Drake published in this issue, one after the other. The first was irrelevant, but the second — “Non-thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter” — was the one Feynman was concerned about. It actually had a co-author, which the journal listed as S. Hvatum. Oppie figured the initial was a typo; he knew the first name of Drake’s colleague at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank was Hein.

Sadly, the rest of the brief piece — just three paragraphs, taking up much less than a full page — was harder to find fault with. Drake was a good empirical research scientist: steady, reputable, occasionally brilliant.

And for those of you wondering if any of my signature quotes from Star Trek would make it into The Oppeheimer Alternative, there’s one in the last line above: “A good empirical research scientist: steady, reputable, occasionally brilliant.” Spock describes Dr. Leighton in the same words in “The Conscience of the King.”

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