UC Berkeley press release


UC Berkeley/Spanish experiment goes into orbit with Cal alum Timothy Leary

NOTE: MINISAT-01 was successfully launched Monday April 21, shortly after noon G.M.T.
by Robert Sanders

Berkeley -- A joint UC Berkeley/Spanish experiment will fly into orbit with Timothy Leary's ashes off Grand Canary Island Monday (4/21), accompanied by the cremains of luminaries such as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and space colonization guru Gerard O'Neill.

The instrument -- an extreme ultraviolet spectrometer built by UC Berkeley's Space Astrophysics Group in collaboration with Spain's Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial in Madrid -- will fly aboard Spain's first scientific satellite, MINISAT-01. MINISAT will be carried aloft by an air-launched Pegasus rocket, scheduled for launch at noon G.M.T. April 21 (5 a.m. P.D.T.) off the Canary oIslands.

Packed into the last stage of the rocket, however, will be ashes or cremains from 24 would-be astronauts, including Leary, who died last year; Roddenberry, who died in 1991; and O'Neill, who died in 1992. The space was rented out to Celestis, Inc., by Orbital Sciences Corp., makers of the Pegasus XL launch vehicle. The last stage and ashes will orbit the Earth for perhaps six years before a second and final cremation as they enter the atmosphere and burn up.

The spectrometer is designed to make measurements of the glow of hot gas between the stars, according to Stuart Bowyer, professor in the graduate school at UC Berkeley and one of the principal investigators on the project. One of the main goals is to search for the signature of the million-degree material discovered by the UC Berkeley group in the 1960s and still poorly understood. This hot material emits light in the extreme ultraviolet, the band of the spectrum between X-rays and the ultraviolet.

Physicist Carmen Morales of Spain's Laboratorio de Astrofisica Espacial y Fisica Fundamental, the Spanish principal investigator for the instrument, pointed out that the instrument also has the potential to weigh the universe and to predict its long-term future.

Jerry Edelstein, project scientist based at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, says the instrument is about 100 times more sensitive and has five times more spectral resolution than any other previous comparable experiments. It will obtain emission line spectra of the diffuse extreme ultraviolet background (300-1050 Angstroms) of the interstellar medium.

In addition to observations of the interstellar medium, the spectrometer will search for possible evidence of massive, long-lived neutrinos. Some cosmologists have proposed that massive neutrinos comprise a significant portion of the universe's mass, and could be the "missing mass" that astronomers are searching for, one of the great unsolved mysteries of astronomy today.

The Spanish project -- called EURD, Espectrografo Ultravioleta Extremo para la Radiacion Difusa -- is a collaboration of UC Berkeley, El Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial in Madrid, and the Laboratorio de Astrofisica Espacial y Fisica Fundamental in Villafranca west of Madrid.

Leary obtained his PhD in psychology from UC Berkeley in 1950, and conducted important research in psychotherapy before leaving in 1955 following his wife's suicide. Only later did he discover LSD and urge a generation of Americans to "turn on, tune in and drop out."

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