Science Book a Day Interviews David Eicher


Special thanks to David Eicher for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – STARMUS: 50 years of man in space

Dave Eicher is one of the most widely recognized astronomy enthusiasts in the world. He has been with Astronomy magazine for 30 years, beginning as an assistant editor and working through associate, senior, and managing positions. He has been the magazine’s editor-in-chief since 2002. Dave has spoken widely to amateur astronomy groups, logged many hundreds of hours at the eyepiece, and written seven books on astronomical observing.  – From David’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for STARMUS?

The impetus for Starmus was the friendship between Garik Israelian, the founder and director of Starmus, and Brian May, astrophysicist and founding member and guitarist in the legendary rock band Queen. When Queen took off back in 1970, Brian left his Ph.D. studies of the zodiacal dust band unfinished; more than 35 years later, in 2008, he returned to finish his doctorate. Garik was the astronomer at the Institute for Astrophysics in Tenerife who oversaw Brian’s dissertation. A keen musician himself, the friendship resulted in Starmus, and the first one was held in Tenerife and La Palma in 2011. (The second Starmus has just taken place, at the same location in the Canaries, in September 2014.)

#2 – The author list for your book is amazing! How did you get them to speak/write for the book?

The Starmus planners are an amazing group. They include not only Brian and Garik, but legendary cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (the first human to walk in space); evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins; and Robert Williams, former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. They have an amazing reach, and so were able to invite and include speakers from the worlds of astronomy, space exploration, and allied fields that included Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, Kip Thorne, Jill Tarter, Joe Silk, George Smoot, and others. There really has never been a volume in astronomy and space exploration quite like this.

#3 – Of the many moments of man in space in your book, which is your favourite?

I think the description of the Apollo 13 crisis by Jim Lovell is one that really grabs me, especially because I just visited Jim in Chicago a few weeks ago and heard the whole story firsthand (and you will be able to see videos of this interview on early next year). The Apollo 13 crew’s ability to put their crippled spacecraft back into a free return course toward Earth and to come back without becoming “human space junk,” is one of the most amazing stories in the annuals of any type of flight.

#4 – With the recent landing of Rosetta on a comet. What do you think the next 50 years holds for the future?

I think the next 50 years hold all sorts of incredible surprises. Of course a large part of what we will find and what we’ll explore will depend on how much science funding the world’s governments — and private companies — ante up. But incredible surprises await. The astrophysicist Martin Harwit wrote an important book, “Cosmic Discovery,” a number of years ago, that suggested we have uncovered perhaps 20 percent of the kinds of objects in the universe. We will no doubt understand the early history of the solar system much better, find incredible numbers of planets orbiting stars around us, understand the mechanics of black holes, see the first stars and galaxies and explore how they formed, and get a better read on how rare or abundant life is in the cosmos.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

Yes, a couple. I have just written a huge book for Cambridge University Press, The New Cosmos: Understanding Astronomy’s Big Questions. It will be published in the fall of 2015, and will cover 16 major areas of recent research and what we really know. These include the formation of the Moon, water on Mars, the fate of life on Earth, the size, age, and fate of the cosmos; the latest on black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and lots of other topics. Plus, Brian, Garik, and I will be working on a second Starmus volume, the talks from the conference that took place this year. And more to come after that!

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