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DAWN OF THE 'PEOPLED SPACE AGE'

(Page 5 of 5)



The strange thing, he adds, is that the mutineers will not be leaving home. They will take their home with them.By then, most of the residents will be third-generation space dwellers. Earth will have become a nice place to visit but you certainly wouldn't want to live there. For starters, the gravity is fierce.

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"Ten or 20 years ago I always wondered," Schweickart says, "how we would ever get to the stars if Congress had to appropriate hundreds of billions of dollars to send some group of people to the nearest star, when they couldn't possibly get there in time to report back to the congressmen's grandchildren, let alone within the same administration, so they could get political credit for it. But I realize that the way we're going to commit resources to space is that the resources are already going to be in place. It's going to be a decision made locally by the community in space and not a decision made on Earth."

For Schweickart, going into space is more than an opportunity to find a better dump to dispose of our garbage and a cheaper way to mine energy. He agrees with Freeman Dyson, the physicist and visonary thinker at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, that the world has a spiritual need for an open frontier and that the ultimate purpose of space travel is expansion of the spirit. "What expands our spirit is a larger vision and new horizons," Schweickart says.

"You're going to have all kinds of weekend Orville and Wilbur Wrights in space. Space colonies will be populated by bunches of sheet metal benders and clever people who are looking for recreation. And when they aren't gazing at the stars they will be building space motor scooters to fly around in, and developing new games like zero-gravity swimming pools, three-dimensional polo, and solar sails that weigh three pounds and are two acres in size, and you can use them to tack back and forth in space."

Now that the Apollo 9 astronaut is back on earth, how does he live out his sense of adventure?

"That's a part of me I have really neglected lately," he answers ruefully. He still flies light airplanes "as often as I can afford to with five kids and a government salary," and in a fit of daring has been known to take the family rafting down the torrential Stanislaus River at snowmelt. When he left NASA, Schweickart and his friend Stewart Brand, publisher of "The Next Whole Earth Catalog," entertained the idea of riding camels across the Sahara.

As skilled as Schweickart is at navigating his way through the thicket of Sacramento politics, he doesn't revel in the bureaucracy, and admits to missing opportunities to leave his desk and head out for the territory. Several years ago he and the family bicycled through Canada to Stewart Brand's cabin in Cape Breton, and Schweickart showed his true colors.

"Rusty can fix anything," Brand says."He would spend two hours taking apart a completely frapped-out, rusted-up spinning reel, make it work, and draw a crowd doing it. Someone would tell us they would like to loan us their boat to get out to an island, but it wasn't working. Rusty would have it running in a half-hour, and the owner would understand all about his engine when Rusty was finished."

That summer yielded, among other things, a Schweickart story that Stewart Brand still can't resist telling:

"We went out to this island called Wolf Island, which had been a lighthouse station. . . . Rusty found a way to go out and catch a whole bunch of mackerel. We wrapped the mackerel in tinfoil and were throwing them on the fire, watching the stars come out.

"Rusty was looking up and said, 'Ah there goes the first one.' We looked up and sure enough, there was a polar satellite heading north. Then his wife, Clare, looks up sort of wistfully and says, 'Gee, Rusty, you know I never did get out to see you when you were a star.' And my flesh crept. Because this guy munching mackerel next to me, in fact, was once a satellite all by himself. He was a star. And here I was thinking of him as a good fisherman."