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Another way to beat Cal: Stanford alums shoot for the moon


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Innovation Editor

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
last updated September 28, 2004 5:46 AM

In 10 years’ time, Stanford may own a dish not only in the foothills, but also on the moon. Perhaps even further into the future, the moon may join the ranks of Oxford, Paris and Florence as one of the exotic destinations of the Stanford Overseas Program.

A group of past Stanford students are organizing the Stanford Alumni Moon Project, with the goal of “creating a significant lunar presence” for Stanford University by 2015.

According to the group’s Web site, “The Stanford University community of students, professors, scientists and administrators will be at the forefront of any new and ongoing lunar research and development.”

Many academic disciplines will be involved, including physics, engineering, aeronautics, astronautics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology and others.

Possibilities range “from sophomore seminars to satellite engineering, biosphere studies to telemedicine, telerobotics to radio telescopes.”

More immediately, the project will focus on commercial, scientific, educational and international enterprises. For the alumni community, the Stanford Alumni Moon Project believes that this is “a unique and unprecedented opportunity and responsibility to explore and develop our nearest neighbor.”

The group’s proposal for the “Stanford on the Moon” mission was posted on the Web site of Space Age Publishing Company, which produces newsletters regarding the space industry. Dubbed as “Your Internet source for the latest global space news,” the organization, located in Palo Alto, was founded and owned by Steve Durst, Class of 1965.

Durst first raised the idea of “Stanford on the Moon” to his Class of 1965 at his 35-year Reunion panel in October 2000. Since then, his vision has attracted alumni, professors and media communicators.

An exploratory committee for the Stanford Alumni Moon Project was formed within 18 months. In May 2002, a group from this committee visited the Stanford campus to explore initiatives with various Stanford departments. These included the Overseas Studies Program Offices, the University President’s Office, the Stanford Alumni Association Center and the Stanford Dish.

In April of last year, the exploratory committee participated in a discussion on how to publicize the Stanford Alumni Moon Project to the larger Stanford community. Stanford alumni Steve Durst, Jim McCotter, Kristi Nelson, Ruth Richards, Chia Tze, Sharon Swinyard and Bill Brown attended the discussion. Also present were Greg Nemitz of Orbital Development and Jennifer Valcov of Space Age Publishing Company.

Most of the Stanford alumni involved in this project are from Durst’s Class of 1965. They were “the generation that entered the University with the New Frontier’s promise of the stars and the moon,” as the organization’s press release explains.

A mission to the moon could possibly “provide laboratory hands-on learning,” according to Durst’s organization, “giving students, faculty and alumni an opportunity to engage in a multidisciplinary, cooperative approach to real world problem solving — a skill which certainly any educational institution aims to instill in its students.”

Telerobotics, which allows operators on earth to control the activities of robots on the moon, will play a key role in such a mission. Other sophisticated robots will also be needed to construct a base facility on the moon. A radio observatory and a dish could also be set up on the moon

Durst suggested that Stanford could also set up a Moon Society chapter, or establish a Lunar Studies Institute to promote more academic lunar research.

But the project has larger goals as well: “The Moon project could also inspire new generations of Stanford students to excel in leading edge science, business and law, by providing a new arena of activities, on the Moon,” according to Durst.

It may be too early to tell what the exact outcome of the “Stanford on the Moon” project will be. But one thing is for sure: Echoing the words of Durst’s organization, Stanford’s participation in such an unprecedented initiative is a clear reflection of “Stanford’s pioneering, enterprising ethos in bringing us face to face with the implication of humanity’s evolution to a multi-world species,” according to project’s coordinators.

This Saturday, from 9-11:30 a.m., Durst is organizing a “Stanford on the Moon” symposium. The agenda does not only include discussion of both long term and intermediary goals. Guest speakers will also be presenting their lunar mission proposals. Open to the public, it will be held in the Cypress Room at Tresidder Memorial Union.

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