The Further Adventures of S. Sandford

Today’s New York Times Sunday Magazine has a long, exciting report about the work of AIR editorial board member and author Scott Sandford and his colleagues. The report begins:

September 26, 2004
The Genesis Project


One morning, a little more than a year from now, a group of scientists, members of what is known as the Stardust mission, will be standing around on a remote stretch of salt flat in the Utah desert, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a very special package. It will, if all goes as planned, enter our atmosphere much like a meteorite, plunging earthward until the final stage of re-entry, when a small parachute will open. The object, about the size and overall appearance of a large metal cephalopod mollusk, better known as the nautilus, will drift harmlessly to the ground, its belly filled with the dust and debris gathered from the comet Wild 2, which scientists now expect may offer significant clues about life’s origins here on earth.

”These comets are thought to contain some of the most primitive material in the solar system, more or less unchanged since its formation,” Scott A. Sandford, a NASA research astrophysicist and co-investigator of the Stardust mission, told me one afternoon this past spring. We sat talking in the dining area of a huge white plastic tent pitched in the middle of the NASA Ames Research Center campus in Moffett Field, Calif., a tree-dotted, 440-acre sprawl of tan brick laboratory buildings.

”Among the things we’ll want to know about the material we’ve collected,” continued Sandford, a stout, rugged-looking man with a way of talking about even the most far-flung, wondrous endeavors as though he were a plumber discussing your bathroom pipes, ”is what fraction of it is organic, what kinds of organics they are and what possible role they may have played in life’s emergence on earth….”