It is always an exhilarating feeling to stand outside on a starry night and look heavenward, dreaming about what lies out there. It is that sense of wonderment that animates all five issues of our Visions for the 21st Century series, but stargazing is literally what we did for our third installment, Space and Science. About half our questions deal with otherworldly subjects, including "Will We Live on Mars?" and "Will We Meet E.T.?", while the rest of the package handles topics closer to home, such as "Can We Save California from an Earthquake?" and "Will the Mind Figure Out How the Brain Works?" (You can't get any closer to home than that.)
We think you'll be pleased by the lineup of scientists who agreed to write for this issue, including Stephen Jay Gould, Freeman Dyson, Steven Weinberg and Steven Pinker. "I usually have to cajole scientists of this caliber to take time off to do articles for us, but this time they all quickly said yes," says Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who oversaw the package. "I chalk it up to what I call the POC effect, which means that by naming Albert Einstein Person of the Century, we underscored how serious TIME is about covering science and the ways that science shapes our lives."
Phil also benefitted from what I call the GSS effect, which means the Great Science Section that works here. Dick Thompson, who is based in Washington, wrote "Can We Save California?" Fred Golden, a TIME contributor, handled "Will We Meet E.T.?" Madeleine Nash, our senior science correspondent, has just finished a book on El Nino, so she was the ideal choice to write "Will We Control the Weather?" Leon Jaroff, who used to do Phil's job as science editor before becoming the founding editor of Discover magazine, wrote "Will a Killer Asteroid Hit the Earth?" (Leon is such a firm believer in this danger that the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after him.) David Bjerklie and Unmesh Kher made sure the answers really were as smart as they seem. We were also fortunate to enlist Timothy Ferris (author of The Whole Shebang) and Matt Ridley (The Red Queen).
Helping Phil conceive and edit the issue were senior writers Michael Lemonick and Jeffrey Kluger. Mike, who has written two books (the most recent: Other Worlds) and whose physicist dad served as dean of Princeton's faculty for 17 years, wrote about the chances of discovering another universe. "What appealed to me most about this project was that many of the questions are so basic that a child might ask them yet so profound and difficult that our writers felt challenged by them."
Jeff is probably best known for co-writing the book that spawned the movie Apollo 13, so he was a natural to field the question about when we will live on Mars. "We've nailed the basic technology; the only thing missing is a decision to go." Barbara Maddux, who is doing a superb job as the head reporter on the entire Visions project, liked the "Will We Live on Mars?" question for more practical reasons: "As a New Yorker living in a tight housing market, I was surprised--and encouraged--by Jeff's optimistic answer."
In the latest installment of Caleb Carr's novella, which is set 25 years from now, the characters conduct a lively debate about the consequences of progress. In a sense, we hope this series also makes you question where we are headed and how we are going to get there.