I no longer remember the context, but the Gravity Probe B experiment came up in discussion around the department last week, and nobody could really remember what the status of it was. It came up again during the “Physics: What We Don’t Understand” panel Saturday morning, where Geoff Landis was able to supply a few details from inside NASA. It came up again during a later panel on the year in physics and astronomy, and again, Geoff was able to supply some details.
I’m not sure what the deal is, but there’s evidently something in the air at the moment making people think about Gravity Probe B, because there’s a very nice article in the New York Times about the history of the experiment, and the scramble to find funding to finish the experiment. The original money ran out a while back, but Francis Everitt, who has been involved with the project from the beginning, has managed to get a bit more than $4 million from an American financier and a Saudi prince, to keep things going.
It’s an interesting read. I’m not sure how scientifically valuable the final results will end up being (as Landis said at the panel Saturday, one of the maddening things about space-based experiments is that in the time it takes to get something launched, technology often advances to the point that ground-based tests will surpass the original goals, and I think something similar has befallen one of the GPB experiments), but Everitt’s dedication is impressive. For his sake, I hope they get something good in the end.