New Millennium Program


Dr. Marc Rayman—Deep Space 1, Project Manager

Space Minute Man of the United States of America

Answerman for the New Millennium Program's education and outreach website, The Space Place, Dr. Marc Rayman has been an astronomy buff for as far back as he can remember. He even has pets with "spacey" names: two cats (Milky Way and Regulus), a chameleon (Xenon, for the propellant in ion engines), and an iguana (Aurora).

One room in his home is devoted entirely to space exploration. It barely contains his prized collection, started when he was 10 years old, and includes over 750 books and 12 file drawers full of publications. His memorabilia, from over 40 space-faring nations, include a model of the Russian Luna 3 spacecraft, which in 1959 sent back the first pictures of the far side of the moon, and food packets from the 1981 joint Soviet-Mongolian space flight. One of his favorites is a framed certificate he received in second grade (for having bought a savings bond) that declares him a "Space Minute Man of the United States of America."

Dr. Marc Rayman
NMP's Dr. Marc at home in his room of memorabilia.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, of a librarian mother and a postal worker father, Rayman notes that he was 359 days old when Sputnik 1 was launched. He sees that event as a benchmark in his life. However, the event that really inspired him ocurred when he was about five. One of the early manned flights, perhaps Alan Shepard's flight on a Mercury mission, was being televised. And, as he watched, Rayman's father told him that a man was being launched into space. Whichever mission it was, Rayman explains that "... it was the event that hooked me on space."

In junior high, he found on an old 20x spotting scope in his parents' basement and when he pointed it toward Jupiter, it opened up a whole new universe for him——he felt like Galileo. He then bought himself an ancient 60-mm refractor telescope. From that point on, he spent two or three nights a week looking at the stars for hours at a time. He also joined a local astronomy club——the only child member. At age 14, Rayman went to his first conference, the Great Lakes Astronomy Symposium. There he met Grote Reber of radio astronomy fame, and Peter van de Kamp, first to make a credible (though erroneous) claim of the discovery of an extrasolar planet. A photograph of Rayman with the two men was published in the August 1971 issue of Sky and Telescope, a popular magazine for amateur astronomers.

Rayman earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton, a master's in physics and a Ph.D. in special relativity and atomic and laser physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder. He then took his technical training to space, joining the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1988 where he worked on optical (laser) communications technology for deep space. In 1990, he began helping to design future Earth-orbiting and moon-based astrophysics missions using interferometry, progressing to space-based interferometry.

Maven of "Listen to Dr. Marc" (formerly "Ask Dr. Marc"), Dr. Rayman records monthly sessions on astronomy and space exploration for visitors of The Space Place. The idea for this popular feature grew out of Rayman's Deep Space 1 mission log, kept while he was mission manager and then extended mission director. He made the log available to the public through pre-recorded telephone messages. The text of these recordings are still available on the DS1 website.

Dr. Marc Rayman
Dr. Rayman at DS1
mission control.

Deep Space 1 (DS1), which was NMP's first validation flight (launched in 1998), carried 12 risky new technologies. Of the 12, Rayman recalls that the primary technology was the ion propulsion engine——right out of Star Trek! "We don't know if we'll ever have Star Trek-like warp drive engines, but at least one science fiction technology is now fact," says Rayman, thanks to DS1. "Ion-drive engines are so fuel efficient that they can keep thrusting continuously, eventually building up to greater speeds than we ever could before with chemical propulsion."

Besides his achievements working on DS1, Rayman is also proud to have been one of the developers of NMP and The Space Place. And, about four years ago he was honored for his contributions and dedication to space exploration by having an asteroid named after him——Asteroid 10050 1987 MA1. Ecstatic, Rayman declared at the time, "I am fantastically rich, far beyond my wildest dreams of avarice!"

Rayman has come far from being a "Space Minute Man" in the second grade. With highly rewarding work and a namesake asteroid, Rayman muses how amazing it is to look up and think about what we've sent out there. "Up until a few tens of years ago, our human touch, our fingerprints, reached no farther than Earth. Now our fingerprints reach distances that until recently exceeded even the greatest human imagination."

Written by Sandi Beck and Diane Fisher.

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