Operation of the Universe
The artificial-life conference reminded some of another Los Alamos gathering that had been held a few years earlier, on the subject of flying to the stars -- "Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience", as it was called. The main feature on that occasion was a tall and rangy Texan by the name of Dave Criswell.
Criswell was a physicist associated with the University of California at San Diego. He worked for the California Space Institute, the state's own miniversion of NASA, and prior to that had been a senior scientist for the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, just outside the Johnson Space Center. He was an all-purpose physicist and had done research on topics ranging from abstract plasma physics to the acoustic properties of lunar soil to assessing risk factors in NASA's space vehicles. During the prelaunch days of Apollo 11, the Neil Armstrong-Buzz Aldrin-Mike Collins flight, Criswell was given the task of analyzing possible mission failure modes on the lunar excursion module. He discovered that there was a slight risk that if two adjacent thrusters vented their different types of propellants after landing on the moon, those propellants might mix together and explode some time afterward. This had been observed during lab tests in vacuum chambers on earth, never doing much damage. "The effect might have been like the college