On a Thursday afternoon in June, a 17-foot-tall rocket motor—looking like something a dedicated amateur might fire off—stood fire-side-up on the salty desert of Promontory, Utah. Over the loudspeakers, an announcer counted down. And with the command to fire, quad cones of flame flew from the four inverted nozzles and grew toward the sky. As the smoke rose, it cast a four-leaf clover of shadow across the ground.
Ed Rivero-Valentin grew up in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, less than 15 minutes away from the jungle home of a 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope. When he was four or five, his parents brought him to the observatory for the first time. He saw the telescope’s mesh dish, resting inside a huge sinkhole in the soft rock formations that shape the region. If he had walked around the Arecibo radio telescope’s dish, he would have clocked more than a mile.