Wild River Review: Ed Belbruno doesn’t sit still easily. On a sunny, winter afternoon, he perches at the edge of his sofa talking about his latest book, Fly Me to the Moon (Princeton University Press), and about chaos. Specifically chaos theory. In his book, Belbruno tells the story of how he used chaos theory to get the world’s first spaceship (a Japanese spaceship named Hiten, which means “A Buddhist Angel that Dances in Heaven”) to the moon without using fuel. To illustrate a point, his hands move through the air, creating a sunlit swirl of fine dust particles.
Belbruno’s own paintings adorn the walls of his living room, one of which gave him the solution for Hiten. In the corner, tubes of oil paint lie on a drafting table next to an easel exhibiting his latest work, gorgeous splashes of color representing microwaves.
“Chaos is a way to describe the motion of an object where the motion appears to be very unpredictable,” he says. “Some things are not chaotic and some things are.”
“For example,” he continues. “If you look at a leaf falling to the ground on a windy day, it doesn’t fall like a piece of lead rocketing to the ground. It floats. And if the wind catches that leaf, it will dart around from place to place, and the resulting path is not something you know ahead of time. So from moment to moment, you cannot say where the leaf will go. Therefore, chaos has a sense of unpredictability to it. You could say, ’Well does it mean that I can’t really know where something is going?’ In a sense you can’t, because you have to know every little detail of the atmosphere of the earth, about how the wind varies from point to point, and we don’t. The same holds true for space and the orbit of the planets.”
Belbruno knows that out of seeming chaos, a path can be found between two points. [Continue reading…]