100 Colorado Creatives: Dr. David Grinspoon, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Colorado Creatives #95: Dr. David Grinspoon
Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Science? Art? Bona fide space-nerd superstar Dr. David Grinspoon likes it both ways. By day an author and the mild-mannered curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Grinspoon is also a musician and confirmed Dead Head, travels the country lecturing on such topics as "Is There Art on Other Planets?" and, in his spare time, mentors artist Denver painter Monica Aiello, whose artistic oeuvre features beautiful renditions of planetary phenomena. He works with NASA on space exploration projects. And mainly, he has a unique way of sharing the gorgeous awesomeness of the universe with the rest of us, the everyday hoi polloi of planet Earth.
Grinspoon's first love in science lay beneath the ocean, rather than up in the heavens. But that eventually changed. "I was interested in science from an early age," he says. "The first time I remember saying what I wanted to be was in the fifth grade, but at that time, I wanted to be an oceanographer. When I first went to college, I went into physics and my goal was to help perfect nuclear fusion, so I could solve the energy crisis and global warming. I probably would have done it, too, if I'd stuck to it. But in my freshman year, I was seduced by the siren song of the planets. I was able to study with two influential professors who were involved in early planetary exploration as an undergrad. When I saw those new pictures coming in from the Viking landers, it was exciting and new and dynamic, and suddenly, exploratory physics felt old to me. I forgot all about saving the world.
"There were two brand new missions that I got to work on," he continues. "One of the two professors I worked with was involved in the Viking mission, which was the first-ever Mars lander. To look at those first photos, it was as if you were on another world, seeing this windblown, dusty vista of another planet. I saw it as a chance to contribute to a new understanding of other world, and that the opportunity was there to, as they say, boldly go... The other professor was involved with the Pioneer Venus Project -- the first American Venus orbiter." Venus, he notes, remains his "pet planet."