Preble et al. collect several journals of celebrated engineer William C. Brown in this first volume in a series.
Brown is remembered primarily for being the first person to propose and then demonstrate Microwave Power Transmission, in which electrical energy is transferred using electromagnetic waves. The discovery has great potential application for solar energy, making it possible—as Preble notes in his introduction—to “efficiently, safely, and cost-effectively bring the continuously available sunshine at geosynchronous orbit back to power Earth’s growing electric power grids.” Brown used ingenuity and experimentation to develop the key piece of technology—he called it the “rectenna”—to make MPT possible in 1964, which is also the year that this volume begins. The four journals track Brown’s progress through 1975, including accounts of his first demonstration of MPT on national television, when he powered a small helicopter using a microwave beam for CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Later, Apollo 11 carried another of Brown’s inventions, the Amplitron, on its mission to the moon, using it to broadcast back to Earth the video and audio of Neil Armstrong’s famous first lunar step. Over the course of the decade covered here, Brown documents how technology slowly advanced: truly one day at a time. Brown’s voice is workmanlike but warm, and there are moments when his satisfaction at his hard work shine through his usual professional exterior, as this entry from four days after the moon landing show: “In my own small way, I felt that I had really contributed through the communications system, which brought back the TV and the voice and the telemetering from the Moon. The 20-watt Amplitron did its job well.” However, for every historic moment, there are a hundred pages of fairly unremarkable entries covering the development of Brown’s work and his daily interactions with family and colleagues. Posterity should be grateful that the scientist wrote so much down and that it is now being published, but it’s difficult to see many outside of Brown’s field reading the entirety of this over 500-page volume, much less the full series of intended volumes.
A significant but less-than-riveting first-person account by a pioneer in energy technology.