E.H. “Hutchie” Synge, who conceived of lidar’s first application 30 years before the invention of the laser. (photo courtesy Living Edition Publishers, Austria)


(Prometheus Books – coming fall 2018)

Lidar has quietly radiated from its niche in atmospheric science to water to land and into space. It has helped us better understand the air we breathe, the creep of continents, the paths of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the water in mountain snow packs, the damage done by hurricanes, the impact of climate change on ice caps and much more. Lidar has found lost cities and mapped modern ones, characterized enemy territory from cruising altitude, nabbed speeders, avoided blackouts, helped Jay Leno reproduce obscure auto parts, and listened to the wing beats of malarial mosquitoes. It’s now headed to the streets, where lidar will soon go mainstream as a key enabler of self-driving cars, averting thousands of traffic deaths a year, changing how we commute and, over time, reshaping our cities and how we live in them.

The Laser That’s Changing the World is a popular science and technology book combining historical research with fresh reporting to tell the story of lidar’s origins, follow some of its fascinating transitions to the mainstream, and look ahead.


divider line

From Jars to the Stars book cover



Winner of the 2012 Colorado Book Award for History

Buy Now


From Jars to the Stars: How Ball Came to Build a Comet-Hunting Machine, tells the remarkable story of Ball Aerospace— descended from the maker of Ball jars—and its Deep Impact comet mission. The book delivers a rare inside look into the backgrounds, characters and motivations of the men and women who create the spacecraft on which the American space program rides.

From Jars to the Stars is a timeless story about science, engineering, politics and business intertwining to bring success in the brutal business of space. It is a readable, lively account of some of mankind’s great modern achievements.

The book focuses on the $330 million Deep Impact mission, which smashed an impactor spacecraft into the comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005 when the icy wanderer was as far away from Earth as the sun. But Deep Impact is only part of the story.

From Jars to the Stars puts the mission into the greater context of humanity’s continuing search for its origins via the senses of scientific spacecraft. Based on interviews with more than 100 people and exhaustive documentary and archival research, From Jars to the Stars explores the improbable beginnings of Ball Aerospace, focusing on the story of a group of University of Colorado students who, starting in 1948, built a “sun seeker” for the noses of sounding rockets studying the sun. The device set precedent for nearly all modern spacecraft, and sparked the creation and development of both Ball Aerospace and the University of Colorado’s formidable space-science laboratory.

From Jars to the Stars also describes the effort behind Ball’s first spacecraft, the Orbiting Solar Observatory launched in 1962. The Ball orbiter prepares the ground for Deep Impact, showing readers how much—and how little—changed across four decades of American space exploration.

The book goes on to show how Ball Aerospace evolved into an organization capable of building a comet hunter. The story pays special mind to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the world leader in interplanetary space exploration and Ball’s partner on the mission.

The Deep Impact team nearly faltered: NASA was twice on the verge of scrapping the mission as technical and money problems mounted. But against the odds, and with a telescope that came up blurry in space, Deep Impact met its mark. The surviving flyby spacecraft sent home images and data of an explosion that shed new light on comets, which, scientists believe, are a key to understanding how the solar system evolved and where we came from.

The book shows vividly that robotic space missions are indeed manned: the people just happen to stay on the ground.

divider line

How the West Was Warmed cover shotHOW THE WEST WAS WARMED:
Beth Conover, Editor; Published November 2009 (Fulcrum)


Melting glaciers. Pine beetle infestation. Drought. Carbon footprints. Green jobs and promises of a new energy economy…

When the venerable Aspen Skiing Company starts talking about the “death of snow,” even the most determined deniers start to wonder, what is going on? In this entertaining and enlightening collection of essays, noted environmentalist and Greenprint Denver founder Beth Conover develops a portrait of the wide range of responses to climate change in the Rocky Mountain West. For over two decades, this region has been a leader in addressing climate change, and today it is a hub of solutions to this pressing global issue.

Written by over forty veteran journalists, scientists, business people, and policy makers, these essays show us how climate change has and continues to affect the ways in which we live, work, and play. An alternative to the many dry scientific books and how-to greening manuals about global warming, How The West Was Warmed provides insights, hope, and a little dose of humor to inspire all Americans in facing our future.

My essay, “Getting the Fear,” is a personal look at the enormous magnitude of the challenges we face in transitioning to low-carbon energy and transportation systems.