Support Provided ByLearn More

Scientist Obituary: The Engineer With Visions of Solar Space Energy

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

In the late 1960s, engineering consultant Dr. Peter Glaser wrote an article in Science magazine entitled “Power From the Sun: Its Future.” The article outlined his vision of harnessing limitless solar power in space and transmitting it to Earth via invisible microwaves.

Support Provided ByLearn More
Dr. Peter Glaser.

The concept was complex and massive. It required massive satellites to orbit Earth, storing solar energy in a way that would allow them to virtually never be in the dark. The enormous satellites – several square miles in size – would generate enough wattage to equal the production of several nuclear power plants. The idea was so intriguing during the 1970s energy crisis that the government spent $20 million studying it.

By the 1980s, the price of oil decreased and Dr. Glaser’s ideas was deemed impractical.

Still, Glaser’s ideas live on. The Japanese government continues to pursue the idea of solar satellites. In 2012, Dr. John C. Mankins, a NASA employee who spent 25 years studying solar power as head of the agency’s advanced concept studies division, led a new NASA-financed study of space solar power utilizing many of Glaser’s ideas. The government has so far declined to adopt the idea.

“The hurdle is not a technical one but one of perception,” Dr. Mankins said. “If we’d pursued space solar power in the 1980s, the platforms would be operational today.”

Read more in Glaser’s New York Times obituary .