Today is Albert Einstein’s birthday. He was born in Ulm, Germany (1879), and his pre-kindergarten fascination with a compass needle left an impression on him that lasted a lifetime. He liked math but hated school, dropped out, and taught himself calculus in the meantime. Einstein worked for the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, where his job was to evaluate patent applications for electromagnetic devices and determine whether the inventions described would actually work. The job wasn’t particularly demanding, and at night he would come home and pursue scientific investigations and theories.

In 1905, he wrote a paper on the Special Theory of Relativity, which is that if the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same in every frame of reference, then both time and motion are relative to the observer. That same year, he published three more papers, each of which was just as revolutionary as the first, among them the paper that included his most famous equation: Emc2. E is energy, m is mass, and c stands for the velocity of light.

Einstein received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. He said, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”

I thought I’d add the following perspective on why man might want to go into space, which was part of the closing of my 2005 essay, “French Fried — From Monticello to the Moon,” which you can find at  Albert Einstein thought that perhaps the greatest challenge facing mankind is to “widen our circle of compassion” across both time and space. Our ethnic and geopolitical squabbling might pale into insignificance if our compassionate circles were wide enough, he reasoned.