Not long ago, I attended a memorial service on top of the Greenland ice sheet for a man I did not know. The service was an intimate affair, with only four people present. I worried that I might be regarded as an interloper and thought about stepping away. But I was clipped onto a rope, and, in any case, I wanted to be there.
The service was for a NASA scientist named Alberto Behar. Behar, who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, might be described as a twenty-first-century explorer. He didn’t go to uncharted places; he sent probes to them. Some of the machines he built went all the way to Mars; they are orbiting the planet today or trundling across its surface on the Curiosity rover. Other Behar designs were deployed on Earth, at the poles. In Antarctica, Behar devised a special video camera to capture the first images ever taken inside an ice stream. In Greenland, he once sent a flock of rubber ducks hurtling down a mile-long ice shaft known as a moulin. Each duck bore a label, offering, in Greenlandic, English, and Danish, a reward for its return. At least two made it through.