It was fune this last Tuesday at the National Air and Space Museum with a flash mob by a USAF band. It was a nice holiday treat. Enjoy.
Last Friday, November 29, 2013, I was a guest on the Space Show talking about the Space Shuttle, my new edited work on this subject, and other space history issues. The book, Space Shuttle Legacy: How We Did It and What We Learned, was co-edited with John Krige and James I. Craig. It was published by the Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2013 and information about it is available here. The Space Show is archived and available for anyone to listen to at an time. The broadcast is available here. I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting.
Wednesday’s Book Review: “Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks”
Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks. By James Clay Moltz. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. hardcover, 288 pp. ISBN: 978-0-231-15688-2. USD $35.00.
When I speak to general audiences one of the first questions to be asked is whether or not China’s actions in space, especially its human spaceflight program, might spark a new space race similar to that of the 1960s between the United States and the Soviet Union. In reality, China and the United States will not engage in a repetition of that earlier human space race, but that does not mean that a space race is not underway. It is, but it is between emerging space powers in Asia, especially China and India, but also including Japan, both North and South Korea, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and other more minor players. In some cases national plans are exceptionally ambitious, involving the development of new launchers and ballistic missiles, robotic probes, and even plans for human missions.
Each of these nations is engaged in aggressive space activities for all of the reasons that earlier entrants into the space club did so. First there is national security, and the key capabilities of space technology in this arena is well known. All have developed military missiles and other systems useful in a conflict. Second, there are commercial opportunities, and communications and other types of satellites are being pursued. Working on these systems advance technological capability in each nation. Third, the issue of pride at home and prestige abroad also motivate forceful actions in space. As the space age advances the competition between these Asian nations has intensified, and the situation may get more aggressive in the future.
Political scientist James Clay Moltz offers in Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks a full-scale analysis of the fourteen leading space programs in Asia and their current state. The bulk of his effort, as it should be, is on developments in China, Japan, India, and South Korea. Asia’s Space Race lays out the goals, interests, and capabilities of these various nations and seeks to delineate the state of the art. It is very much a broad-brush overview with chapters on various national programs. If there is a race, Moltz states, it is really between China and its “relative place with respect to its Asian neighbors.” He adds, “when China sprints forward in its space activity, there is no question that India, Japan, and South Korea all feel challenged and want to react” (p. 18).
The most troubling aspect of the rise of Asian space capability, according to Moltz, is that it is fundamentally competitive and seems to be becoming more tense as the years pass. There is virtually no cooperative efforts between these powers, and their rivalries from a military standpoint are very real. As latecomers to the space age, these Asian nations feel that they must work hard to catch up, spurring rivals to do the same. How they do so is effectively surveyed in this important analysis, well designed for classroom use and also for general reading.
For those in the Washington, D.C., area on December 5, 2013, please join us for the next Space Policy and History Forum. Please RSVP as listed below.
Space Technology is Changing – How Will Space Policy Change Too?
Space Policy and History Forum #10
by Pamela Melroy
Tactical Technology Office, DARPA
The international space technology community is undergoing change. New space launch systems with shorter call-up times and flexible launch locations are progressing to meet the needs of diverse payload communities. Advances in high-temperature materials, robust propulsion, and hypersonic aerodynamics make commercial point-to-point transportation closer to reality. Robotics are developed to the point where refueling and servicing valuable space assets to extend their lives is possible. Increasing numbers of countries are pursuing their own space situational awareness technologies to support their growing space assets. Each of these technology futures comes with important policy questions that will determine the impact and future of the technology, and whether the US will maintain its leadership role in space internationally.
Pamela Melroy joined DARPA in January 2013 after serving as the acting Deputy Associate Administrator and Director of Field Operations in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. She was responsible for developing human commercial spaceflight regulatory requirements and oversaw interagency policy coordination with the White House, NASA, and the Department of Defense on space policy.
Formerly, Ms. Melroy served as the Deputy Director, Orion Space Exploration Initiatives at Lockheed Martin Corporation from August 2009 until April 2011. Prior to her position at Lockheed Martin, she was selected as an astronaut by NASA and held several key positions within the NASA shuttle program from 1994 until 2009, including Crew Module Lead on the Columbia Reconstruction Team, Deputy Project Manager for the Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Team, and Branch Chief for the Orion Branch of the Astronaut Office. She served as pilot on two shuttle missions (STS-92 in 2000 and STS-112 in 2002), and was the Mission Commander on STS-120 in 2007. She was the second woman to command a space shuttle mission. She has logged more than 924 hours (38+ days) in space.
Ms. Melroy was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program in 1983 and attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, graduating in 1985. She flew the KC-10 for 6 years at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La., as a copilot, aircraft commander and instructor pilot. In June 1991, she attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Upon graduation, she was assigned to the C-17 Developmental Test Program, where she served as a test pilot until her selection for the Astronaut Program. She retired as a full colonel from the Air Force in February 2007.
Ms. Melroy holds a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and Astronomy from Wellesley College and a Master of Science in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Date and Time
December 5, 2013, (Thursday), 4:00-5:00 P.M.
Location, Parking, and Access
The lecture will be held in the 3rd floor Director’s Conference Room at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 4:00-5:30 p.m. Please RSVP to Roger Launius, Launiusr@si.edu, and Nathan Bridges, Nathan.firstname.lastname@example.org, so your name can be put on a list for access to the 3rd floor of the Museum. You may check in and obtain a badge for access to the building at the guard desk just to the right as you enter the Independence Ave. doors. If you have any questions regarding access, please contact Roger. Parking is not available in NASM, and is limited elsewhere; we recommend using the Metro system for travel to the National Air and Space Museum—the Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza stops are close by.
There is an interesting article in the Washington Post earlier this week entitled. “Which Way to Space.” It discusses the presumed debate between old space/new space with each side represented in the graphic above that juxtaposes two launchers. It offers some really fascinating issues to consider, and some that are just plain silly. I’d very much like to hear from people their thoughts on this article and the ideas contained therein.
The New Space Race: China vs. the U.S. By Erik Seedhouse. Chichester, UK: Springer-Praxis, 2010. Acknowledgments, figures, tables, abbreviations, illustrations, appendices, index. 256 Pages. ISBN: 13-978-1441908797. Paperback, $34.95 USD.
Springer-Praxis has been churning out these books on spaceflight for some time and the shelf is now filled with a long list of titles, some of which are excellent and others of which are embarrassments. This work is neither in the excellent nor the embarrassment category. The author is not a Chinese scholar and does not have the language skills necessary to provide a truly insightful understanding of the Chinese effort in space. Accordingly, this is a basic discussion of the space efforts of China with the made up—and it is completely artificial—concept of a space race with the United States.
Erik Seedhouse expresses through this work a neoconservative perspective on the relations between the U.S. and China at all levels, and this ensures that he views competition as the only manner in which to deal with China in space. Hence, a race between China and the U.S. seems to be the only lens through which he can perceive the future, and make no mistake this is not a work of history but rather a sustained screed against collaboration with China in the future. His analysis is based on hawkish discussions in national security space circles, and seemingly on little else.
This discussion leads naturally to the central policy debate relative to national security space in the last twenty years: the weaponization of space. For more than fifty years the world has engaged in activity in outer space for military, scientific, and commercial purposes, but without placing weapons there or engaging in serious efforts to target objects in space. Working effectively during the Cold War, since then the space arena has witnessed the entry of many more actors and a much broader array of vested interests, including China, resulting in a variety of positions regarding future space activities. Almost 700 spacecraft are operating in continuous Earth orbit, each serving a range of scientific, military, civilian, and commercial uses. And the hegemonic status of the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia has been demolished in the last 25 years. Over 60 new launches take place every year, and at least 50 nations had payloads in orbit in 2013.
In this increasingly chaotic environment with so many actors the United States remains the dominant player and wants to ensure that it does so indefinitely, hence the desire to protect national assets. There may be a range of ways in which that might be accomplished, but for observers like Seedhouse the answer to maintaining American suzerainty in space is through domination at all levels. He would agree with the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization which concluded in 2001: “We know that every medium—air, land and sea—has seen conflict. Reality indicates that space will be no different. Given this virtual certainty, the United States must develop the means both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space.”
For years we have heard that China is on the verge of becoming the dominant nation in the world. It’s massive population, its rapid industrialization, its expanding economy, its large untapped reservoir of natural resources, and a host of other strengths have been deployed as evidence for this seemingly inevitable transformation of superpower relations around the globe. Erik Seedhouse believes that China represents an enormous threat to American activities in space. Perhaps it will journey to the Moon, claim it for the PRC, and exploit its resources for national benefit. Such a conclusion is naïve at best, and Seedhouse does not go quite that far, but competition seems to be his only answer to the efforts of the Chinese space program. And those efforts have been lackluster thus far. For all of the capability that this program has developed in the last decade-plus, it still has very far to go before missions of great complexity will become feasible. Moreover, the Chinese space program would have to do something no one else has been successful in doing before it can send Taikonauts to the Moon, figure out a reason for doing so. Needless to say, such a mission is problematic.
Where Seedhouse does have some traction with his anti-Chinese concerns is in ballistic missile technology and the capability of anti-satellite systems. China earned the censure of the world community in January 2007 when Fengyun-3A, a Chinese polar-orbiting weather satellite, was deliberately impacted by a ground-launched rocket in an apparent test of an anti-satellite weapon. This single event added more than 2,000 pieces of debris to low earth orbit, about 30 percent of the total amount of debris at that time.
This set off everyone with concerns that space warfare might be the order of the future, with China leading the way. Seedhouse also sets his hair on fire about all of this in his chapter 9, and argues against any cooperative ventures between China and the United States. Engagement finds no place in the space arena here, according to Seedhouse.
Alternatively, it makes sense to recognize that the place of the United States vis à vis China is the best one to be in from the standpoint of national security space issues and therefore finding a way to maintain the status quo is not a bad future. Taking a hard line in the national security space regime against China may be both unnecessary and potentially disastrous. The U.S. has pursued a three point program relative to space security issues, and this appears both prudent and in retrospect quite prescient. First, the U.S. has ensured that peer competitors did not step beyond the space technological capabilities that this nation possessed through a range of hard and soft power efforts, treaties and arms control measures, and other initiatives. Engagement with China is the primary means to achieving success in this arena. Second, the U.S. has long made clear that it would take harsh action should a competitor alter the national security regime in space. A long history of declaratory statements condemning actions viewed as belligerent in space and warning of appropriate repercussions has helped to create the current favorable situation for the United States. A continuation of those methodologies is appropriate and completely expected by the other nations of the globe. Doing this with China remains a major strategy for the future. Third, the U.S. has pursued on the whole a reasonable program of research and development (R&D) to ensure that any rivals capabilities can be destroyed if necessary. This has taken the form of ASAT and ballistic missile defense projects, directed energy weapons development, targeting of ground infrastructure, and other objectives.
Overall, prudent engagement with China represents a reasonable approach for the future. Erik Seedhouse does not see engagement as legitimate in any way and instead seeks a space race that would look much like the 1960s space race with the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, there is little reason to think it will turn out in a similar fashion. The New Space Race: China vs. the U.S. is a book that makes the case that competition is the only way forward. I hope Seedhouse is wrong on that score.
For the twentieth century no set of technological innovations are more intriguing than those associated with aviation. The compelling nature of flight, and the activity that it has engendered on the part of many peoples and governments, makes the development of aviation technology an important area of investigation. Perhaps no technological development in the twentieth century more fundamentally transformed human life than the airplane, coupled with its ground support apparatus and infrastructure.
Accordingly, there are many avenues of historical exploration at this juncture. Why did aeronautical technology take the shape it did; which individuals and organizations were involved in driving it; what factors influenced particular choices of scientific objectives and technologies to be used; and what were the political, economic, managerial, international, and cultural contexts in which the events of the aeronautical age have unfolded?
More importantly, how has innovation affected this technology? If there is a folklore in the public mind about the history of aeronautical engineering, it is the story of genius and its role in innovation. Americans love the idea of the lone inventor, especially if that inventor strives against odds to develop some revolutionary piece of technology in a basement or garage. There have been enough instances of this in U.S. history to feed this folklore and allow it to persist. The “Renaissance man” with broad background who can build a technological system from the ground up permeates this ideal.
Individualism and versatility has characterized this concept of engineering. Its quintessential expression was Leonardo da Vinci, the leading figure in the technology of his time. It has also been more recently expressed in the work of Thomas A. Edison, whose many accomplishments in technology have been recognized as seminal to modern life. These same virtuoso expressions of engineering mastery have also been recognized in the work of U.S. aeronautics and rocket pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright and Robert H. Goddard, who spent most of their careers as lone researchers. The Wrights secretively developed their flying machine in their native Dayton, Ohio, and testing it on the dunes at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Goddard designed and tested ever more sophisticated rockets on a piece of isolated land near Roswell, New Mexico. Neither sought outside assistance nor welcomed colleagues. Their’s were solitary accomplishments.
At the same time, the “Renaissance man” has never been very common in the history of science and technology, and certainly not in the rise of aeronautics. The kind of lone wolves that make up the folklore, reinforced by the reality of a few bona fide geniuses, are rare indeed. In twentieth century aeronautical engineering the increasing depth of information in the individual disciplines ensure that no one person can now master the multifarious skills necessary in the research, design, development, and building of a piece of aerospace hardware.
But it is more. In the latter nineteenth century leading American engineering educators made a conscious decision to emphasize theoretical engineering issues. Then they had to reintegrate the discipline so that new engineering accomplishments could be realized. The discussion that follows describes this evolutionary process. This process has affected major aspects of public policy ever since, changing fundamentally how individuals perceive “big government” and its management of issues ranging from medicine to nuclear power.
There were two central reasons for this change. The first is relatively easy to comprehend, and it has already been hinted at—the development of something as complex as an aircraft capable of operating in three dimensions is too large for any one individual to oversee, regardless of how much mastery of however large a body of knowledge might exist in one expert’s mind. The breadth and depth of engineering and scientific information is simply too large for any one person to comprehend fully. It must be parceled out and managed through a team approach.
The second reason is more complex, and ultimately more interesting. Before the second world war, by all accounts, engineering education in the United States was overwhelmingly oriented toward training young engineers in a very practical “shop culture.” The orientation of instructors in engineering was not directed toward research and theory, but toward practical application. Where research was conducted, it usually emerged naturally from consulting projects, and focused on the narrow questions informing the consulting work.
This began to change in the first part of the twentieth century as an influx of European engineers came to the United States and brought their educational ethos to the nation’s academies. In the aerospace engineering community this included such men as Theodore von Kármán, the brilliant Hungarian aerodynamicist and one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who came to the California Institute of Technology in the 1930s. Von Kármán was not only a hard-edged aeronautical engineer, but also a leading theorist who contributed important concepts to aerodynamics. At the same time, the requirements of complex high-technology artifacts required for war prompted the United States to expend for the first time massive amounts of government funding for technology projects. Those with broad-based theoretical implementation were most readily funded.
By the end of World War II, however, engineering in the United States had become so theoretical that much of its practical application was lost on working technicians. Increasingly, it became difficult to distinguish between engineering projects and purely scientific explorations without immediately practical application. The reasons for this change were soon visible in the engineering discipline. American engineering faculty were no longer necessarily experienced in industry’s practical needs, and had instead made their careers as theoretically oriented researchers who published scholarly papers in journals but did not design and build machines for public use. Two subcultures emerged that were sometimes contradictory and often combative.
The more complex the theoretical foundations, the more complex the components and the less likely that a single individual, or a single genius with some assistants, could carry to successful completion path-breaking development. Certainly, this was true in aerospace technology, which has since World War II of necessity been a group effort with various individuals in charge of certain segments of the work under some overall management to keep the effort afloat. There might be an overall project manager, but the demands of the project always forced more breadth and depth of knowledge than even a genius of a da Vinci or a Wright or a Goddard could master. Indeed, it might be that the “Renaissance man” was a chimera all along, for complete success was always beyond even the most creative genius’ grasp.
For the successful accomplishment of major aeronautical endeavors engineers have adopted a systems management and integration approach. Each government laboratory, university, and corporate research facility had differing perspectives on how to go about the tasks of accomplishing these endeavors but all parceled work among teams of engineers and scientists.
One of the fundamental tenets of the program management concept was that three critical factors—cost, schedule, and reliability—were interrelated, and had to be managed as a group. Many also recognized these factors’ constancy; if program managers held cost to a specific level, then one of the other two factors, or both of them to a somewhat lesser degree, would be adversely affected. The schedules, dictated by scientific or political requirements, were often firm. Since aircraft had to accomplish practical tasks, program managers always placed a heavy emphasis on reliability, so that failures would be both predictable and minor. The significance of both of these factors have often forced the third factor, cost, much higher than might have otherwise been the case. To accomplish these goals, aeronautical design organizations increasingly became complex bureaucracies exercising centralized authority over design, engineering, procurement, testing, construction, manufacturing, spare parts, logistics, training, and operations. Understanding the management of complex structures for the successful completion of a multifarious task was an important outgrowth of these efforts. Getting all of the personnel elements to work together has always challenged program managers, regardless of whether or not they were civil service, industry, or university personnel.
At the same time, as aircraft became more costly to develop and organizations became more complex to manage the aircraft system—establishing structures to ensure control over the effort—they set up boundaries often impassable for individual innovation. An irony of the first magnitude is that the most technologically-driven industry in the United States—one built on a series of path-breaking innovations—has become so expensive to participate in that firms involved in it can hardly afford to support potentially excellent ideas and see them to completion. This has been partially mitigated by efforts in government laboratories and in universities, but too often radical innovations do not find easy acceptance.
To be successful in aircraft design, with its rapidly evolving technologies, an organization must be able to stimulate and simulate change, gamble on the future, have a vision that is multi-faceted as well as clear as to objectives, and be able to allocate limited resources and to make external allies. It must reward or tolerate risk-taking and expect some failures. This is a very tall order when dealing with a system as complex and expensive as aviation, where an airframe manufacturer literally bets the company on any new design that it offers. Caution tends to rule in that very dizzying environment.
The logical outgrowth of this has been a search for what amounts to “command innovation.” Can a firm, a government, a university, a research facility, or a person arrange for innovation that will solve some great problem in aeronautical technology? Guaranteeing innovation accounts for not an insignificant quantity of effort in the field. But there seems not to be a formula for such developments and a guarantee for any research project cannot be assured. History suggests that those who contend otherwise are fools or charlatans or both.
I originally published this piece in Space News on February 11, 2013. The original may be read here. One respondent to it on April 15, 2013, thought I downplayed the importance of human spaceflight in the pursuit of scientific understanding too much, and that letter is available here. I don’t believe I did, but I’m curious what others might think. Let me know.
Since the retirement of the space shuttle, the U.S. space community has been collectively wringing its hands over the state of the nation’s human spaceflight program. Hardly a day goes by without some commentary on possible directions for human spaceflight. At Congress’s behest, the National Academies’ Committee on Human Spaceflight is beginning to assess the goals of NASA’s human spaceflight program. This comes on the heels of another National Academies study on NASA’s strategic direction, the report just issued that places emphasis on the human spaceflight enterprise. In addition, a new report by the Space Foundation, “Pioneering: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space,” seeks an alteration in NASA’s mission to focus on human pioneering of space and eliminating tasks that do not emphasize that objective.
Whether these efforts will provide a way forward beyond the quagmire in which human spaceflight is presently caught remains to be seen. That all of them take as a given that human spaceflight must continue — or even be emphasized beyond its current status — seems assured. But should this be the case? James Van Allen famously asked in 2004: “My position is that it is high time for a calm debate on more fundamental questions. Does human spaceflight continue to serve a compelling cultural purpose and/or our national interest? … Risk is high, cost is enormous, science is insignificant. Does anyone have a good rationale for sending humans into space?”
Ascertaining what rationales for human spaceflight are compelling remains a core issue before the United States in the second decade of the 21st century. From the defining event of Sputnik in 1957, I would contend that there have been five major rationales that have been used effectively to justify a large-scale spaceflight agenda:
- Scientific discovery and understanding.
- National security and military applications.
- Economic competitiveness and commercial applications.
- Human destiny/survival of the species.
- National prestige/geopolitics.
Specific aspects of these five rationales have fluctuated over time but they remain the core reasons for the endeavor that have any saliency whatsoever. The first three, at least thus far, have not required human activities in space. Those have been accomplished with lesser cost and arguably greater efficiency using robotic spacecraft, thank you very much. That may change in the future — conceivably this could happen as a military human spaceflight mission emerges — but at present these goals do not require humans in space. This might also change in response to the rise of space tourism, a major venture that envisages hotels in Earth orbit and lunar vacation packages. While this has yet to find realization, it remains a tantalizing possibility for this century.
The human destiny rationale for spaceflight has been used repeatedly by astronauts and others, emphasizing that an integral part of human nature is a desire for discovery and understanding. At one level, there exists the ideal of the pursuit of abstract scientific knowledge — learning more about the universe to expand the human mind — and exploration of the unknown will remain an important aspect of spaceflight well into the foreseeable future. It propels a wide range of human efforts to explore the Moon and beyond projected for the 21st century. It also energized such efforts as the Hubble Space Telescope, which has revolutionized knowledge of the universe since its deployment in 1990. Clearly, this goal also motivates the scientific probes sent to all of the planets of the solar system.
But most importantly, this idea has privileged human spaceflight as the raison d’être of human destiny for the long term. With the Earth so well known, advocates argue, exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars are the next logical step in human exploration. Humans must question and explore and discover or die.
There is also a terrifying aspect to this rationale; humanity will not survive if it does not become multiplanetary. The apocalyptic aspect of this — a “survival of the species” argument — might be true, but it is also terrible to consider. Carl Sagan wrote eloquently about the last perfect day on Earth, before the sun would fundamentally change and end our ability to survive on this planet. While this will happen billions of years in the future, any number of catastrophes could end life on Earth beforehand. The most serious threat is from human-caused destruction, but an asteroid or meteor could also impact the Earth. Throughout history, asteroids and comets have struck this planet, and a great galactic asteroid probably killed the dinosaurs when an object only 10 to 15 kilometers in diameter left a crater 300 kilometers wide in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Finally, national prestige and concern for geopolitical relations have dominated so many of the spaceflight decisions that it sometimes seems trite to suggest that it has been an impressive rationale over the years. Yet there is more to it than that, for while all recognize that prestige sparked and sustained the space race of the 1960s we too often fail to recognize that it continues to motivate support for NASA’s programs. The United States went to Moon for prestige purposes, but it built the space shuttle and embarked on the space station for prestige purposes as well. Prestige may make likely that no matter how difficult the challenges and overbearing the obstacles, the United States will continue to fly humans into space indefinitely, but this is not a certainty.
Now we are at a crossroads, and the question that Van Allen asked — does anyone have a good rationale for sending humans into space? — deserves serious consideration. Should human spaceflight be continued as a national program? Is it an appropriate course for the nation’s effort in space? Are the traditional rationales in favor of human spaceflight sufficient to win support for the effort into the future? While Americans seemingly want the fruits of human spaceflight, too many are unwilling to invest in it. The rationales, as real as they might actually be, seem less compelling today than in the past. What compelling rationales offer a way forward for astronauts to push back the frontiers of the cosmos? I hope we will resolve the challenge of compelling rationales for human spaceflight into the future.
In the early twentieth century a convergence of ideas swirling around sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and eugenics led to an argument that heredity had essentially no place in the shaping of character. Instead of nature, it was all about nurture. This stood in marked contrast to earlier arguments about the primacy of nature, heredity, and genetics in determining who would succeed and who would fail in life. In this study by Aaron Gillette, this subject is explored through an historical lens.
At the beginning of the twentieth century eugenics was viewed as a pseudoscience, but over time it gained credence as a theory that when applied judiciously could consciously guide human evolution and therefore remake humanity along lines desired by powerful societies. Springing from that belief sprang a range of efforts to establish desirable/undesirable traits and to select for those through selective reproduction. In such a setting eugenics emerged in such places as Nazi Germany as a solution to a variety of perceived societal ills. These raised, of course, profound moral, ethical, and religious questions; some scientists and other leaders rejected the idea while others embraced eugenics as a means of reengineering the world in a scientific, logical manner.
Eugenics lost its appeal through the radical experiments of fascist societies, of course, but there were all along some who argued that environment was more important to a person’s key attributes than genetics. The nature-nurture debate was born out of this debate and it raged throughout the twentieth century. On the one side was the morass of deeply troubling issues associated with eugenics, repelling Western science and pushing it toward environmental explanations for character. On the other side, scientists of genetics noted the very real aspects of heredity and how it might be effectively mobilized for positive ends.
In the 1950s a new generation of scientists, led by Edward O. Wilson presented a new take on the “nature” theory called sociobiology. It sparked its own response, “evolutionary psychology,” that emerged in the 1980s, and the nature–nurture debate arose once again.
Aaron Gillette’s very fine study explores this subject in Eugenics and the Nature-Nurture Debate in the Twentieth Century. In addition to being a critically important topic in the history of science in its own right, this study goes far toward explaining a key aspect of ideology and science. In doing so it offers a uniquely valuable discussion of a complex but significant topic.
Announcing a History of Science Society Session, November 22, 2013: “The Power of Analogies for Advancing Scientific Knowledge”
Several colleagues and I are planning a session at the History of Science Society Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachussetts on Friday morning, 9:00 am, November 22, 2013. The session, “The Power of Analogies for Advancing Scientific Knowledge,” brings together four presentations as follows:
- “The Frontier and the Space Program: Situating Space in the Myth of Manifest Destiny,” Catherine L. Newell, University of Miami
- “Comparing Antarctic Scientific Stations and Space Operations: Analogies of Public/Private Partnerships for Scientific Investigation,” Roger D. Launius, Smithsonian Institition
- “Lunar Geology and the Earth Analog,” Lisa Messeri, University of Pennsylvania
- “Earth Under Glass: Ecological and Ecocultural Mimesis at the Biosphere 2,” Lisa R. Rand, University of Pennsylvania
David H. DeVorkin, Smithsonian Institution, will provide the comment.
Session Abstract: Everyone uses historical analogies to understand current issues and to help make decisions about present-day concerns. Sometimes they use those analogies effectively, and sometimes not. The current debate over national economic policy is rife with historical analogies and sometimes even the same analogues are deployed to support differing positions. There is a long history of the use and abuse of analogs, offering perspectives on how they might be effectively employed in analysis of current challenges. This session will explore the place of analysis using analogies to a set of episodes in the history of technology.
The first paper by Catherine L. Newell, University of Miami, explores the use of the American frontier experience as an analogy for modern space exploration. She notes that by situating space as humankind’s “last frontier,” NASA’s efforts became a fulfillment of America’s new manifest destiny. Roger D. Launius of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum presents a paper on how the analogies of the Antarctic experience to space exploration relate to each other in considering such future space science activities as a lunar base or space station support and a gradual transition from government activity to public/private efforts.
Lisa Messeri, University of Pennsylvania, presents a third paper on the story of Apollo training—first how geology became a science for the Moon and then how astronauts underwent analog training on Earth to prepare themselves for lunar geology. Finally, Lisa Rand, University of Pennsylvania, presents an anthropological analysis of Biosphere 2 and the attempt to duplicate a terrarium that would be helpful in a long duration space travel scenario.
Anyone attending the History of Science Society, please consider attending this session. If anyone has comments on what we are seeking to do in this session, please let me know.