This is really fun! Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station sings “Space Oddity” written by David Bowie to the world.
Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us. By Donald H. Yeomans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. Hardcover with dust jacket. ISBN: 978-0-691-14929-5. 200 pages. 20 half tones. 19 line illus. 6 tables. 6 x 9 in. $24.94 USD.
The premise of this book by Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Donald H. Yeomans is that of all of the threats to life on this planet, perhaps the most significant is a mass extinction coming from either a comet or asteroid impact. This seems all the more real because of the Chelyabinsk, Russia, event on February 15, 2013. In Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us Yeomans offers a general audience an introduction to the science of near-Earth objects—especially the history, applications, and ongoing quest to find these celestial objects before they hit Earth.
I was introduced to this reality twenty years ago at the annual meeting of this professional society when a noted scientist gave a presentation entitled “Chicken Little Was Right.” He claimed that humans had a greater chance of being killed by a comet or asteroid falling from the sky than dying in an airplane crash. This is true, especially as one projects the risk over a very long period of time. Mathematical calculations confirm that every person alive today faces 1 chance in 5,000 that he or she will be killed by some type of extraterrestrial impact during his or her lifetime since several thousand meteorites, comets, and asteroids cross Earth’s orbit, and many small pieces enter the atmosphere every day. One need only look at the craters on the Moon, and such wonders as Meteor Crater in Arizona, to verify the fact that solar system bodies make fine targets for comets and asteroids. More than ever before, as Yeomans’s makes clear, throughout history asteroids and comets have struck Earth with destructive consequences.
The reality of a massive threat to life on Earth from space entered the public consciousness in 1980 when scientists—especially Luis and Walter Alvarez—proposed a hypothesis that dinosaurs became extinct after an asteroid or comet only six to nine miles wide left a crater 186 miles wide in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and through enough dust into the atmosphere to cause global climate change. This “K-T extinction”—occurring at the boundary between the Cretaceous period (K) and the Tertiary period (T)—has become common knowledge as the reason for the dinosaur mass extinction and it has engendered all manner of responses in popular culture. Notably, two blockbuster films in 1998—Armageddon and Deep Impact—used a potential asteroid impact as the premise for space adventures to avert a mass extinction. Additionally, some entrepreneurs have developed and sold asteroid survival kits consisting of a hard hat and surgical mask; a measure of the fact that everything in modern society is considered a commodity from which to turn a profit.
In this work Yeomans presents a compelling account of the origins of the solar system, taking notice of all of the ingredients orbiting the Sun including those smaller bodies that are attracted to larger gravitational fields and slam into them on a regular basis. Of course, comets and meteors have evolved over time and some still crash into bodies in the solar system, notably Shoemaker-Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in 1994 with spectacular results.
Some of these objects journey near Earth, and these “near-Earth objects” represent a threat that could destroy all life on this planet. Yeomans lays out this story, commenting on the many known and possible impacts in history. He makes much of the destruction wrought by the famous Tunguska event in 1908 near what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, resulting from an air burst of a large meteoroid or comet only about 300 feet in diameter. By inference, something a few miles in diameter could bring about mass extinction. This prompts Yeomans to discuss how we might be able to reduce this threat with a survey to catalog and track these objects.
Understanding the reality of the impact threat that could destroy all life on this planet is a critical component of future efforts to mitigate it. Efforts to catalogue all Earth-crossing asteroids, track their trajectories, and develop countermeasures to destroy or deflect objects on a collision course with Earth are important, but to ensure the survival of the species humanity must ultimately build outposts elsewhere. Astronaut John Young said it best in the November-December 2003 issue of Space Times: to paraphrase Pogo, “I have met an endangered species, and it is us.” While Yeomans does not go quite this far with his discussion, it is one response to the concern.
Yeomans’s book offers a strong introduction to the subject of near-Earth objects. In addition to the threat posed by these objects, the author advocates for their study for purely scientific purposes. “In terms of their chemical composition and thermal history, many of them are among the least changed members of our solar system” (p. 56). This could help scientists understand the evolution of the cosmos. Yeomans urges an aggressive exploration program to understand these small bodies, rogue or not. Thus far it is a modest program; perhaps it will grow in the future.
There is an excellent post available here on the “The Top 5 Underrated Sci-Fi Movie Masterpieces.” Many of these received broad release and did not do as well at the box office as the major studios would like. Others had limited release. The number one rated film in this category will surprise you because of its theme and sophisticated turn. I saw it on the Sundance Channel but I’m not at all sure it received much of a theater run. If you are someone who enjoys science fiction I think you will enjoy this list. They are a far cry from “Amageddon,” thank goodness. But let me ask, what are your top five underrated science fiction films? Enjoy.
The diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-62, a five-planet system about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The five planets of Kepler-62 orbit a star classified as a K2 dwarf, measuring just two thirds the size of the sun and only one fifth as bright. At seven billion years old, the star is somewhat older than the sun.
Much like our solar system, Kepler-62 is home to two habitable zone worlds, Kepler-62f and Kepler-62e. Kepler-62f orbits every 267 days and is only 40 percent larger than Earth, making it the smallest exoplanet known in the habitable zone of another star. The other habitable zone planet, Kepler-62e, orbits every 122 days and is roughly 60 percent larger than Earth. The size of Kepler-62f is known, but its mass and composition are not. However, based on previous exoplanet discoveries of similar size that are rocky, scientists are able to determine its mass by association.
The two habitable zone worlds orbiting Kepler-62 have three interior companions, two larger than the size of Earth and one about the size of Mars. Kepler-62b, Kepler-62c and Kepler-62d, orbit every five, 12, and 18 days, respectively, making them very hot and inhospitable for life as we know it. The artistic concepts of the Kepler-62 planets are the result of scientists and artists collaborating to help imagine the appearance of these distant worlds.
The Kepler space telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measures the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA’s first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. JPL managed the Kepler mission’s development.
Additional information about the Kepler mission may be found here: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler.
I was preconditioned to appreciate this book when I first picked it up for a reading. I have been devouring studies of the Cold War because of its central place in American civilization in the latter half of the twentieth century, but I was disappointed in The Culture of the Cold War by Stephen Whitfield, a professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. First, the book is misnamed; it is really about the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the HUAC investigations, the Hollywood Ten, and the larger context of American anti-Soviet fears between the latter 1940s and the early 1950s. I have read other books on this subject that I have found more valuable. I would name David Caute’s The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (Simon & Schuster, 1978); The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (Princeton University Press, 2012) by Landon Storrs; and Richard M. Fried’s Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1991) as go to books dealing with this same subject.
Whitfield’s book focuses on suspicions, the stigma of leftism, the potency of ideology, the politics of religion, the encouragement of informing on fellow citizens, the Red Scare among the film and television industry, and the hesitant and late-coming backlash against red baiting. Chapters on each of these subjects dominate the book. His second edition in 1996 appends to this discussion a disjunctive and not terribly well-connected essay on the end of the Cold War to what had gone before. Overall, it is less than a fully satisfying discussion.
I was struck, additionally, by the complete lack of references in the book. I know The Culture of the Cold War was written as an introductory and, I must assume from what was presented, an undergraduate supplemental text but since I want to check everything I was troubled by the lack of scholarly apparatus. There was a good bibliographical essay with key secondary works discussed by chapter, but no way whatsoever to trace the source of important quotes. One example will suffice. Whitfield quotes Eisenhower as saying to televangelist Billy Graham: “Billy, I believe one reason I was elected President was to lead America in a religious revival” (p. 90). Did Ike actually say that? Perhaps so, but there is no way to trace it through references in this book.
It may also be that the quote is incorrect. There is a version of this story in a sermon by Billy Graham on October 6, 1955, entitled “Is There an Answer?” In it Graham tells of meeting with Eisenhower at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. The following exchange took place according to Graham: “‘Billy, do you know why I believe I have been elected President?’ I said, ‘I think I know several reasons, Sir.’ He said: “I think one of them is to help lead America in a religious revival which we must have’.” It’s a small point perhaps, but I want to check sources and was frustrated throughout this book when I tried to do so.
This is an acceptable work on the Red Scare and McCarthyism. For larger perspectives on the Cold War, however, one must look elsewhere.
With the successful test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) at the end of April, 2013, we are one step closer to commercial space tourism. This is not orbital tourism, of course, but the ability to fly above 100 km on a short flight to the beginning of space. These tourists will experience weightlessness and view both stars above and the limb of hte Earth on the horizon but it will not quite be the experience many have dreamed of for long. on
These suborbital space voyages will change the dynamic of spacefaring in the world, no doubt, but can it open the door for ever increasing space activities, activities that will ultimately open orbital space to commercial ventures. Sir Richard Branson, the investor who leads Virgin Galactic and its SpaceShipTwo effort believes he sees a way forward. He told the media after SpaceShipTwo’s flight, that it “opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end.”
During flights of SpaceShipTwo it is ferried to about 47,000 feet by a mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, which releases the vehicle and its pilots fire a hybrid rocket engine. It then travels to the edge of space before returning for a landing like an aircraft. There are several test flights to be completed before passengers will be allowed aboard, but perhaps 2014 will see the first suborbital space tourism become a reality.
Wednesday’s Book Review: “Implosion: Lessons from National Security, High Reliability Spacecraft, Electronics, and the Forces Which Changed Them”
Implosion: Lessons from National Security, High Reliability Spacecraft, Electronics, and the Forces Which Changed Them. By L. Parker Temple. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons for the IEEE Press, 2013. Paperback. Figures, tables, acknowledgments, acronyms, abbreviations, program names, index. ISBN: 978-1-118-46242-3. $54.95 USD.
Solid-state electronics transformed human existence in the latter third of the twentieth century. Taking it for granted, most Americans use technologies based on this type of electronics every day. One cannot use a computer, telephone, television, or a host of other everyday devices without employing solid-state electronics. In this fully-documented study L. Parker Temple, a longtime space policy analyst and technologist, offers a useful history of this technology but even more hones in on the national security origins and evolution of this field before presenting a set of lessons learned and prescriptions for movement forward with this aspect of high technology.
Temple begins in Implosion by exploring in quite useful detail the evolutionary nature of this complex technological transformation. It originated as a requirement for U.S. national security space efforts. The proliferation of applications for solid state electronics in the early Cold War era revolutionized the manner in which war would be waged ever after. Moreover, this technology had myriad applications beyond military equipment and changed the nature of consumer electronics as well.
This is much more than a narrow study in the history of technology. The author focuses on the broad interrelationships of technology, innovation, systems, and policy to develop a useful analysis of technological leap-frogging more than a generation into the future. In the process he offers lessons that will be of merit to engineers, project managers, military officers, and other technology professionals in addition to historians. I was especially entranced by Temple’s complex analysis of the evolution of military standards and practices for technology ranging from individual parts to whole systems. Temple also draws out the immensely significant but largely unfathomable system of acquisition within the federal government, as well as the major policy that changed these practices over time.
All of this suggests that L. Parker Temple’s work, Implosion, is more than a history, more than a policy analysis, more than an engineering study, and more than a management tome. It has elements of all four, but its real value is in the amalgamation of these divergent elements into a meaningful whole.
Not until the 1960s did baseball executives begin to use terms like “small market” to describe the unique challenges of operating a successful major league franchise in an environment that did not generate the type of revenues available to teams in such cities as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Even so, one of the most successful teams in the National League has been the St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise operating throughout the twentieth century in an increasingly “small market” city with exceptional success. In 1900, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States, behind only New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Since then the city has experienced a gradual decline in population, and by definition also a gradual decline in market for its sports teams. In 1996 it ranked 47th in the United States.
Population of St. Louis Compared to Other MLB Cities, 1900-1960
While New York and Chicago retained its place in the forefront of the American cities, St. Louis declined so significantly that its cross-state rival, Kansas City, actually overtook it in population by the time of the 1990 census and in 1996 ranked 33rd in the United States to St. Louis’ 47th place. Such non-major league cities as Nashville, Jacksonville, San Jose, and Columbus outranked it in population by 1980. A corresponding drop took place during the 1980s, to the extent that by 1990 St. Louis was ranked 35th, and the decline has not yet abated.
Compared to five other Midwestern cities—Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Milwaukee—St. Louis has also lost a great amount of ground as a major population center. Indianapolis, which has never been a major league baseball city, began ranking in the top 15 of U.S. cities by 1970 and by this measure should have received its own baseball franchise. From this chart, additionally, it looks as if both St. Louis and Cincinnati lost much of their porimacy in supporting major league franchises in the 1980s and that if decisions were made on that basis alone they should move elsewhere. Moreover, Milwaukee, which has always been considered a marginal major league city, should be able based to support a franchise very well based on population statistics. Of course, these population statistics only speak to the city itself, and the St. Louis metropolitan area has a base that is large enough to sustain its activities, but nothing compared to what Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and other major areas routinely demonstrate.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century St. Louis supported two MLB teams, the Browns and the Cardinals. They were quite competitive through the middle 1920s insofar as their attendance was concerned. Neither team was stellar, but the Browns made a run at the pennant in 1922 and finished a close second. During the time of the two teams’ co-location, the Cardinals outdrew the Browns in home attendance—25,784,213 to 15,377,027—for the entire period that they shared the city of St. Louis between 1902 to 1953. For this 51-year period, the Cardinals averaged 505,573 per year to the Browns’ 301,510 average per year. But until the Cardinals began to dominate the National League with their first World Championship in 1926, the two teams were essentially even in their ability to draw fans. The Browns actually outdrew the Cardinals—8,353,058 to 7,073,290—through the 1925 season, the Browns averaging 363,176 attendees to the Cardinals’ 307,534 per year. For the period between 1926 and the last year the Browns played in St. Louis, 1953, the Cardinals averaged 692,989 spectators per year to the Browns’ average draw of 260,147.
Of course, during the period 1926-1953, the Cardinals won nine pennants (with seven World Series championships), and that certainly made a difference. Also, the Cardinals finished second or third 12 additional times. The Cardinals were an exceptionally strong team that competed well every year. During the same period, the Browns won one pennant (1944) and finished second or third only three other times. In 1935, with a team that finished seventh in the league, thank goodness for the hapless Philadelphia Athletics, the Browns drew only 80,922 spectators.
Nothing points up the lack of paying customers that the Browns experienced in the early 1950s better than a humorous story of Bill Veeck, who owned the Browns between 1951 and its move to Baltimore in 1953. When one of the Browns’ faithful asked Veeck what time the game was that day, Veeck supposedly responded, “anytime you want, what time can you be there?” In was not quite that bad, but close. Using his now famous stunts, give-aways, and hucksterisms Veeck boosted Browns’ attendance from 293,790 in 1951 to 518,796 in 1952. But it was a case of too little-too late, and for comparison the Cardinals drew over one million each of those years.
There was a direct correlation between the attendance and the won/lost percentage for both teams. The better the team on the field, the greater the likelihood of drawing large spectators. Interestingly, in 1944, the year that the Cardinals and the Browns both won their league’s pennants, the teams drew virtually the same numbers. But the Cardinals’ attendance exploded in the postwar era while the Browns’ turnstiles collapsed. Despite Veeck’s efforts to boost Browns attendance, stunts such as the dwarf Eddie Gaedel batting and the desegregation of the Browns in 1951 while the Cardinals waited until the end of the 1950s, nothing seemed to work.
It became obvious that the two teams could not remain in St. Louis together. One had to leave, and the Browns left for Baltimore where they became the Orioles. The Cardinals went on to remain a powerhouse in the National League, winning nine more pennants and five World Series between 1954 and the present. But the city remains a smaller market than many others. Through strong management the Cardinals have proven that success is not dependent on having money to burn. And burning money has not really been overwhelmingly successful for other franchises as well. Big spenders have more options, no doubt, but that alone does not guarantee success.
Wernher von Braun once supposedly told his colleagues: “We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.” Whether true or not the statement reflects what has been viewed for the last forty years as one of the traditional difficulties of the space program, the problem of navigating the vicissitudes of Washington politics.
I have been wrestling for some time with the question of why human spaceflight? Yes, it’s exciting and it offers a measure of scientific and technological return. It also offers the only methodology for avoiding extinction on this planet; something that will most assuredly eventually happen if humanity remains on planet Earth, it’s just a question of when. But human spaceflight has an exceptionally low priority for most people, to the extent that NASA’s budget has been eroding over the years and it can no longer invest sufficient dollars to assure the development of the new technology necessary to continue the human spaceflight agenda in the post-Space Shuttle era.
This has prompted me to explore the decision to build the Space Shuttle in the early 1970s for analogies that might be useful in helping to understand the current debate over the future of human spaceflight. I’m working on an article that will analyze the interpretations of the decision to build the Space Shuttle.
In essence, the Space Shuttle initiative was caught up in the paperwork of the nation’s policymaking process in a series of extremely rigorous reviews and redefinitions during its adoption period. The result was a launch system strikingly different from what NASA had envisioned during the late 1960s. The forays and rebuttals, bobs and weaves, ins and outs of these studies and reviews informed the ultimate direction of the shuttle program. Despite its tastiness, like Bismarck’s sausage the policymaking process that resulted in the Space Shuttle was not pretty to watch. The interpretations of this process offered over time have also been less than pretty to watch, although they too have served a valuable role in helping to make sense of a complex, murky story.
There are arguably three basic interpretations of the decision to build NASA’s Space Shuttle that have come to dominate the discussion of human spaceflight since the end of the Moon landings in the early 1970s. These interpretations have found use among historians and other social scientists as they seek to understand the process whereby the Space Shuttle gained political acceptance, policy analysts as they have engaged in the public policy debate, and various special interest groups that find use for perspectives from all three interpretations to support myriad objectives. These three basic analyses of the Space Shuttle decision may be characterized in this way:
- Orthodox Interpretation: The Space Shuttle represented a “next logical step” in space transportation, science, and technology. It embraced space exploration as a modernist, advantageous activity, and emphasized the positive attributes of cutting-edge technology for the progress of the nation. In this interpretation, the Space Shuttle served essentially as a part, but only one part, of a broader infrastructure for proposed missions to the Moon and Mars. This position in explaining the Space Shuttle decision was dominant from the latter 1960s until after the vehicle entered flight status in the early 1980s.
- Revisionist Interpretation: A noticeable minority position from the point that the Space Shuttle was approved by Richard Nixon in 1972 argued that it was a waste of federal government money and other resources that could more effectively be used in other objectives. With the Challenger accident, and the questions it raised about the shuttle program, this interpretation began to take on majority status. For some the decision to build the Space Shuttle embodied a “policy failure” on the part of politicos, the space community, and the general public. For others it was emblematic of a bankrupt national agenda that had emerged from the activist federal government during the social revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s. For still others, it epitomized a “40 year mistake” that led space exploration efforts down an inappropriate path when there were other more viable options not pursued.
- Neo-orthodox Interpretation: In something of a return to the orthodox interpretation, but with a twist, this interpretation employs ideas drawn from the “social construction of technology” theory in historical studies to help explain the Space Shuttle decision. While beliefs about technological progress was important in considering the decision, the concept of heterogeneous engineering—recognizing that technological issues are simultaneously organizational, economic, cultural, and political—goes far toward helping to understand the process that led to the approval of the program.
What do you think of the framework on this historiographical discussion. does the tripartite typology work for helping to understanding the adoption of the Space Shuttle as NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program? Does it help to illuminate, or perhaps obfuscate, understanding? Finally, how have each of these three interpretations been deployed to explain it before pointing the direction toward future avenues of research on this subject? I would welcome thoughts on this.
Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet. By K. Maria D. Lane. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Illustrations, acknowledgments, notes, bibliography, index. 266 pages. Hardcover with dust jacket. ISBN: 978-0-226-47078-8. $45.00.
Mars has long held a special fascination for humans who pondered the planets of the solar system—partly because of the possibility that life might either presently exist or at some time in the past might have existed there. Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli published a work in 1877 that laid the foundation for the belief in canals on Mars. His map of Mars showed a system of what he called canali, in Italian this meant “channel” and carried no connotation of being an artificial feature. Even so, the word was commonly translated into English as “canal” and began the speculation that Mars held life that were changing the planet’s features for their own purposes.
American astronomer Percival Lowell became interested in Mars during the latter part of the nineteenth century, and built what became the Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona, to study the red planet. His research advanced the argument that Mars had once been a watery planet and that the topographical features known as canals had been built by intelligent beings. Over the course of the first forty years of the twentieth century others used Lowell’s observations of Mars as a foundation for their arguments. The idea of intelligent life on Mars stayed in the popular imagination for a long time, and it was only with the scientific data returned from probes to the planet since the beginning of the space age that this began to change.
Begun as a dissertation written at the University of Chicago, Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet offers a fascinating analysis of the phenomenon of canals on Mars and the personality of Lowell and his detractors in arguing about these astronomical observations. K. Maria D. Lane, now on the faculty of the University of New Mexico, provides six succinct chapters that explore the Percival Lowell arguments about an inhabited Mars and his speculations on the nature of its society. Lane comments that in part because of the efforts of astronomers like Lowell the people living between about 1880 and 1910 had a “functionally dominant (if not universal) understanding of Martian geography as arid, inhabited, and irrigated” (p. 13). In Lane’s estimation this perception came because of the emphasis on geographical knowledge, especially cartography, in shape public perceptions in the United States.
The author makes several important points about this process. First, she lays out a very compelling case for a de-emphasis of the “canali” to “canal” misinterpretation that has dominated explanations of how the story of artificial canals perceived on the Martian surface might have originated. Instead, she finds that the authority of both Schiaparelli’s and Lowell’s maps proved the deciding point. Both emphasized long straight, dark lines on the planet’s surface that seemed to delineate some type of artificiality. Even without the translation issue, the power of the image burned the idea of canals into viewers’ brains. Lowell’s persistent beating of the drum for intelligent beings having built those canals proved decisive in shaping ideas about life on the red planet over the decades. The scientific community squared off over this debate, with most of the academic astronomers questioning Lowell’s conclusions, especially when their own observations did not match his own for clarity in depicting the lines on the planet’s surface that Lowell said were canals. This conclusion is a very important contribution of Geographies of Mars to the literature about Mars in the American imagination.
Some of Lane’s other findings are also significant. For example, she includes a chapter on observatories as places remote, unforgiving, and hard to reach. With the move in the latter half of the nineteenth century of astronomers founding observatories in tops of mountains, with Yerkes, Lowell, and Lick observatories all in wilderness settings in high places on the Earth, the sense of adventure and hardship conjured in the minds of Americans raised the status of those who worked in those places. In essence, these activities were hard and, therefore, those who engaged in them were dedicated scientific explorers and their conclusions were to be embraced. All of this played into a developing cult of expertise that the astronomers enjoyed. Such claims as made by Lowell about Mars, therefore, enjoyed ready acceptance in part because of this development. As Lane concluded, “In the era of Mars debates and the popular canal sensation, however, a metropolitan-versus-mountain dichotomy provided the critical means of differentiating among the credibility of observatories, astronomers, and hypotheses. The higher, the more remote, the more rugged, and the more sublime, the better” (p. 95).
Likewise, the astronomer as hero, not unlike the intrepid explorers of the poles during the same era, lent a certain credibility to their hypotheses not possible previously. Lowell’s mountaintop sitting at his observatory above Flagstaff, and the heroic nature of his observations, lent credence to his arguments about the possibility of canals and therefore sophisticated life on the red planet. And he played it for all it was worth.
Finally, Lane offers interesting and quite appropriate findings concerning the speculations about the life on Mars that Lowell offered. Lowell insisted that Mars was a planet on the verge of extinction because of the scarcity of water. He rationalized that the only way it could hold on was through the creation of a hydraulic society in which the best minds of that society ran everything for the benefit of all. The organization and structure of every institution associated with Mars, Lowell reasoned, reflected this need to control the environment. In such a situation, he continued, society’s greatest minds conspired to create a hydraulic civilization under their suzerainty. In order to flourish on Mars they had to create a society that was dependent upon large-scale waterworks—productive (for irrigation) and protective (for flood control). This not only made the planet habitable, it brought urbanization and wealth there as well. There were other examples of this in world history and Lowell applied the example of ancient Egypt as the first of this type of civilization.
These ideas reflected Lowell’s concepts of Progressivism and government by the best and the brightest to ensure the success of all. Lane makes the case that this was very much a perspective reflective of European colonialism. The British of India undertook massive public works projects with the purpose of transforming the subcontinent from what they considered the backward civilization that they encountered when they first arrived there. Lowell’s Mars was essentially a test case for the envisioned “benign American empire [that] would be based on rational-scientific decision-making entrusted to a technocratic elite” (p. 177). At sum, his analysis of civilization on Mars served as a brief for American colonial activities worldwide.
Geographies of Mars is an excellent, quite original take on the Martian canals question. It deserves a place on the shelves of all historians and social scientists interested in the place of Mars in the American imagination.