Proposed Syllabus for “Spaceflight and Society” Course, Fall 2013


I am the instructor for a course at Johns Hopkins University in the Fall 2013 semester with the title, “Spaceflight and Society.” I taught this class in the fall of 2011 as well and had a great time doing it, so I am excited to try it again. I have developed a set of course mini-lectures, discussion questions, readings, and the like. I have outlined the sessions of the class below, along with the readings that I proposed using in the course.

I am requiring as the core text for the class sections of Howard McCurdy’s Space and the American Imagination (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011 second edition). Then I am assigning two additional articles each week. Question: From among all of the possibilities of readings that could be used in the class would you recommend others than what I have noted below? I have some constraints in what I can require—especially the amount of reading I can assign—and I am trying to emphasize recent work. It is rare, for example, that I am requiring an article published before 2000. I recognize that is a little arbitrary but I believe I can summarize the arguments of earlier seminal works. We’ll see.

Anyway, here are the sessions and their readings. Do you have  recommendations for other readings? Any assistance is appreciated.

CLASS SCHEDULE AND ASSIGNMENTS:

September 4, 2013: Session 1                       Why Go Into Space?

Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 11-59.
  • Roger D. Launius, Erik M. Conway, Andrew K. Johnston, Zse Chien Wang, Matthew H. Hersch, Deganit Paikowsky, David J. Whalen, Eric Toldi, Kerrie Dougherty, Peter L. Hays, Jennifer Levasseur, Ralph L. McNutt Jr., and Brent Sherwood, “Spaceflight: The Development of Science, Surveillance, and Commerce in Space,” Proceedings of the IEEE 100 (May 13, 2012): 1785-1818.
  • Asif A. Siddiqi, “Spaceflight in the National Imagination,” in Steven J. Dick, ed., Remembering the Space Age: Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference, (NASA SP-2008-4703, 2008), pp. 17-35.

September 11, 2013: Session 2         Origins of the Space Age

Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 60-92.
  • J.R. McNeill, “Gigantic Follies? Human Exploration and the Space Age in Long-term Historical Perspective,” in Steven J. Dick, ed., Remembering the Space Age: Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference (NASA-SP-2008-4703, 2008), pp. 3-16.
  • Alexander C.T. Geppert, “Flights of Fancy: Outer Space and the European Imagination, 1923–1969,” in Steven J. Dick, ed., Remembering the Space Age: Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference (NASA-SP-2008-4703, 2008), pp. 585-99.

September 18, 2013: Session 3         National Security Space and its Discontents

Readings:

  • Dwayne A. Day, “Cover Stories and Hidden Agendas: Early American Space and National Security Policy,” in Roger D. Launius, John M. Logsdon, and Robert W. Smith, Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (Harwood Academic, 2000), pp. 161-195.
  • Peter L. Hays, “NASA and the Department of Defense: Enduring Themes in Three Key Areas,” in Steven J. Dick and Roger D. Launius, eds., Critical Issues in the History of Spaceflight (Washington, DC: NASA SP-2006-4702, 2006), pp. 199-238.
  • Matthew Mowthorpe, “U.S. Military Space Policy, 1945–92,” Space Policy 18 (2002): 25-36.

September 25, 2013: Session 4         Spaceflight and American Culture

Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 308-24.
  • Matthew H. Hersch, “Return of the Lost Spaceman: America’s Astronauts in Popular Culture, 1959–2006,” Journal of Popular Culture 44, No. 1(2011): 73-92.
  • Daniel Sage, “Giant Leaps and Forgotten Steps: NASA and the Performance of Gender,” Sociological Review 57 (2009): 146-63.

October 2, 2013: Session 5    The Evolution of Space Science

Required Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 120-53.
  • W. Henry Lambright, “Big Science in Space: Viking, Cassini, and the Hubble Space Telescope,” in Roger D. Launius, Exploring the Solar System: The History and Science of Planetary Exploration (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Chapter 5.
  • David H. DeVorkin, “Pluto: The Problem Planet and its Scientists,” in Roger D. Launius, Exploring the Solar System: The History and Science of Planetary Exploration (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Chapter 13.

October 9, 2013: No Class    Time for Working on First Take Home Test

 October 16, 2013: Session 6  The Race to the Moon

 Required Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 93-119.
  • W.D. Kay, “Problem Definitions and Policy Contradictions: John F. Kennedy and the ‘Space Race’,” Policy Studies Journal 31 (March 2003): 53-72.
  • David A. Mindell, “Human and Machine in the History of Spaceflight,” in Steven J. Dick and Roger D. Launius, ed., Critical Issues in the History of Spaceflight (Washington, DC: NASA SP-2006-4702, 2006), pp. 141-62.

October 23, 2013: Session 7              What Do You Do for an Encore?

Required Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 154-80.
  • Brian Woods, “A Political History of NASA’s Space Shuttle: The Development Years, 1972–1982,” Sociological Review 57 (2009): 25-46.
  • Amy Foster, “Coping with Celebrity: Women as Astronauts and Heroes,” in Paul G. Gillespie and Grant T. Weller, eds., Harnessing the Heavens: National Defense Through Space. Chicago, IL: Imprint Publications, 2008), pp. 165-75. 

October 30, 2013: Session 8              The Space Shuttle – Creature of Compromise

Required Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 207-35.
  • Andrew J. Butrica, “The ‘Right’ Stuff: The Reagan Revolution and the U.S. Space Program,” in Steven J. Dick, ed., Remembering the Space Age: Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference (Washington, DC: NASA SP-2008-4703, 2008), pp. 121-34.
  • John M. Logsdon, “The Space Shuttle Program: A Policy Failure?” Science 232 (May 30, 1986): 1099-1105.

November 6, 2013: No Class  Time for Working on Second Take Home Test

November 13, 2013: Session 9 Spaceflight in its International Context

Required Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, pp. 181-206.
  • John M. Logsdon, “The Development of International Space Cooperation,” in John M. Logsdon, et al., eds., Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the Evolution of the U.S. Civil Space Program, Volume II (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4407, 1996), pp. 1-57.
  • John Krige, “Technology, Foreign Policy and International Collaboration in Space,” in Steven J. Dick and Roger D. Launius, eds., Critical Issues in History of Spaceflight (Washington DC: NASA SP-2006-4702, 2006), pp. 239-60.

November 20, 2013: Session 10                    Things Recent and (con)Temporary

Required Readings:

  • Howard E. McCurdy, Space and the American Imagination, 268-307.
  • Amy Foster, “Coping with Celebrity: Women as Astronauts and Heroes,” in Paul G. Gillespie and Grant T. Weller, eds., Harnessing the Heavens: National Defense Through Space (Chicago, IL: Imprint Publications, 2008), pp. 165-75.
  • John M. Logsdon, “A New U.S. Approach to Human Spaceflight?” Space Policy 27 (February 2011): 15-19.

November 27, 2013: No Class                     Thanksgiving Break

December 4, 2013: Session 11                      Spaceflight, Memory, and Material Culture

Required Readings:

  • Roger D. Launius, “American Spaceflight History’s Master Narrative and the Meaning of Memory,” in Steven J. Dick, ed., Remembering the Space Age: Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference (Washington, DC: NASA SP-2008-4703, 2008), pp. 353-85.
  • Alice Gorman and Beth O’Leary, “An Ideological Vacuum: The Cold War in Outer Space,” in John Schofield and Wayne Cocroft, eds., A Fearsome Heritage: Diverse Legacies of the Cold War (Tucson, AZ: Left Coast Press, 2007), pp. 73-92.
  • Gretchen Heefner, “Missiles and Memory: Dismantling South Dakota’s Cold War,” Western Historical Quarterly 38 (Summer 2007): 181-203.
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16 Responses to Proposed Syllabus for “Spaceflight and Society” Course, Fall 2013

  1. Pingback: Library: A Round-up of Reading | Res Communis

  2. Guillaume says:

    Great set of readings, I must say… I think I’ll crib some of yours for my own course! I know this is a US-oriented course, but would you consider inserting something on Gagarin? Methinks Andrew Jenks’ piece in the “Spacefarers” book Mike Neufeld just edited is very nice. Otherwise, not to lavish praise on you, but the edited work you and McCurdy did on spaceflight and presidential leadership is a great way to keep chronologies straight. If you’ re teaching at Hokpkins, I’m sure you have supersmart people taking the class. Here is the trenches where we have a mix of first-gen college kids and some smart alecs, the book helped keep structure by showing how budgets and politics really play a role at critical junctures, and to break the myth that Kennedy luuuved space (Of course, you could always assign Logsdon’s latest, but as you say length is an issue.)

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  3. rangerdon says:

    Jesco von Puttkamer, Spaceflight and the New Enlightenment, NASA magazine. (Sorry to say I can’t find it online, and NASA mag is apparently no more. But this is a critical essay about the real gifts of space exploration.)

    Hansen, Neil Armstrong (bio), last chapter (think it’s the last chapter) (where Armstrong states his belief that going to the moon was in fact an act of enlightenment.)

    Scott, The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarlane, 2012. (Last chapter is a commentary on enlightenment, and the Whole Earth vision, and von Puttkamer and Armstrong are quoted therein.)

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  4. Chris Gainor says:

    Lots of great readings in this syllabus. I notice you have the Amy Foster article twice – in sessions 7 and 10. I heartily endorse the suggestion for the Jenks reading or something like it on spaceflight in Soviet Society

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  5. Jack Fisher says:

    There are several areas that I think should be covered in your class;
    1. The effect of spaceflight on the everyday American’s life. This includes primarily what going on with geosynchronous altitude satellites providing us with TV, internet services, FaceBook, etc. The last time I looked there were several hundred satellites in this orbit providing all these services. Space business has progressed from a few government sponsored satellites to an almost all privately-owned and operated array of satellites.
    2. The progression of engineering capabilities required to develop the space systems we have with us today. For example compare the early days of JPL space systems, i. e. early attempts to launch lunar missions such as Ranger compared with the incredibly complex missions of the Mars rovers. The same can be said for the advances in national security satellites. References are JPL and the American Space Program by Clayton Koppes, The Secret of Apollo by Stephen Johnson, and A Fiery Peace in a Cold War by Neil Sheehan.
    3. I did not see any mention of the Hubble mission and the extraordinary images of other worlds. There are numerous books about this mission and its results.
    4. Any discussion of the Shuttle should include its darker side as revealed by The Challenger Launch Decision by Diane Vaughan and NASA’s investigation of Columbia..

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  6. Richard Easton says:

    That’s an excellent syllabus. I suggest adding The First Space Race by Bille and Lishock to the readings for the second lecture.

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  7. Roger,

    Have you considered any readings from Walter McDougall’s book? I realize it’s well before your 2000 cut-off, but it has so much interesting information about the early Space Race period, and the now-forgotten role of the Eisenhower administration re: the origins of the Apollo-Saturn programs and the critical military surveillance systems that we would come to depend on.

    It was a remarkable book for it’s time, although admittedly some of its theses have been overcome by new knowledge and historical research in the 28 years since its publication.

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    • launiusr says:

      I have thought a long time about books fort he class to read, and McDougall’s book has always been on the short list for this. It is older, of course, and while that is not a driver there has been so much good work since this appeared I’d like to expose them to that as well. McDougall for space history is a little like Frederick Jackson Turner’s work for the history of the West. It is always discussed, and I will do so in class.

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  8. Kenneth Katz says:

    That looks like it will be a fascinating course.

    1. I second Mr. Fisher’s recommendation of “JPL and the American Space Program” by Clayton Koppes and “A Fiery Peace in a Cold War” by Neil Sheehan.
    2. “…the Heavens and the Earth A Political History of the Space Age” by Walter McDougall is a seminal work albeit an older one.

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    • launiusr says:

      Thanks for your recommendation. I agree that both Koppes on JPL, as well as Westwick on JPL, and McDougall are fine works. Both are older. Sheehan’s book is interesting, as well. Unfortunately, I cannot force undergraduates to read all of these books. Would that I could.

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  9. mike shupp says:

    I’m being contrarian, I know, but I’d suggest starting off with a 1950′s juvenile SF novel, something like Heinlein’s THE ROLLING STONES or an Andre Norton work. The idea being to point out that a dream of space flight existed well before Sputnik and Apollo and provides a yardstick for measuring what we’ve actually accomplished — or hope to accomplish anymore — and perhaps to explain to the kids why their grandparents once saw space as important.

    I remember a couple of years back, Joan Johnson-Freese taught a course on space policy at the National War College. She wrote a post on the subject subsequently http://www.spacenews.com/article/guest-blog-views-space-rare-informed-public
    assessing the attitudes of her students at the end of the course and what emerged is that they basically saw space as a source of problems (orbital debris, colliding asteroids, etc.) rather than hope and opportunity. Which strikes me as rather sad.

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    Like

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