Announcing the Space Policy and History Forum #19

Space Policy and History Forum #19

Astrobiology in Action

by Dr. Michael Meyer

Lead Scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters


The idea that a planetary neighbor could have life has invigorated space exploration for decades, and as we saw with Viking, “negative results” quenched missions to the red planet.  However, finding life in “azoic” environments: hydrothermal vents, nuclear reactor cores, and deep subsurface, fueled the idea that a more sophisticated and measured approach would be fruitful in the exploration of extraterrestrial worlds.

In 1995, the Exobiology Strategy for Mars Exploration posited that Martian life was possible and developed a five-step plan for discovering the potential for life on Mars that required a multi-disciplinary approach.  The credible scientific underpinnings and the 1996 announcement of evidence for life in the Mars meteorite ALH84001, boosted public interest and spawned the Astrobiology Program.  In 2007, An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars reconfirmed the step-wise approach and that Mars sample return should be the number one priority for astrobiologists, much less other planetary scientists.  Operating missions have furthered our concept of Mars’ biological potential and the 2020 caching rover will carry out Astrobiology priorities.  The results of these missions will reveal whether Mars provided—and possibly still provides—a home for life, helping to elucidate our place in the Universe.


Dr. Meyer is responsible for the science content of current and future Mars missions, and Program Scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity rover mission.  He was the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology and Program Scientist for the 2001 Mars Odyssey, Mars Microprobe mission, and for two Shuttle /Mir experiments.  The Astrobiology program, started in 1997 with him as the Discipline Scientist, is dedicated to the study of the life in the universe.  He has managed NASA’s Exobiology Program from 1994 to 1997. Dr. Meyer was also the Planetary Protection Officer for NASA, responsible for mission compliance to NASA’s policy concerning forward and back contamination during planetary exploration. Dr. Meyer has been an assistant research professor at the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, and has served as Associate Director and in Research for the Polar Desert Research Center, Florida State University.  In 1982, he was a visiting research scientist at the Culture Centre for Algae and Protozoa in Cambridge, England.  Dr. Meyer’s interest is in microorganisms living in extreme environments, particularly the physical factors controlling microbial growth and survival.  He has conducted field research in the Gobi Desert, Negev Desert, Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, and veteran to six expeditions to Antarctica. His experience also includes two summers working as a professional diver / treasure salvager off the coasts of Florida and North Carolina.  Dr. Meyer earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in Oceanography, Texas A&M University, and B.S. in Biology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Date and Time

June 6 (Monday), 4:00-5:00 P.M.

Location, Parking, and Access

The presentation will be held at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 4:00-5:00 p.m. Space is limited to 50 attendees, so please RSVP to get your name on the list. This will be for access to the 3rd floor of the Museum, where we will be meeting in the Director’s Conference Room. 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. Parking is not available at 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 on the Orange and Blue lines are close by. Please RSVP to Nathan Bridges,

Posted in Space, Science | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Animated Apollo Mission Patches

This is an enjoyable short video of all of the mission patches created for Apollo. This very cool animation was done with high res public domain NASA imagery, free 3D models, and animation through Cinema 4D with post work done in After Effects.

Posted in Apollo, History, Space | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Moon: A Brief History”

Moon-BrunnerMoon: A Brief History. By Bernd Brunner. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. 304 pages. Bibliographic essay, illustrations, acknowledgments, index. ISBN-13: 978-0300177695. Hardcover with dustjacket. $16.50 USD.

There is no question but that the Moon has had an important influence in human history, both for legitimate reasons and for a series of superstitions tied to it. It is by far the most dominant and changeable element in the night sky. It has kindled enthusiasm, joy, lust, fear, and horror upon generations of peoples of all races and cultures that have lived out their lives under its silvery reflected light. Defined differently from culture to culture and age to age, humankind remains captivated by its power. We have characterized it by its features, by its phases, and by its influence over Earthly entities whether they are animate or not.

Moongazing remains one of the oldest pastimes in the human experience. Ancient civilizations assigned it dominion over their lives through supernatural intervention; others have envisioned it as a home for extraterrestrial life. It inspires poets and artists, scientists and engineers, creators and destroyers. With the invention of the telescope at the turn of the seventeenth century—coinciding with the rise of the scientific revolution—the Moon took on new meaning as a tangible place with mountains and valleys and craters that could be named and geological features and events that could be studied.

This work seeks to encapsulate this sense of mystery about the Moon in a relative short and accessible work. Generally, the author does this well, and the general parameters of the manuscript are generally acceptable. I would have written this book differently if I had written it, but I will refrain from critiquing the manuscript that the author did not write. As it is, this book is a useful introduction to the cultural—certainly not the scientific, political, or even the social—history of the Moon.

This is an interesting and useful introductory overview and synthesis; it is not a work of scholarship that will change the manner in which we approach this subject. It is not a work that will become required reading for all those studying this subject. Having said that, it is a solid, useful, well-written work that should find an audience among students and casual readers.

One of the exciting aspects of lunar exploration at present, the possibility of ice buried in craters at the lunar poles, receives discussion in Brunner’s work. The late 1996 revelation from scientists that data returned by Clementine suggested that ice existed from an asteroid crash at the Moon’s Shackleton Crater at the South Pole re-energized lunar science. The temperature there never rises above about −170 degrees C, and any ice there could remain frozen for extremely long periods of time. Excitement over this discovery spurred the team developing Lunar Prospector, a small, spin-stabilized craft that would “prospect” the lunar crust and atmosphere for minerals, water ice, and certain gases; map the Moon’s gravitational and magnetic fields; and learn more about the size and content of the Moon’s core. Launched on January 6, 1998, Lunar Prospector began its short-term mission to globally map the Moon. Lunar Prospector’s most significant discovery, announced on March 5, 1998, was confirmation that somewhere between 10 to 300 million tons of water-ice was scattered inside the craters of the lunar poles. Not only was ice found—as expected—in the Aitken Basin of the lunar South Pole, but also in the craters of the North.

As the author makes clear, should this prove out the discovery of ice on the Moon portends enormous consequences. From ice, humans could create water, oxygen, and hydrogen. The latter could be used to produce rocket fuel and generate electricity. Solar rays would provide an additional source of energy for the half-month that the Sun faces that section of the Moon. If it proves out this finding makes human research stations on the Moon more possible than ever before.

There are some scientists, among them geologist Bruce Campbell of the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, who question that the data from Clementine and Lunar Prospector should be interpreted as evidence of lunar ice. Observations from the Arecibo radar observatory in Puerto Rico in 2006, suggest that the purported evidence of lunar ice may actually be a false positive associated with rocks containing hydrogen ejected from young craters. If true, this does not prohibit the possibility that there might be water ice in permanently shadowed craters, but it calls into question the evidence thus far supporting that conclusion. We will learn the answer to these questions in time.

I was also taken by Bernd Brunner’s discussion of the Moon landing conspiracy theory. It emerged in 1969, and there were important stories about it in the media at the time. It had, they argued, been faked in Hollywood by the federal government for purposes ranging—depending on the particular Apollo landing denier—from embezzlement of the public treasury to complex conspiracy theories involving international intrigue and murderous criminality.

Believers in this theory tapped into a rich vein of distrust of government, populist critiques of society, and questions about the fundamentals of epistemology and knowledge creation. Fueled by conspiracy theorists of all stripes, the number of deniers has grown over time. In a 2004 poll, while overall numbers remained about the same, among Americans between 18 and 24 years old “27% expressed doubts that NASA went to the Moon,” according to pollster Mary Lynne Dittmar. Doubt is different from denial, but it was a trend that seemed to be growing over time among those who did not witness the events.

Moon: A Brief History explores these and other themes in the history of the Moon in the human imagination.


Posted in Apollo, Lunar Exploration, Space | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Breathless Survey of the History of Terrestrial Tourism, and its Relation to Space Tourism

A busy day at the National Air and Space Museum.

A busy day at the National Air and Space Museum.

Tourism in some form has been a part of human existence since the beginning of human existence. In 1994, the United Nations Statistical Committee approved a definition of tourism put forward by its World Tourism Organization (WTO): “The activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes.” A seemingly straightforward definition, it encompasses complex operations to make it possible to tour with relative ease, safety, and freedom. The complexities expand when considering traveling into space.

The first recorded instances of tourism emerged in the ancient Roman Republic, where wealth, leisure time, and a transportation and accommodations infrastructure all supported a tourism industry for the elite. Such places as Baiae, near present-day Naples in Italy, became popular coastal resorts for the rich. A mild climate, warm sulphur springs, and spectacular local scenery combined to lure wealthy Romans from the city and into villas in the Baiae region during the summer.

Several Roman emperors built villas, and Cleopatra was reported to have been there when Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE. As Roman art and architecture historian Fikret K. Yegul wrote: “Baiae possessed everything to make an ideal playland for the enjoyment of the public, the wealthy as well as those who aspired to be wealthy: nearly year-round sunshine, fine beaches, a multitude of curative hot springs amidst myrtle shaded parks and gardens—a paradise on earth combining the luxuries of nature with those manmade.” Little wonder that Baiae became one of the earliest tourist destinations in recorded history, but such cities as Bath, in southwestern England, served a similar function for Romans on the northern frontier.

At the height of the Roman Empire citizens could travel throughout the Mediterranean, much of northern Europe, and some of Asia and the Middle East on a network of roads, bridges, canals, and seas that linked the realm together militarily, commercially, and culturally. A single currency, language, and body of laws dominated this empire and facilitated the rise of tourism for both the wealthy and the near-wealthy.

Average travel times by sea were about 100 miles per day, and a trip from Rome to Epidamnus in modern Albania, some 600 miles, usually took between four and five days. The relative comfort of this seagoing travel enhanced the potential of tourism, as did the development of accommodations, sites for visitation, and attractions for those with time and money. Even those traveling by land did relative well. Grand tours of the empire were common at least once in the lifetime of every elite patrician, with young men visiting “famous cities and strange or historic sites; he spent a year abroad, in the train of some general or governor.”

The pilgrims of Chaucer.

The pilgrims of Chaucer.

Later, during the medieval era, pilgrimages to religious sites in Europe became common. The Canterbury Tales, for example, were supposedly told by a group of religious pilgrims on their way from Southwark to Canterbury in the 1380s to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. While Geoffrey Chaucer did not describe the details of the trip, he captured the essence of a group of tourists traveling for fun, sightseeing, education, and spiritual welfare. By the sixteenth century the aristocracy throughout Europe had taken to sending their sons on grand tours of the “continent” as an educational experience. Later, as a rising middle class emerged in northern Europe the practice expanded even as the amount of time and extent of travel, because of limitations on wealth, lessened.

With the beginning of the industrial age—and its concomitant rise in wealth, leisure time, and ease of transportation—tourism became both more sophisticated and accessible to those not at society’s pinnacle. The British led the world in this type of tourism during the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries, and the seaside or mountain holiday emerged as the leisure travel of choice for an emerging middle class. Visits to Weymouth, Dover, and a host of other tourist destinations soon yielded to trips across the channel where coastal resorts with amenities and accommodations catering to British travelers dominated.

Thomas Cook organized the first recorded package tour in 1841 by chartering a train to take a group from Leicester to Loughborough for a temperance rally, various entertainments, and accommodations. This began a tourism business in England that made Cook a fortune and opened exotic places to many who would have never been able to visit them otherwise.

By the 1820s tourism as an industry had already established itself in the United States. Scenic wonders such as Niagara Falls, Mammoth Cave, the Hudson River Valley, and the White Mountains became important places for tourists to see. The expansion of attractions continued westward throughout the nineteenth century, and such places as Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Painted Desert, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon, among many others also became tourist destinations of note, some as early as the 1850s. They flourished because of the same ingredients that had fueled European tourism—a rise in wealth, leisure time, and ease of transportation—and gained greater saliency through the application of one of the most important of all American innovations: advertising and consumerism. Americans created for themselves a need to see these places quite apart from the significance of the places themselves.

In time the creation of environmental, human history, and technological and architectural marvels for the enjoyment of tourists led to one of the most ubiquitous of American stereotypes: the seeker of a packaged version of whatever is to be offered while resisting risk. The rise of what are essentially amusement parks with historic, ecological, cultural, or scenic themes effectively erased most of the naturalism previously present in tourism. Quickly, a false authenticity became the norm in American tourism and those seeking it immediately garnered derision.

"Shall the Buffalo Go? Reminiscences of an Old Buffalo Hunter," in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, May 1883.

“Shall the Buffalo Go? Reminiscences of an Old Buffalo Hunter,” in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, May 1883.

Patricia Nelson Limerick has observed that at the point that railroads allowed quick, easy, safe transportation into the American West tourism began to rule the region. As early as 1828, writer James Kirk Paulding observed that tourism was “the most exquisite mode of killing time and spending money ever yet devised by lazy ingenuity.” Not much has changed since that time. A satirical saying that circulates yearly—“If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?”—epitomizes this attitude and it forms an underlying aspect of the culture of virtually all tourist sites.

Of course, there was a strain of tourism that always sought authenticity, risk, and adventure, and this has proven a serious sub-element of tourism in the United States as well as elsewhere. Adventure tourism eschews the packaged aspects of travel in favor of more individualistic and dangerous activities. One notable example of this in the U.S. was Francis Parkman’s trip along the Oregon Trail in the summer of 1846. As a twenty-three-year-old graduate of the Harvard Law School, Parkman hoped to find adventure, improve his health, and observe the native population as a lark on the first third of the Oregon Trail across the Great Plains of Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, and Colorado. His account of this tour quickly became one of the classics of American literature, in no small part because of the power of his prose and the sharp edge of his analysis as shown here:

Great changes are at hand in that region. With the stream of emigration to Oregon and California, the buffalo will dwindle away, and the large wandering communities who depend on them for support must be broken and scattered. The Indians will soon be corrupted by the example of the whites, abused by whisky, and overawed by military posts; so that within a few years the traveler may pass in tolerable security through their country. Its danger and its charm will have disappeared together.

His trip across the plains was essentially adventure tourism and was recognized as such by thrill-seekers everywhere.

Even more extreme, but certainly not unusual in both the American West and sub-Saharan Africa, was the expeditions of big game hunters seeking trophies, thrills, and bragging rights. European nobility visited the American West as early as the 1840s to hunt bison and other large game. Accompanied by a local guide and often some other people who acted as servants, these expeditions in America did not have the romantic name Safari that they would gain in Africa in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, that was what they were, and those so engaged recognized it as a blood sport in which they could conceivably lose their lives.

As historian Richard White observed in “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A New History of the American West (Oklahoma, 1991), “The opening of the overland trails started an onslaught on the buffalo by migrants, soldiers, and various eastern and European sportsmen. The people killed bison in numbers far beyond what they could ever use. They hunted largely for sport and left the carcasses to rot on the plains.” Not until the twentieth century in the United States did significant efforts take place to regulate hunting during tourist excursions.

Mara Naboisho was the first wildlife conservancy, an "early adopter" of global sustainable tourism criteria for destinations.

Mara Naboisho was the first wildlife conservancy, an “early adopter” of global sustainable tourism criteria for destinations.

Tourism expanded during the twentieth century and now represents more than a half a trillion dollar a year industry worldwide. The vast majority of tourists undertake sedate excursions and enjoy relative comfort and ease. Perhaps the organized tour with a group of several other tourists overseen by a travel agency that makes all arrangements is the best example of these safe and routine tours. The costs of these excursions has declined to the extent that many middle income Americans routinely visit theme parks, vacation at the beach or the mountains, travel to various national parks, and enjoy week-long cruises in the Caribbean and the Pacific. But there are also adventure tourists who challenge destruction to gain adrenalin rushes and bragging rights for climbing Mount Everest, diving to the depths of the oceans, visiting Antarctica, and undertaking a range of what might be considered daredevil activities in exotic locations around the globe. These individuals are frequently wealthy adventure seekers who want to dare the universe and live to tell about it. They also frequently expend considerable time and money preparing for these activities and sometimes they do not survive the encounter. For example, of some 900 people who climbed Mount Everest between 1921 and the end of the twentieth century, more than 150 lost their lives, a one in six mortality rate.

This breathless survey of terrestrial tourism relates to the issue of space tourism in two fundamental ways. First, it is apparent that there have been two distinct types of tourists visiting locations at least since the nineteenth century, and perhaps earlier. Wealthy adventurers, willing to risk significant resources and personal safety, have been much the smaller of the two types, but at present it is the only group of possible tourists seriously interested in space tourism in the foreseeable future.

Several space tourists have flown; each paying an estimated $20 million for the opportunity to ride a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) for a week-long visit. They also accepted considerable risk for the right to engage in this highly unusual activity.

Is this the future of space tourism?

Is this the future of space tourism?

On the other hand the majority of space tourists, and there are millions every year, confine themselves to visiting Earth-bound locations involved in, or celebrating, spaceflight. For instance, the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is the world’s most visited museum, hosting more than eight million tourists each year. An additional two million people annually visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, making it one of the largest attractions in a state known for its tourist industry. Each year another two million tourists visit Space World, a space-oriented theme park, in Kitakyushu City, Japan. Other terrestrial locations, including the various Space Camps, account for a further two million visitors annually. Overall, however, space-related activities are a miniscule percentage of the $623 billion terrestrial tourism industry.

Additionally, unless costs, schedules, and the risk of spaceflight can be significantly reduced—more than an order of magnitude—there is very little reason to believe that the market will expand beyond the wealthy thrill-seekers who are essentially descendants of the big game hunters of Africa or the adventurers who climbed Mount Everest. Even then, the costs of undertaking those other activities are significantly smaller than that required for a trip into space. Space tourism advocates understand this essential truth at some level, but few are willing to admit the magnitude of the challenge confronting those who want to overcome the Earth’s gravity well. Indeed, the success of the first millionaire space tourists has steeled their resolve. Space policy analyst Dwayne A. Day does not believe this is the best way to open spaceflight to the general public. He observed in 2001:

Now that Tito has flown, it will not be the Earth-shattering precedent that space enthusiasts hoped for.…[I]s it any easier for the average citizen to raise $20 million in cash and buy a seat on a Soyuz than it is to get a Ph.D. in engineering and join the astronaut corps? No. Far from opening a frontier, Tito’s flight symbolizes just how out of reach space remains for the common person.

The flights of several space tourists to ISS offer an ambivalent precedent for the opening of spaceflight for the average person. Bringing down the cost of access to space could alter this dynamic but it seems unlikely that little will change until then.

Posted in Space | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Ideas of Space Tourism

This artist's conception by Bill Wright captures a possible future lunar tourist moment. Visitors to the "Tranquility Base Memorial Center" view the "Eagle" spacecraft that first landed humans on the Moon from an observation deck as the activities of the Moonbase take place all around.

This artist’s conception by Bill Wright captures a possible future lunar tourist moment. Visitors to the “Tranquility Base Memorial Center” view the “Eagle” spacecraft that first landed humans on the Moon from an observation deck as the activities of the Moonbase take place all around.

Beginning at least in the 1960s expectations of space tourism have been the “stuff” of space activism. To date, however, the prospect for broad, sustainable space tourism remains a dream. I would argue that much of the boosterism in the space tourism arena has been predicated on hopes and dreams, unicorns and rainbows, rather than reality.

Despite recent visibility, space tourism is hardly a new concept. Mention of the idea goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century, and with the development of workable rockets in the late 1950s the concept gained a foothold. Perhaps the most exciting early effort took place when Pan American World Airways announced in 1968 that it would take reservations in anticipation of future space tourism as a promotion for the Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Reportedly Pan Am received over 93,000 reservation requests for a service it had no prospect of beginning.

A post for the "2001: A Space Odyssey" film in 1968 showing a Pan Am space shuttle.

A poster for the “2001: A Space Odyssey” film in 1968 showing a Pan Am space shuttle at a space station.

In 1969 Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, director of the NASA Apollo program, predicted that commercial space tourism would be available to healthy adventurers who could afford it by 1987. A year earlier, Barron Hilton began talking about building a hotel on the Moon and proposed a “space shuttle service” that would ferry passengers for a round-trip price of $1,500 (about $15,000 today), in addition to another $1,000 for two-week stays at the Lunar Hilton. The hotel was not a small beach bungalow either. One account had it with 5,000 rooms and its own private “ocean,” although details of its design were never forthcoming.

The idea did not die easily and as late as 1999, Hilton was reportedly considering a $25 billion space hotel in collaboration with 16 other groups. A two-week trip would initially cost $2 million per person, dropping to $415,000 by the fifth year. Without explanation this grand scheme quietly faded from sight.

Other proposals were forthcoming from Dietrich Koelle, who presented a plan for space tourism using a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle at the annual International Astronautical Federation (IAF) meeting in 1971. This would be the first of several presentations over the next decade by Koelle. In 1984, David M. Ashford presented a series of papers on new vehicles specifically designed to support the space tourism industry. Ashford would go on to publish a large number of articles and one book on space tourism, as well as becoming heavily involved in several web sites on the subject.

As planning for the Space Shuttle proceeded in 1976, several people emerged to suggest that it might well be the first vehicle that could be used for space tourism. “Today, people willingly pay $2,000 to fly supersonically roundtrip from France to South America and pay $10,000 for an all-expense cruise around the world,” commented John H. Disher, NASA’s director of advanced programs. He predicted that of the 60 flights per year then foreseen for the shuttle, several of them might be for tourism purposes. He added, “Certainly, commercial operations at levels of hundreds of millions of dollars per year can be anticipated over the next two decades.” Disher believed that the shuttle would be the transforming technology that would open the space frontier for all manner of activities, including tourism. Instead it turned out to be an experimental test vehicle that failed to achieve expectations. The anticipation of these technologies has been a longstanding element of space tourism boosterism thereafter.

Like many things in spaceflight, however, tourism always seems to be ten years away. In 1985, Gary Hudson advocated for a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle named Phoenix and formed Pacific American Launch Systems to build it. In partnership with T.C. Swartz, owner of Society Expeditions, a Seattle travel agency, Hudson promised by the latter 1990s short trips to low-Earth orbit for $50,000. The company reportedly collected several hundred $5,000 deposits from prospective tourists in Europe, Japan, and the United States, but Hudson failed to raise enough money to develop the Phoenix and the idea collapsed.

Society Expeditions then proposed developing a special passenger module to be flown inside the Space Shuttle’s payload bay during the mid-1980s. It called for each flight to carry between 24 and 32 tourists at a cost of about $1 million per person. Society Expeditions expected flights to begin in the mid-1990s “to include a three-day low earth orbit and possible rendezvous with a U.S. Space Station” and reportedly attracted $10,000 deposits from more than 250 people. NASA spokesperson Frank Johnson accepted the soundness of the concept, but the Challenger accident ended any thought of flying civilians on the Space Shuttle, and the company subsequently returned the deposits.

Society Expeditions was not just a company started to market space tourism. Founded in 1974, it offered high-end vacations ranging from cruising in the Antarctic Islands to visiting Siberia and Cape Horn, and catered to passengers with a taste for luxury and the money to pay for it. During 1985, the company offered “endless horizon” vacations aboard private jets for $30,000 per passenger. However, the company never got to send a tourist into space, and finally folded in 2004, a victim of the changing world after 9/11.

Nevertheless, the dream of space tourism would not die. The SPACE94 conference in Albuquerque during March 1994, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the annual International Astronautical Federation conference in October 1994 both saw the release of several papers that played important roles in space tourism discussions. One of these detailed the results of the first market survey on space tourism, conducted on 3,030 people in Japan during late 1993. Another detailed the Kankoh-maru (roughly translated as the “tourism ship”) concept for a launch vehicle aimed at the tourist market that is still being advocated in various forms.

Even the U.S. government noticed and six major aerospace companies of the time—Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, Martin Marietta, McDonnell Douglas, and Rockwell—conducted the Commercial Space Transportation study under NASA contract during 1994. This study concluded, “A new space transportation system would provide tangible and intangible benefits to the general public. The development of new market areas would create new opportunities and capabilities, for example, space tourism.” Seemingly, little came of this study.

Concept for the 50 passenger Kankoh-maru tourism vehicle.

Concept for the 50 passenger Kankoh-maru tourism vehicle.

The first mainstream aerospace journal to run an article on space tourism was probably Aerospace America in November 1996. Aviation Week and Space Technology followed on April 7, 1997. The Kankoh-maru project appeared on Japanese national television on April 11, 1997, marking the first mass-market presentation of an orbital space tourism concept. By 1998 articles had appeared in Business Week, Fortune, and Popular Science, and many trade publications have followed suit since that time. A variety of start-up, entrepreneurial launch vehicle companies have also marketed services to the space tourism market. For a variety of technical and economic reasons, however, no one has yet demonstrated the feasibility of the concept.


Posted in History, Space | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Unintelligent Design”

Unintelligent DesignUnintelligent Design
. By Mark Perakh. Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books, 2003.

This fine book offers a powerful and sustained critique of the creationism argument versus evolutionary theory, especially the most recent iteration of “intelligent design” which has been politically but not scientifically successful in pressing an agenda in the public schools. The author, a scientist, also makes some larger comments on the relationship of science and religion. In many ways this is a very fine work of use to anyone seeking information on the substance of the debate.

Mark Parakh divided Unintelligent Design into three large sections, and in some respects it has the feel of three separate books. The first, and by far the most impressive section, deals with the three central advocates of “intelligent design.” Perakh devotes lengthy chapters each to the efforts of William A. Dembski, Michael J. Behe, and Philip E. Johnson, and demonstrates a succession of fallacies, logical flaws, and erroneous analyses in their publications. Perakh offers convincing evidence of the failings of “intelligent design” as propounded by all three writers and advocates. Anyone who investigates this subject will find Perakh’s withering analysis of Dembski, Behe, and Johnson enormously useful. I found particularly thoughtful his critiques of Dembski’s statistical analysis and Behe’s ideas of “irreducible complexity.” Perakh is especially effective in countering the complex statistical analysis that Dembski employs in his writings, finding that when stripped of its extraneous elements it does not amount to much.

Parakh’s second section deals with several writers, some of whom wrote more than a quarter century ago and play no role in the current “intelligent design” debate even if they may have discussed creationism, who sought to reconcile science and religion. One may ask if they are reconcilable; certainly Perakh does not think so and undertakes a blistering critique of factual and logic errors in discussing science and religion in the works of Hugh Ross, Grant Jeffrey, Fred Heeren, Aryeh Carmell, Cyril Domb, Menachem M. Schneerson, Nathan Aviezer, Gerald Schroeder, and Lee Spetner. This section is less satisfying than the first; for one thing it does not deal with “intelligent design” per se but with larger issues. Perakh does, however, shine a light on the mental gymnastics offered by the religious community in seeking to rationalize science and religion.

Perakh sees a threat to scientific understanding of the natural universe present in these ideas. At some level he is quite right. Arguments that the Earth is only 6,000 years old based on biblical evidence cannot be sustained in the face of all the scientific evidence dating the Earth to several billion years of age. Perakh is right to offer this rebuttal. At the same time, I find less disconcerting those who assign the cause of the Big Bang to God–although we have no evidence for this—for it is a statement of faith made in the absence of any evidence whatsoever to the contrary.

I find speculating on the possibility that a deity might have been the prime mover for the Big Bang much less worrisome than some of these other efforts to counteract the findings of science. Absent an effort to force the teaching of this interpretation of the Big Bang in schools, museums, science centers, and the like people of faith are free to accept this position if they wish. While the critique in this section is still quite useful, I found it less compelling than the first section’s analysis of the principal proponents of “intelligent design.”

Finally, Mark Perakh offers in his third section a fascinating discussion of science, its methodologies, and its manner of self-correction through peer review, acceptance or rejection of ideas, and the development over a long period of time with contributions from a large and diverse community of scientists to a body of knowledge that has restructured the lives of every individual on Earth. In some ways, this section might have been useful in leading off the book because of its introductory nature. Even so, it is a welcome addition to the book.

At sum, Mark Perakh finds that “intelligent design” amounts to a version of pseudoscience, proof of which comes through its “distortion and use of facts.” He asserts: “As discussed in several previous chapters, this theory, promoted by a large group of writers, including many with scientific degrees from prestigious universities and with long lists of publications, and propagated at various levels of sophistication, has all the appearance of scientific research, as it offers definitions, hypotheses, laws, models, and theories like a genuine science. What is absent in the intelligent design theory, though, is evidence. No relevant data which would support its hypotheses, laws, models, or theories are found in the articles and books written by proponents of intelligent design—only unsubstantiated assumptions. Therefore it can justifiably be viewed as pseudoscience” (p. 326).

Unintelligent Design is a powerful argument against the rise of the new creationism offered with the catchy title of “intelligent design.” It should become essential reading for anyone who has to deal with this subject in both public and private settings. It also offers greater understanding for those studying the findings of Darwinian evolution.


Posted in Evolution, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mormon Nauvoo in the Context of Post-Colonial Studies

A map of Nauvoo, Illinois, at the time of the Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s.

A map of Nauvoo, Illinois, at the time of the Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s.

To an extent underappreciated by historians, the Mormon experience in Nauvoo between 1839 and 1846 represents an expression of colonialism and its antithesis. The field of post-colonial studies has been gaining prominence since the 1970s. While historians and others debate the precise parameters of the field and the definition of the term “post-colonial,” to a very great sense, it may be applied to the Mormon experience.

There are important insights that might be gained from applying some of the ideas of post-colonial studies to the story of Mormon Nauvoo. Ideas from post-colonialism have now been cross-pollinated into U.S. border studies, enlivening the field and offering new perspectives on the past. To a very great extent the story of Nauvoo is the story of encounters with different cultures—Mormon/non-Mormon, western/eastern, religious/secular, democratic/theocratic—and their interactions brought a winner and loser in history.

I would argue that the Mormon invasion of Hancock County represented a colonization of a land already populated by residents with a specific belief system, structure of governance, economy, and culture. The Mormons imposed their different set of beliefs, governance, economy, and culture on this region with violent consequences. Initially welcomed into the community, being viewed as religious pilgrims persecuted elsewhere, within two years the older residents of the region had come to view them as conquerors seeking to subjugate and control.

Exactly how did this take place? What were the demarcation points of this transition? How have the various communities interpreted the unfolding events? All view themselves a blameless, but a close reading of texts on all sides lend new understandings to an old topic. These provide the cultural languages and negotiations out of which action emerged that may be studied and understood.

Especially intriguing for this type of analysis, I believe, is the interpretation of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints/Community of Christ (RLDS/CofC). For the RLDS/CofC the Nauvoo experience is much less assured and certainly far less triumphant than the LDS tradition based in Salt Lake City. I would contend that for them the events of the era represent a conflicting set of ideals.

Such was the case from the time of Joseph Smith III in the nineteenth century and has remained so to the present, becoming even more problematic in the last 25 years or so. At a fundamental level those contradictions represented both a triumph and a tragedy, the backlash of which the CofC’s adherents have been seeking to understand and in some cases to live down ever since.

The last address of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.

There are many examples of this. The quest for Zion was an attractive idea for the church for more than a century, and the success of Smith in such places as Nauvoo have often been viewed as the closest approximation the church had to the ideals of Zion carried in scripture and doctrine. At the same time, the RLDS/CofC have been repelled by the darker side of political power seen especially in Nauvoo—corruption, influence peddling, and the difficulty of political choices. Much the same was true when considering Smith’s truly weird theological experimentation in Nauvoo. Many in the RLDS/CofC today are certainly uncomfortable with Smith’s authoritarianism, with his militarism, and with his sense of being God’s chosen. As to the many doctrinal idiosyncrasies that emerged in Nauvoo, those are often viewed as the ramblings of a misguided fanatic.

Accordingly, the RLDS/CofC has walked a fine line relative to interpreting the legacy of Nauvoo. From a theological perspective, the RLDS/CofC essentially rejected Smith’s radical ideas on eternity, the multiplicity of gods, the possibility of progression to godhood, celestial and plural marriage, baptism for the dead, and other ideas associated with Mormon temple endowments that found no place in the RLDS/CofC. A few of these were simply considered quaint by non Mormons; others, such as plural marriage, aroused volatile emotions and became rallying points for opposition to the movement in Nauvoo.

In light of this post-colonial concept, how might we understand Mormon Nauvoo? Let me offer a few modest ideas. First, I think we would benefit from adapting some of the emphasis on “thick” literary analysis. In various times and places how have the participants in the experiences written about them? How have their ideas changed over time? What were they in 1840, 1845, 1850, or 1880? What of the historical discourses, how have they evolved over time, and what are the similarities and dissimilarities among the various cultures that have a stake interpreting this past? How have historians and other literary exponents read and represented the Nauvoo of the imagination?

For example, Robert Bruce Flanders’ book, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (1965), is a powerful statement of RLDS/CofC belief about the Mormon sojourn on the banks of the Mississippi. His story is one of how the lofty visions that had led to the founding of the Latter Day Saint church descended into a secular quagmire of economics and politics because of internal flaws and external pressures in the 1940s. Ultimately, the city failed and the church fractured. In it Flanders saw the tragedy of Joseph Smith as a religious figure and the place where fundamental differences of theology, polity, and society emerged to tear the Mormon church asunder.

As an inheritor of the same religious legacy I am compelled by his analysis, and I find this book still after nearly fifty years the primary text interpreting Nauvoo for modern inquirers. There is some question whether or not Flanders would have been able to pursue his pioneering approach had he been confined to the intellectual mindset of a believing Latter-day Saint. Klaus J. Hansen, in his review of Flanders’ book emphasized this point. “Utah Mormons cannot admit a major flaw in Nauvoo,” wrote Hansen, “for these were the very practices and doctrines [Brigham] Young transplanted to the Rocky Mountain kingdom.”

Believing Mormons certainly view the story differently; I refrain from insisting that they view it erroneously. So do non-Mormons, generations of residents of Hancock County, Icarians and their descendents, and others. All of those voices are fascinating and demonstrate the complexity that post-colonial studies seek to bring to their subject. I believe we could do the same with Mormon studies.

In addition, a close reading of all of the novels written about Nauvoo by all parties would provide a fascinating window into the construction of master narratives about the city and its place in Mormon history. How does Samuel W. Taylor’s Nightfall at Nauvoo (1973) compare to Mabel Sanford’s Joseph’s City Beautiful (1939), Becky Paget’s The Belle of Nauvoo (1994), and Elbert A Smith’s Timbers for the Temple (1922)? What has been the result of the colonial experience on those in Nauvoo today, and how might that be traced over time?

Second, equally important how might the theme of visuality, of looking as a means to knowing, be employed in this subject area? What representations have been used to illustrate and categorize the story of Nauvoo? What images gloss magazines and books and what do those tell us about the city and its character? What stories emanate from those images and what do they mean to those who see them? For example, a photograph of the Nauvoo sunstone has graced Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi since its publication in 1965. What is the meaning of this iconic image and how has its significance, representations, and tropes been established?

Employing a range of domains rooted in a specific culture to Foucauldian analysis, to contemporary master narratives, this type of study maintains a balance between being self-critical, self-reflexive, and self-accountable.

Posted in Community of Christ, History, Mormonism, Personal, Religion, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Three Spheres of Individual Memory

Illustration of La Salle at the mouth of the Mississippi River, 1682.

Illustration of La Salle at the mouth of the Mississippi River, 1682.

One of the great debates raging in the United States at present is over differing perspectives on the past, and those perspectives drive perceptions of the present and then, in turn relate to how we deal with issues currently facing society. Recent studies suggest that most people tend to see history as personal and family oriented, rather than a restatement of some national master narrative. Collective memory of a community is a powerful force for any person and group. These memories allow us to interact with others. Through linkages of memory we identify and define ourselves.

Meanings for these memories are created through a social process aimed at deciding what is important and why. Museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions are in no small measure a representation of cultural or group memory and most of the people who visit them, come at least in part to connect to artifacts of the past. Although these have been interpreted differently over time, they have become a part of the master narrative of the United States’ history and their place in this life-history has become compelling for most.

Mostly without even realizing it, individuals tend to divide time into three general, inconsistent, and individualistic spheres or cones of memory. The first is a sphere of personal experience. Events that individuals participated in personally or that had salience to their individual lives are the first and most immediate sphere. These differ from person to person, and include not only activities that the individual experienced firsthand but events of great importance that took place in their memory.

For instance, there are colossal events that mark the time of our lives, and they hold great resonance for those participating in them. Virtually all Americans know where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. The same is true for other dramatic incidents in individual lives. It is this memory of our individual and immediate experiences that govern most people’s perspective on the past.

Less immediate but still resonating with Americans is a sphere of history that is not intimate to the individual but related by members of the family, by close friends, and by mentors. While the person may have no individual sense of history about World War II, for instance, they have heard stories about it and its effects on families and loved ones. It has a reverberation of meaning because of this connection. While still important, they never enjoy the salience reserved for personal experience in most people’s minds.

The third sphere encompassing all humans is the past that has no special connection through loved ones or personal experience. In that context events, epochs, themes, and the like discussed throughout the broad expanse of history have essentially an equal importance. The Crusades, the Ming Dynasty, and various revolutions all essentially stand at the same level for most of those who have no intimate connection to them. Difficulties in creating resonance with those events of the past abound, and always perspectives are obscure as this past is digested. An important challenge for all historians is how to breech that truly lost and forgotten past and offer its meaning to most people. This is done through many processes, especially rituals, public representations, reenactments, museums and historic sites, and a range of other possibilities for constructing meaning.

Port Hudson Civil War Reenactment

Port Hudson Civil War Reenactment

For example, Civil War reenactors have taken a critical event in American history and made it their own, in the process personalizing this history. Why do they do what they do? In spending significant time with them at such places as Antietam National Battlefield, they seem to create their own spheres of collective memory about their experiences reenacting the war. These seem to hold just about as much salience as the actual history. Making the history personal through shared experiences seems to hold real significance in interpreting the phenomenon.

Understanding that civl war reenactments are a unique experience, it seems to me that a core question for educators and historians is how one might help to make salient to others the truly disconnected past that has no familiarity for the current generation. It is an important issue. I would welcome thoughts on how to open this world more fully for students and others.

Posted in History, Personal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy”

Sex, Sin, and BlasphemySex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America’s Censorship Wars. By Marjorie Heins. New York: The New Press, 1998 second edition.

This author served as the director of the Arts Censorship Project for the American Civil Liberties Union between 1991 and 1998. This account is a telling of numerous censorship battles in the 1990s to which she was a party. Marjorie Heins discusses the assault on the First Amendment by the political right from the 1970s on as it sought to control expression. This is not the first instance of such efforts, nor was it the last; but the rising American right that came to political power in the 1980s flexed its muscle to control artistic expression in ways not previously seen. At least that’s the position of the author.

This is an advocacy book more than anything else; not anything approaching an historical analysis. In a new introduction and eight chapters Heins explores the nature of obscenity, the role of movies in shaping culture, the power of government officials and threats of censorship, and the place of nudity, pornography, and blasphemy in modern American society. She focuses on individual battles most of the time; sometimes she backs away to look at broader trends.

Especially fascinating was Heins’s analysis of the anti-pornography crusade of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, two feminists who believed pornography was demeaning to women and an objectification of a female body. The fascinating part of this story is that the campaign they championed, while not intended as anything that would support a conservative political agenda, fell into a larger effort to control women’s bodies, to impose a morality lost in time and space, and to ensure that women remain second-class citizens. As Heins concluded: “Suppressing sexual fantasies—or insisting on politically correct ones—is bad politics, bad feminism, and a bad idea” (p. 164.)

Heins argues that “Most Americans agree with the principle of free expression, but rebel when it comes to words and ideas we find heinous or hateful” (p. 188). While understandable, the populace can never let down a guard to forces of censorship. It is critical, according to Heins, that we all must remain vigilant to protect the speech that we hate. That is the only way to preserve the First Amendment.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Setting Course for the Red Planet: Early Flyby Missions to Mars

This image of Mariner 4 superimposed on an image of Mars was used to advertise the 1965 mission.

Robotic exploration of Mars has been one of the persistent efforts of the space age. It began, just as lunar exploration had, in a race between the United States and the Soviet ­Unionto see who would be the first to place some sort of spacecraft near Mars. After four unsuccessful launches of what were believed to be Mars probes in 1960 and 1962, the Soviets successfully flew a spacecraft within 120,000 miles of Mars on June 19, 1964.  Unfortunately, a communications failure several months before the flyby prevented the spacecraft from sending any data to Earth. The Americans were more successful.

This endeavor was not just an opportunity to best the rival in the Cold War; scientists in both the United States and the Soviet ­Union recognized the attraction of Mars for the furtherance of planetary studies. Smaller than Earth, but observed by astronomers for centuries and seen to have what appeared as climate changes on its surfaces, Mars had long been viewed as an abode of life. These observations brought myriad speculations about the nature of Mars and the possibility of life existing ­there in some form.

Dr. William H. Pickering, (left) Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory presents Mariner spacecraft photos to President Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1965. The presence of craters on the Martian surface dashed many scientists’ hope of finding a planet conducive to life.

Of the two U.S. spacecraft launched to Mars in 1964, only one successfully found its way to its intended target. On July 15, 1965, Mariner 4 flew within 6,118 miles of Mars. The spacecraft returned 21 close-up photographs that showed lunar-style craters on the surface. Data returned also included measurements of the planet’s ionosphere and atmosphere, as well as surface temperature readings. These photographs dashed the hopes of many that life might be present on Mars, for the first ­close-up images showed a cratered, ­lunar-­like surface. ­They depicted a planet without structures and canals, nothing that even remotely resembled a pattern that intelligent life might produce.

Mariner 6 and Mariner 7, launched in February and March 1969, each passed Mars in August 1969, study­ing its atmo­sphere and surface to lay the groundwork for an eventual landing on the planet. Their pictures verified the ­moon-­like appearance of Mars and gave no hint that Mars had ever been able to support life. ­Among other discoveries from these probes, they found that volcanoes had once been active on the planet, that the frost observed seasonally on the poles was made of carbon dioxide, and that huge plates indicated considerable tectonic activity in the planet’s history. There was still hope, however, that we might yet find signs of life. NASA administrator James C. Fletcher, for example, commented on this possibility in 1975: “It is hard to imagine any­thing more important than making contact with another intelligent race. It could be the most significant achievement of this millennium, perhaps the key to our survival as a species.”

Between 1965 and 1969, NASA sent three Mariner probes on initial investigations of Mars. All of these were flyby missions that returned important scientific data about the planet:

  • Mariner 4 – USA Mars Flyby – 260 kg – (28 November 1964 – 20 December 1967): Mariner 4 arrived at Mars on 14 July 1965 and passed within 6,118 miles of the planet’s surface after an eight month journey. This mission provided the first close-up images of the red planet. It returned 22 close-up photos showing a cratered surface. The thin atmosphere was confirmed to be composed of carbon dioxide in the range of 5-10 mbar. A small intrinsic magnetic field was detected. Mariner 4 is now in a solar orbit. (Successful)
  • Mariner 6 – USA Mars Flyby – 412 kg – (24 February 1969): Mariner 6 arrived at Mars on 24 February 1969, and passed within 3,437 kilometers of the planet’s equatorial region. Mariner 6 and 7 took measurements of the surface and atmospheric temperature, surface molecular composition, and pressure of the atmosphere. In addition, over 200 pictures were taken. Mariner 6 is now in a solar orbit. (Successful)
  • Mariner 7 – USA Mars Flyby – 412 kg – (27 March 1969): Mariner 7 arrived at Mars on 5 August 1969, and passed within 3,551 kilometers of the planet’s south pole region. Mariner 6 and 7 took measurements of the surface and atmospheric temperature, surface molecular composition, and pressure of the atmosphere. In addition, over 200 pictures were taken. Mariner 7 is now in a solar orbit. (Successful)

In addition there were several unsuccessful missions that attempted to flyby Mars in the early era:

  • Mars 1960A – USSR Mars Probe – (10 October 1960): Failed to reach Earth orbit. (Unsuccessful)
  • Mars 1960B – USSR Mars Probe – (14 October 1960): Failed to reach Earth orbit. (Unsuccessful)
  • Mars 1962A – USSR Mars Flyby – (24 October 1962): Spacecraft failed to leave Earth orbit after the final rocket stage exploded. (Unsuccessful)
  • Mars 1 – USSR Mars Flyby – 893 kg – (1 November 1962): Communications failed en route. (Unsuccessful)
  • Mars 1962B – USSR Mars lander – (4 November 1962): Failed to leave Earth orbit. (Unsuccessful)
  • Mariner 3 – USA Mars Flyby – 260 kg – (5 November 1964): Mars flyby attempt. Solar panels did not open, preventing flyby. Mariner 3 is now in a solar orbit. (Unsuccessful)
  • Zond 2 – USSR Mars Flyby – (30 November 1964): Contact was lost en route. (Unsuccessful)
  • Mariner 8 – USA Mars Flyby – (8 May 1971): Failed to reach Earth orbit. (Unsuccessful)
  • Kosmos 419 – USSR Mars Probe – (10 May 1971): Failed to leave Earth orbit. (Unsuccessful)

This view of the entire planet of Mars from Mariner 7, showing NIX Olympia (later identified as the giant shield volcano Olympus Mons) and polar caps, was photographed from 200,000 miles away as the spacecraft approached the planet. The Mariner 7 spacecraft and its twin, Mariner 6, were designed specifically to concentrate on Mars. Better quality imaging was planned to give a more complete picture of the Martian surface to help in planning future missions to Mars to search for signs of life. Mariner 7 was launched on March 27, 1969 and arrived on August 4, 1969.

Posted in History, Politics, Science, Space | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment