Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball”

the-road-to-madnessThe Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball. By J. Samuel Walker and Randy Roberts. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

If you are even a moderate college basketball fan you cannot go wrong by reading this book. It is a well-researched and well-written history of the 1973-1974 NCAA basketball season and the beginnings of the expansion of the NCAA tournament and its transition into full-blown “March Madness.” It tells the story of legendary coaches and teams, including one in his twilight, John Wooden and his UCLA team that had won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (including seven in a row). It discusses the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which had several great teams—UNC, NC State, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia—but only one of which could participate in the limited NCAA tournament as conference champion.

This was the last year in which that would be the case, and the expansion of the NCAA tournament the next year began the process whereby rivalries and even grudges became common themes of March Madness, as the “Final Four” showdown developed. This is a narrative history, and a very fine one, but also one which asks a significant question, how does a cultural touchstone—in this case the NCAA basketball tournament—emerge from what went before. It pursues the answer with verve and style.

The scholarship is excellent; I especially appreciated the insights offered by the authors’ efforts to blend oral history with scholarly reflection. This is not surprising coming from two very fine historians with a wealth of experience in crafting fine historical narratives. Enjoy.

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NACA and Documenting of Progress in Aerodynamics

NACA LogoThe aeronautical research that the NACA between 1915 and 1958 undertook found dissemination in a complex set of technical publications that the agency made available to all on an equal basis. Most NACA research was accomplished “in-house” by scientists or engineers on the federal payroll. Work conducted under research authorizations might be of short-duration or could be years in the accomplishment. Short-duration work was often aimed at resolving a specific technical problem, many being tied to the development of a military aircraft prototype. One example of this approach was the effort to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of aircraft, an especially important activity in World War II as the NACA performed worked on drag cleanup for 23 different military aircraft.

Especially when the research was of long duration the NACA issued “Technical Notes” partway through containing interim results and “Technical Reports” with major research conclusions at the end of the effort. No one and no political issue, old NACA hands recollected, infringed upon the presentation of their findings in the most evenhanded manner possible. Thus they believed that partly for this reason the organization became the premier aeronautical research institution in the world during the 1920s and 1930s.

Many of the longer research projects took years to complete and were redefined and given additional monies repeatedly to pursue technological questions. A good example of a longer-term effort was Research Authorization 201, “Investigation of Various Methods of Improving Wing Characteristics by Control of the Boundary Layer,” signed on January 21, 1927. It provided for broad-based research at NACA on methods for either blowing or sucking the boundary layer along the upper surface of the wings, thus maintaining laminar flow and preventing airflow separation. Research took place between 1927 and 1944, taking a variety of twists and turns. Those efforts were channeled at first toward immediate practical objectives that could be used by industry and other clients. Later the NACA staff pursued other avenues of exploration, and the result was that the NACA was able to greatly advance boundary layer control through modification of airfoil shape, demonstrating the serendipitous nature of research. The boundary layer research by NACA engineers is still being used as the foundation for current research efforts.

As research was being conducted the NACA printed its findings, and this proved to be the most significant output from the agency’s activities. Beginning in the 1920s the NACA issued several types of reports describing research findings:

  • Technical Reports (TR): the most prestigious, most polished, most important, and most widely distributed report, TRs described the final results of a research effort and made “lasting contributions to the body of aeronautical knowledge.”
  • Technical Notes (TN): TNs reported on work in progress, offered interim findings, or served as final reports for less significant research activities.
  • Research Memorandum (RM): introduced in 1946, RMs reported on research undertaken as classified work for the military.
  • Advanced Confidential Reports (ACR): also introduced after World War II, ACRs reported on sensitive military aeronautical subjects such as jet engines, low-drag wings, or investigations of specific military aircraft types.
  • Bulletins: were short progress reports on limited phases of larger research projects.
  • Memorandum Reports (MR): reported on pieces of aeronautical research of interest to a very small group of clients, generally on a specific type of aircraft or engine design.
  • Technical Memoranda (TM): reported on aeronautical research conducted somewhere other than at NACA, often these were translations of technical articles published in a foreign language.

During the existence of NACA, it printed more than 16,000 research reports of one type or another. TRs were publicly available, readily accessible to anyone with a need to know the information. They were distributed to a huge mailing list that included laboratories, libraries, factories, and military installations around the world. They became famous for their thoroughness and accuracy, and became the rock upon which NACA built its reputation as one of the best aeronautical research institutions in the world. Other reports were less widely distributed, but unless classified for security purposes, were available to anyone with an interest.


Pearl I. Young

The architect of the technical reporting was Pearl I. Young (1895-1968), who came to work at the NACA’s Langley Laboratory in 1922 after graduating with a physics degree from the University of North Dakota. After working in the instrumentation division for a few years she suggested that Langley required someone to oversee the technical reports system, which at that time was in disarray. Young took on that responsibility and led the effort until World War II. She created the multitude of documents issued by the NACA, enforced the NACA style of presentation on authors, ensured technical verisimilitude, and handled document distribution far and wide.

Young preached that knowledge is the end product of a research laboratory, and that accordingly the preparation of the research report must receive special emphasis. He insisted that these documents present their data “tactfully, strategically, and with telling force.” She ensured that all publications were accurate, well organized, and effectively structured. Not to give appropriate attention to the presentation of research would ensure that the report would be neither read nor used. She enforced a harsh clarity on the technical reports process at the NACA, one that quickly paid dividends as the results of the agency’s researchers gained stature around the globe for both their path-breaking results and their effective communication.

Young’s oversight of the technical report program was always exacting, sometimes to the consternation both of NACA engineers who wanted to see their work disseminated promptly and viewed Young’s efforts as bogging down the process, and to industry or military clients who wanted prompt answers to aeronautical problems. She argued that the quality of the final product was more important than the speed with which it appeared; Young had all documents extensively vetted by a panel of engineering peers but as a means of speeding the process she also allowed preliminary reports to circulate to key users. Before a report was final, however, authors made revisions, sometimes extensive revisions, before editorial work was completed on the publication. Young insisted that all reports be “checked and rechecked for consistency, logical analysis, and absolute accuracy.”

Pearl Young went on to other responsibilities during World War II at the NACA’s Cleveland, Ohio, Aircraft Engine Research Center. She eventually moved to Pennsylvania State University to teach engineering physics but returned to NASA in 1958 before retiring in 1961. She commented on many occasions about the noble effort they were engaged in—separating the real from the imagined in flight—adding that “There are just as many aeronautical research problems for you to solve by the application of brains and hard work as there were on the day Orville Wright piloted the first airplane at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes were among the attendees at Langley's 1934 Aircraft Manufacturers' Conference. Conference guests assembled underneath a Boeing P-26A Peashooter in the Full-Scale Tunnel for this photo. (NASA Phtoto L-9850)

Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes were among the attendees at Langley’s 1934 Aircraft Manufacturers’ Conference. Conference guests assembled underneath a Boeing P-26A Peashooter in the Full-Scale Tunnel for this photo. (NASA Phtoto L-9850)

The research reported in these technical publications was never presented quickly enough to satisfy clients, although Young always defended the deliberate process she followed to ensure the best possible product. This, however, was nothing compared to the more difficult challenge of remaining an honest broker on research projects. Industry forever wanted to use the NACA as its private R&D facility. Accordingly, the agency had to establish a policy of not working on a specific type of aircraft design, because it smacked of catering to one particular company. Instead, it agreed to work on problems common to all aspects of flight, such as the engine cowling problem for which it received its first Collier Trophy in 1929. It also published research results and distributed reports on an equal basis to all. The NACA often violated these policies when dealing with its principal client, the military services.

Beginning in the 1930s, because of pressure to cut the federal budget, the NACA also established a table of fees for charging private companies, usually those involved in the aeronautical industry, when it pursued research problems they suggested. In this scenario the requestor paid all costs of research. In return, the NACA agreed to give the requestor the results of the research, but also retained the right to release findings it deemed in the national interest. This approach had two negative effects: (1) it allowed larger aircraft firms with money to spend on these problems an opportunity to squeeze out weaker firms who could not compete with cutting edge technology; and (2) it dissuaded some industry leaders from asking the NACA to work on pressing aeronautical problems because of both lack of money and a fear that their investment in the research would be lost when the findings were distributed to the world.

naca-pulsejet-22-tests-coverDuring the course of the NACA’s history between 1915 and 1958 it did very little “project” work of its own, at least as this term has come to be known at NASA. The NACA’s emphasis was on research for the use of outside entities. The principal means of transferring this research knowledge was through a series of reports which could be used as the clients saw fit. An important secondary means of transferring this information was through the annual conferences sponsored by NACA after 1926.

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Announcing “Ad Astra” Play Reading, April 3, 2017

I think a lot of those in the space community will enjoy this opportunity to see a reading of a new play about Wernher von Braun.

Featuring a special post-show conversation with Michael J. Neufeld, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and author of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War.

About the play

Epic Theatre Ensemble presents a special reading of James Wallert’s new play Ad Astra.

What are we willing to sacrifice to take one giant leap for mankind?

A new play based on the true story of Wernher von Braun, Chief Rocket Engineer of the Third Reich and one of the fathers of the U.S. Space program.

Directed by Ron Russell with Melissa Friedman, Devin E. Haqq, Sanjit De Silva, and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr.

Registering for the play

The event is free and open to the public but registration is required. You may do so by clicking here.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Gravity Well: America’s Next, Greatest Mission”

The Gravity Well: America’s Next, Greatest Mission. By Stephen Sandford with Jay Heinrichs. Pacific Grove, CA: Gavia Books, 2016. Appendices, acknowledgments, index. 304 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9962422-9-5. Hardcover with dustjacket $24.95 USD.

I have been reading books such as The Gravity Well for well over 25 years. All of them seek to enthuse readers with the desire to pursue an aggressive spaceflight program, both human and robotic, and to realize what the authors envision as spaceflight’s primary objective in colonizing other worlds. And author Stephen Sandford, working with Jay Heinrichs, has done a creditable job of making this case. They will not convince anyone not already leaning toward support but they provide ample evidence and effective argument on why this objective is both worthwhile and attainable. They are to be applauded for that accomplishment. So many other books of this type utterly fail to demonstrate the significance of spaceflight even for those of us already predisposed to accept the argument.

Sandford and Heinrichs begin with a simple assertion: the problem of gravity forces humans to live at the bottom of an ocean of air and shedding that environment is no less difficult than that of the first sea creatures crawling onto the shore and entering the next stage of evolution. They insist that conquering that “gravity well” offers the fundamental promise of human survival. Not to succeed in this task means the human race will become extinct. The best case scenario is that several billion years in the future the Sun will become a red giant and consume the whole of the solar system, but there are also more immediate threats. There is every reason to believe that an Earth-striking asteroid or comet could destroy most of the life on Earth at some point in the  future. The K-T event is generally viewed as an impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, leading SF writer Larry Niven to quip: “The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!”

In eleven succinct chapters Sandford and Heinrichs discuss where humanity is today when it comes to space exploration—and when I say humanity I mean Americans since that is the concentration of the authors—and what might the future hold. They focus on what it takes to overcome the “gravity well” and to become a multiplanetary species. They are enamored with the rise of new firms such as SpaceX and Blue Origins and Bigelow Aerospace. They emphasize the rise of a “space economy,” which is a meme that has resonance in NASA and among others in the aerospace community but nowhere else.

They celebrate the tackling of impressive technological feats, such as the landing of a reusable first stage after undertaking a supply mission to the International Space Station. They insist that space is the centerpiece of a bright future for the United States. The economy will flourish, the people of the nation and the world will be inspired, and it will—to use catch phrase coined for a different purpose—help “make America great again.” This sentiment, if not the actual words, is to be found everywhere in The Gravity Well.

Some of the arguments made by the authors are well laid out and quite effective. Sandford and Heinrichs eloquently restate the problem of not enough Americans entering professions focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). No question, there are innumerable studies about the dearth of engineers, etc., being produced by American universities. That is the case despite the fact that the U.S. government funnels $4.3 billion every year into STEM education and related initiatives. Might space exploration help in this arena? Yes, at least to some degree. School children may become jazzed by what they see happening and pursue careers that further space activities. There is evidence of this in the past; there will continue to be evidence of it in the future. But the critical determinant for whether or not a student pursues a scientific or technical degree in college is whether or not they were successful before college in learning algebra, calculus, geometry, and trigonometry. Inspiration is one part of the equation; but teaching these capabilities more effectively is critical as we move forward.

The authors, to their credit, poke holes in the sophomoric “spinoff” argument used by NASA to justify investment in spaceflight. There are, of course, commercial products that emerge from NASA research and development. It is virtually impossible, however, to draw a straight line between an investment made by NASA in something used in spaceflight and some commercial product. I think the authors would agree that this argument is not effective as presently made by most in the space agency. The problem is that no amount of cost-benefit analysis, which the spinoff argument essentially makes, can sustain NASA’s historic level of funding.

More useful, I would assert, is a counterfactual question. How would life today be different if there were no space program? There can be no fully satisfactory answer to that question. But perhaps we can begin with the elimination of a great many of the space-based capabilities that have changed our lives. Both Sandford and Heinrichs note that to accomplish the larger space program there had to be a push of technological development in certain paths that might have not been followed otherwise. This has made a difference in modern society.

The authors are on less firm ground when they make some other arguments. For example, they suggest that the American economy grew faster in the 1960s than either in the 1950s or the 1970s. They assign the reason for this to the expansive space program of the Apollo era. This is a superficial assertion at best. First, for all three decades U.S. GDP was relatively stable with annual growth between 2.5 and 5 percent. There were ups and downs, certainly, but there does not seem to be a lot different between the decades. Second, were any changes really the result of investment in spaceflight? Perhaps some but not too much, it was simply too small a percentage of the total economy to make much of a difference.

Overall, this is a useful book, especially for those convinced of the value of spaceflight who wish to hone their skills in persuading others with cogent analysis and presentation. For those involved in spaceflight, what is presented in The Gravity Well will probably not seem very original. We have all heard these arguments many times. Many of those times, however, the arguments have not been as well made as here.


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Goddard Memorial Symposium Presentations Available

The 55th Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium, held on March 7-9, 2017, has come and gone. If you weren’t able to attend this American Astronautical Society symposium but would like to participate vicariously, you may watch the video. All the speakers and sessions were recorded and may be viewed here.

Also, links for most of the PowerPoint and other presentations have been added to the here. My presentation is located here.

This information can also be accessed on the AAS website.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “China’s Evolving Space Capabilities”

chinaChina’s Evolving Space Capabilities: Implications for U.S. Interests. By Mark A. Stokes and Dean Cheng. Washington, DC: Project 2049 Institute, April 26, 2012. 85 pages. Available on-line at

I wanted to review this document because of its reflection of deep historical and political knowledge of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its efforts to become a top-rank space power. Authors Stokes and Cheng are China-watchers with strong connections both to the policy community and the scholarly world. They detail in this report the current state of China’s efforts in space, as well as its aspirations for the foreseeable future.

Stokes and Cheng describe how China has engaged in the development of space technologies to further geopolitical, scientific, technological, and economic goals. This has led to decisions to engaged with Russia and other nations in cooperative ventures, as well as go it alone in some purely military arenas. While there is openness to cooperation in space with the United States, the authors find that Chinese leaders are wary of the mistrust present in U.S.-China relations since the Hughes satellite scandal of the 1990s.

The authors note that China’s successes in space have been significant in the twenty-first century. They have developed a human spaceflight capability, achieved success with human-tended space platforms, developed reliable space launch vehicles, and operated a plethora of satellites. China’s investment in these technologies has pushed it to the forefront of high technology economics. At the same time, these capabilities have expanded China’s research in the military realm and made a more significant force to be reckoned with than ever before.

The intentions of China in space remain unclear, according to Stokes and Cheng. Despite three white papers—2000, 2006, and 2011—there are no easy answers to China’s space ambitions. This report discusses the fragmented nature of the leadership of China’s space efforts. There is no clear-cut line of authority for civilian versus military capabilities, and there is not a reasonable way for assuring the appropriate resources are turned toward the most useful endeavors, indeed there is little consensus on what are the most useful endeavors. The authors try to explain what organizations are involved in spaceflight, what prerogatives they hold, and how they cooperate, or not, in their efforts.

For readers of this journal, perhaps the most important question is what China’s Moon ambitions are. Again, the answer is unclear. With the success of the Shenzhou human spaceflight program and the space station, efforts to reach the Moon have been underway for some time. As easly as 1995 China’s senior leadership approved lunar exploration as part of the 863 Program. At least one stated motivation was to explore prospects for mining lunar Helium-3 as a replacement for fossil fuels. Detailed planning did not begin until 1998, however; those early ambitions were reflected in the November 2000 white paper on space activities. In 2004 the Chinese Central Committee formed a Lunar Orbit Exploration Project. This coordinating body pursued a three phased effort:

  1. A demonstration of China’s technological prowess using lunar orbiters Chang’e-1 in 2007 and Chang’e-2 in 2010. Among other mission requirements these spacecraft were to map the Moon in high resolution and search for helium-3.
  2. As yet undemonstrated, in Phase II China plans to undertake docking, controlling, and mapping missions, as well as two remote controlled rovers to conduct lunar surface investigations.
  3. A third phase is intended to involve the launch of Chang’e-5 on a LM-5E heavy launch vehicle for collecting lunar samples.

While much is this is not firm, and a timetable has not been officially announced, China may attempt a human lunar landing sometime after 2025.

In addition, China has been active in national security space development, pursuing survivable satellite architectures, reconnaissance capabilities, and ballistic missile technologies.

In addition, the authors make much of the pursuit of space technology as an important driver for Chinese economic growth. China views technology spin-offs as critical to its future and exports of its space hardware and expertize as a competitive advantages going forward. The authors also note that China’s interaction with other spacefaring nations furthers agenda of greater national respect. Stokes and Cheng conclude, “Space is a significant metric of national power, and the United States remains a world leader within this domain. However, China is emerging as a relative competitor in selected areas of space technology. While collaboration in space may benefit both the United States and China, Beijing’s lack of transparency over military budgets, and potential risks associated with the military applications of space technology, remain major causes for concern” (p. 50).

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Using Analogs

analogiesIt is a truism that every person in every organization ever created uses history to make decisions on a daily basis. This is essentially accomplished through the use of analogy, suggesting that some issue under current scrutiny is like, may be compared to, or otherwise is related to some historical example. Understanding what happened in those past, analogous instances, therefore, serves a valuable purpose in considering what to do in the present.

The difficulties of analogs, however, are that they are routinely poorly applied to considerations of policies, priorities, and decision-making which might effectively be informed by careful analog studies. Unfortunately, most uses of historical understanding are implicit, relying on personal anecdotes and employing faulty logic in the comparison. We have certainly seen this in the context of issues concerning the exploration of the space frontier since virtually the beginning of the space age.

These range from analogs comparing modern cruise ship vacations and future space tourism to using the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union of the 1960s as an analog to predict a similar space race between the United States and China.

Central to the usefulness of any case study is the role of analogs in understanding current and future events. There is a long history of the use and abuse of analogs, offering perspectives on how they might be effectively employed in analysis of current challenges. These essays will employ analog analysis to reach broad conclusions that may inform future efforts. We structured this set of case studies along similar lines to those developed in Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May’s classic text, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers. The methods employed were the fruit of several years’ worth of classes taught by the authors in the Harvard Business School. They offered a structure that called for analysis of each analog along three dimensions: what are the similarities with the present situation; what are the differences; and what are the implications of these similarities and differences? This framework can be productive.

Political scientist Francis Gavin has refined this approach, laying out five key concepts that promise more effective historical analysis and their application to current situations. These include understanding and investigating the applicability of vertical history, horizontal history, chronological proportionality, unintended consequences, and policy insignificance. These concepts, explained below, coupled with formal analog studies and historical perspectives from Neustadt and May, offer a methodological perspective useful on a daily basis.

  •  Vertical history focuses on understanding why events occurred in the past. This is a very standard task of historical investigation and the best work published in the field all effectively present the why’s of history and not just the how’s.
  • Horizontal history explores the linkage of events across space, either geographical or cultural, or economic or political.
  • Chronological proportionality emphasizes the long-term consequences of events; as an example understanding and applying which scraps of history concerning the Spanish experience in America that will be helpful in analog to the issue of space colonization. Instances universally hailed as significant may prove over time to be less important than initially thought.
  • Unintended consequences present the challenge of applying an analog seen as useful, but in reality turns out to be a negative in the long run, or vice-versa.
  • Policy insignificance is the challenge of applying analogies without full appreciation that the analogs may be less useful than envisioned in the policy making process.

I am becoming quite short with the use of certain analogies to explain current events. One bandied about all the time is Obama/Trump/Clinton/name the person of your choice is like Hitler. This is not an appropriate analog. There are many others being used regularly as well.

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Announcing An Upcoming Conference: 55th Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium

55th Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium

March 7-9, 2017

Greenbelt Marriott / Greenbelt, Maryland

American Astronautical Society

 “Future Space: Trends, Technologies and Missions”

– Final Program –

Tuesday, March 7

6:00   Evening Symposium Warm-up / Meet & Greet Mixer   Annapolis Room

sponsored by Northrop Grumman  


Wednesday, March 8

7:00   Registration Opens / Continental Breakfast   sponsored by Harris

7:15   AAS Corporate Members Breakfast   invitation only

8:30   Welcome and Announcements   Salons A-B-C

  •  Alan DeLuna, AAS Executive Vice President
  •  Harley Thronson, Chair, Symposium Planning Committee; Senior Scientist for Advanced Concepts in Astrophysics, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

8:40   Opening Speaker – Why Science and Exploration are Partners: The Success of a “One NASA”

  • Matt Mountain, President, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA)

9:10   Introduction of Keynote Speaker

  • Chris Scolese, Director, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and  Symposium Honorary Chair

9:20    Keynote

  • Robert Lightfoot, NASA Administrator (Acting)

10:00   Break   sponsored by Harris

10:15   NASA Leadership in the Future of Science and Technology

 Moderator:  Doug Terrier, Chief Technologist (Acting), NASA Headquarters


  • Steve Jurczyk, Associate Administrator, Space Technology Mission Directorate
  • Gale Allen, Chief Scientist (Acting)
  • Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate

11:45    Pre-lunch Break / Meeting Space Reconfiguration

12:00    Honors and Awards Luncheon   Salons B-C-D   sponsored by Lockheed Martin

Guest Speaker:  Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member, Space, Science & Competiveness Subcommittee

2:15    International Exploration and Private Sector Development of Space

Moderator:  Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA Headquarters


  • Gilles Leclerc, Director General, Space Exploration, Canadian Space Agency
  • Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
  • Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

3:45      Break   sponsored by Harris

4:00     The Political Environment

Moderator:  Marcia Smith, Founder and Editor,


  • Frank Morring, Senior Editor, Aviation Week & Space Technology
  • Chris Shank, Special Assistant, Department of Defense
  • Nick Cummings, Staff Director, Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
  • Tom Hammond, Staff Director, Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space & Technology

5:30      Closing Spotlight – Pipeline to the Future

Sophia Porter, 2015 National Space Club and Foundation Keynote Scholar

6:00      Industry, Government, and Student Networking Reception   Annapolis Room sponsored by SpaceX  


Thursday, March 9

7:30     Registration Opens / Continental Breakfast  sponsored by SGT, Inc.

8:30     Introduction of Opening Speaker  Salons A-B-C

Chris Scolese, Director, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Symposium Honorary Chair

8:35      Opening Speaker

Karen St. Germain, Director, Office of Systems Architecture and Advanced Planning, NOAA/NESDIS  “Planning NOAA’s Future Space Architecture”

9:05       Upcoming Missions with Big Science Payoffs

Moderator: Colleen Hartman, Director, Sciences and Exploration Directorate, NASA GSFC


  • WFIRST – Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope: David Spergel, Charles Young Professor of Astronomy, Princeton University
  • Mars 2020 Rover: Ken Farley, W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry; Chair, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Caltech
  • PACE – Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem: Jeremy Werdell, PACE Project Scientist, NASA GSFC
  • Solar Probe Plus: Elsayed Talaat, Project Scientist, NASA Headquarters

10:35      Break  sponsored by SGT, Inc.  

10:50      Exploration Telepresence – Almost Like Being There

Moderator:  Gregory Chirikjian, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University


  • Dan Lester, Research Scientist, Exinetics
  • Mark Lupisella, Advanced Exploration Systems and Architecture Lead, Exploration Systems Projects, NASA GSFC
  • Kelsey Young, Exploration Scientist, UTEP/Jacobs at NASA JSC

12:15      Pre-lunch Break / Meeting Space Reconfiguration

12:30      Luncheon   Salons B-C-D    sponsored by Boeing

Guest Speaker: Roger Launius, Independent Historian

“The Value of Space Exploration in a Distracted Culture”

Future Space Leaders Foundation Update: Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

2:00       Spotlight – Space-based Environmental Intelligence  

In Memoriam: Video conversation recorded in 2016 with Piers Sellers and Leonardo DiCaprio with remarks by Sandra Smalley, Director, Joint Agency Satellite Division, NASA Headquarters

2:30       Spotlight – China’s Plans for Space

Brian Weeden, Technical Advisor, Secure World Foundation

3:00       Break   sponsored by SGT, Inc.   

3:15        Cislunar Space: The Next Frontier for Human Exploration

Moderator: Harley Thronson, Chair, Symposium Planning Committee; Senior Scientist for Advanced Concepts in Astrophysics, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


  • Matt Duggan, Exploration Manager, The Boeing Company
  • Rob Chambers, Orion Production Strategy Lead, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
  • Steve Overton, Manager of Programs, Integrated Space Systems, Aerojet Rocketdyne
  • Michael Fuller, Senior Manager, NASA Space Systems, Orbital ATK
  • Michael Johnson, Chief Designer, NanoRacks

4:45        Closing Conversation with C. Jon Scolese, NASA GSFC Director;

John Grunsfeld, Astronaut and former NASA Associate Administrator for Science; and Jon Malay, Past President of AAS & AMS

5:15         Closing Reception   Annapolis Room

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “To Command the Skies”

to-command-the-skyTo Command the Sky: The Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-1944. By Stephen L. McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Although now some 25 years old this book is still the state of the art in this investigation of air power history. I’m not sure if that signals that this is the “final word on the subject” or if the air superiority history of World War II has stagnated. The reality is that this is a very fine study. The U.S. Air Force, and its predecessor organizations, have long advocated for five basic missions:
1. Strategic bombardment.
2. Aerial superiority.
3. Aerial interdiction.
4. Air transport.
5. Close air support.

By far the most important mission that the Air Force has emphasized is strategic bombardment. The Army Air Corps/Forces developed the concept of flying formations of manned strategic bombers that could penetrate an enemy’s air space and eliminate its ability to make war, thus demoralizing the enemy and making the war less costly in blood and treasure than previously thought. Without question, strategic bombing—which was focused on eliminating the war-making ability of an enemy—dominated American air thought and operations from the 1920s into the 1940s. Air commanders found that the manned bomber could not defend itself and required assistance by fighter aircraft to wave off enemy interception.

Accordingly, air commanders elevated the mission of aerial superiority, control of the skies, to enable the bombers to get through to their targets. Controlling the skies became the necessary prerequisite to success in strategic bombing. Authors Stephen L. McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton, both professors of history at Auburn University at the time this book was published, insist that American success over Europe in 1944 really came at the point two actions coalesced. First, the arrival of reengined and range-extended P-51 “Mustangs” made it possible to escort the bombers deep into Germany. Second, when Gen. James A Doolittle directed those same U.S. fighters to seek out and destroy German fighters, especially those on the ground, instead of directly supporting American bombers. The authors note that a war of attrition against German fighters ensured success overall.

In the process of reaching air superiority, tens of thousands of airmen died in the air war over Europe. At first air superiority was less emphasized than would be the case as time passed. The American commanders tried a variety of approaches to achieve air superiority: fighter sweeps, aerial escorts, and even commando and guerrilla air raids. Destroying the enemy on the ground, a very effective tactic, and in the skies with fighters attacking the enemy eventually assured success. As the authors note: “The U.S. Army Air Forces won this battle for the skies over Western Europe due to numerical and technological superiority, courage, tactics, luck, and enemy mistakes, but more than anything else, training and a willingness to modify tactics and strategies as the war continued” (p. viii).

Authors McFarland and Newton offered a finely-crafted analysis of the subject, moving systematically from theory, to tactics, to technology, to training, to operations. Their emphasis is on the 1942-1944 time frame, especially on how the strategic bombing strategy unfolded during that time. By the time of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, the destruction of the Luftwaffe had been so successful that there was virtually no opposition in the air.

The authors do a fine job of demonstrating how U.S. Army Air Forces achieved success in the skies over Europe in World War II. It was essentially built on the quest for air superiority. In the process, the air arm lost enormous numbers of planes and crews. The level of attrition would never have been tolerated in the ground forces, but was accepted by air commanders to prove that air power could win the war absent the ground and sea forces. It was a short-sighted objective, perhaps, but it did help make the case for a separate air force no longer a part of the U.S. Army. To Command the Sky is a superb book on an important topic. I still recommend it as the best overview of this important subject in World War II.

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Announcing a Forthcoming Conference: “NASA in the ‘Long’ Civil Rights Movement”

NASA Marshall center director, Dr. Wernher von Braun, and Alabama A&M University president, Dr. Richard D. Morrison, signing a cooperative agreement between the two institutions in November 1968.

NASA Marshall center director, Dr. Wernher von Braun, and Alabama A&M University president, Dr. Richard D. Morrison, signing a cooperative agreement between the two institutions in November 1968.

When: Thursday March 16 – Friday March 17, 2017
Where: United States Space and Rocket Center, Educational Training Facility,
1 Tranquility Base – Huntsville, Alabama 35805

On March 16-17, 2017, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center History Office and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) History Department will host a conference at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama to address the role/relationship of NASA to the ‘Long’ Civil Rights Movement. No registration is required.


Brian C. Odom, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Historian

Dr. Stephen Waring, University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) – History Chair

Travel Information

There are several hotel options available near the event including:

Huntsville Marriott, 5 Tranquility Base
Hilton Garden Inn, 4801 Governors House Drive
The Westin Hotel, 6800 Governors Drive West
Hampton Inn and Suites, 7010 Cabela Drive


A number of hotels offer shuttle service to and from the airport. Rental cars are also available at the Huntsville International Airport (HSV).

Conference Program

Thursday, March 16, 2017

8:00 – 8:30 Sign-In

8:30 – 9:00 Opening Remarks

9:00 – 10:30 First round of papers

Moderator: Dr. Michael J. Neufeld (National Air and Space Museum)

  • Dr. P.J. Blount (University of Mississippi School of Law) and David Molina (Northwestern University)
    “The Distance from the Ghetto to the Moon: Contextualizing the Space Program in the Discourse of the American Civil Rights Movement”
  • Dr. Roger Launius (Launius Historical Services)
    “NASA, the Great Society, and the American South”
  • Dr. Brenda Plummer (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
    “The Man on the Moon: Race and Space”

10:30 – 10:45 Break

10:45 – 12:15 Second Round of Papers

Moderator: Dr. Carolyn M. Barske (University of North Alabama)

  • Tim Pennycuff (University of Alabama Birmingham)
    “It was mostly money that integrated it”: Federal Funding and the Desegregation of Healthcare in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Marsha Freeman (Independent Scholar)
    “NASA and Civil Rights: The TVA as Historic Precedent”
  • Dr. Courtney L. Thompson (Sewanee: University of the South)
    Unhidden: African American Women at NASA

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch

1:15 – 2:45 Third Round of Papers

Moderator: Dr. Margaret Weitekamp (National Air and Space Museum)

  • Dr. Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles (Yale University)
    First Black Women Astronauts at NASA
  • Adrienne Provenzano (Independent Scholar)
    The First Six American Women Astronauts: Civil Rights Agents of Change for Gender Equity at NASA
  • Christina Roberts (University of Nevada, Reno)
    “Petite Engineer’s Sex Not Considered a Handicap”

2:45 – 3:00 Break

3:00 – 4:30 Fourth Round of Papers

Moderator: Dr. Michael V. Paulauskas (Middle Tennessee State University)

  • Dr. Keith Snedegar (Utah Valley University)
    “The Congressional Black Caucus and the closure of NASA’s satellite tracking station at Hartesbeesthoek, South Africa”
  • Dr. Bill Barry (NASA Chief Historian)
    “Civil Rights and the Space Program: The View from Moscow”
  • Dr. Cathleen Lewis (National Air and Space Museum)
    “Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez and Guion Bluford: The Last Cold War Race Battle”

4:30 – Closing Discussion

Friday, March 17, 2017

8:30 – 10:00 Opening and first round of papers

Moderator: Dr. Andrew J. Dunar (University of Alabama Huntsville)

  • Dr. Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University)
    “A Competence Which Should Be Used:” NASA and Urban Systems in the 1970s
  • Dr. David H. Onkst (Independent Scholar)
    “One Giant Leap or Just Some Small Steps?: Grumman Aerospace Workers, Apollo,
    and The ‘Long’ Civil Rights Movement”
  • Dr. Eric Fenrich (University of California Santa Barbara)
    “The Gates of Opportunity: NASA, Black Activism, and Educational Access”

10:00 – 10:15 Break

10:15– 12:15 Second round of papers

Moderator: Veronica D. Henderson, MLS (Alabama A&M University)

  • Lorenzo Bright (Florida State University)
    “From Bluford to Bolden: The African American Impact on NASA”
  • Stephanie Ruel (Athabasca University)
    “Intersectionality and History at Work: The Case of Ruth Bates Harris and NASA”
  • Dr. Matthew L. Downs (University of Mobile)
    “Accommodating the Forces of Change”: Civil Rights and Economic Development in Space Age Huntsville, Alabama
  • Regina Colston (Freedom Forum Fellow)
    “NASA’s ‘Long’ Civil Rights Movement Influenced Curricula and Research at Alabama A&M University and Facilitated Diversity in Huntsville, Alabama in a Slowly Desegregating South”

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch

1:15 – 3:15 Third Round of Papers

Moderator: Shane Bell (National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta)

  • Reagan Grimsley (University of Alabama Huntsville)
    “What steps can institutions take to create a more comprehensive and inclusive archival record?”
  • Dr. Jonathan Coopersmith (Texas A&M University)
    “And where do we go from here? Ensuring the past and future history of space”
  • Dr. Monique Laney (Auburn University)
    “NASA and the South: New Directions in NASA history”
  • Justin Rudder (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
    “Defining an African Heritage in Alabama”

3:15- Final Discussion and Closing

For more information contact Brian Odom at

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