Redirect: “Maintaining Space” from The Maintainers Blog

A resident cleans a corridor in the abandoned convent known as Gesu, in Brussels April 18, 2013. Some 160 squatters including 60 children may face expulsion in Brussels when a 90-million-euro project by a Swiss developer to turn their dwellings into a luxury hotel and apartments gets the go ahead. Only a few metro stops from the European institutions and the city's touristic highlights, the Gesu church and convent have remained vacant for decades and were bought by Swiss developer Rosebud Heritage in 2007, who agreed that the property could be used as a squat until the works started. Most of the residents of the squat are immigrants coming from the Czech Republic, Spain, Brazil and Morocco, looking to settle in Belgium. Some families have lived in Belgium for many years and some have stayed in the squat for months. With monthly rents at the squat currently at about 25 euros per adult, it is unlikely that the current residents will be able to move into the new apartments once they are completed. Picture taken April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman (BELGIUM - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY REAL ESTATE BUSINESS IMMIGRATION) - RTX118GJ

A resident cleans a corridor in the abandoned convent known as Gesu, in Brussels April 18, 2013. Some 160 squatters including 60 children may face expulsion in Brussels when a 90-million-euro project by a Swiss developer to turn their dwellings into a luxury hotel and apartments gets the go ahead. Only a few metro stops from the European institutions and the city’s touristic highlights, the Gesu church and convent have remained vacant for decades and were bought by Swiss developer Rosebud Heritage in 2007, who agreed that the property could be used as a squat until the works started. Most of the residents of the squat are immigrants coming from the Czech Republic, Spain, Brazil and Morocco, looking to settle in Belgium. Some families have lived in Belgium for many years and some have stayed in the squat for months. With monthly rents at the squat currently at about 25 euros per adult, it is unlikely that the current residents will be able to move into the new apartments once they are completed. Picture taken April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In the first part of April 2016 I participated in a fascinating conference with the title, “The Maintainers,” held at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. The premise was simple, but enormously understudied. As a society we celebrate “innovators” and “innovation.” At the same time, most of what we do, at least in the context of technology, is not innovative. It is mostly about maintaining what already exists. Perhaps we should focus scholarly attention on that. The presentations discussed various aspects of maintenance in the history of technology.

The conference drew a great attendance, and received some notice from the local media. Laura Bliss wrote a story about the conference, and its premise, in It may be found here. Lee Vinsel, a co-organizer of the conference, is quoted in the story as saying that the emphasis on innovation is misplaced: “In a culture where we forget about things like crumbling infrastructure and wage inequality, those narratives about technological change can be really dangerous.”

The conference has generated enough interest for Vinsel to create a blog as a means of communicating about this issue. On April 26, the first substantive post on the Maintainers Blog was published. Historian Yulia Frumer writes about “Maintaining Space” (in Japan) here. Enjoy.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Concise History of the Crusades”

The Concise History of the CrusadesThe Concise History of the Crusades. By Thomas F. Madden. Lanham, MD: Roman and Littlefield, 2014, third edition.

I have been enthralled by the story of the Crusades since my high school days. I have read several books on the subject. This one is a very fine overview of the subject, and it serves well as an introduction, but it is not a work offering much of anything new to the serious student. No matter, there is a need for good syntheses and this is one of the best available. I recommend it on that basis.

Thomas F. Madden is a professor of history and director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at St. Louis University. His broad knowledge shows through in this significant analysis of this subject. Most date the origins of the Crusades to the official declaration of Pope Urban II in 1096 for the departure of Christians from Europe to “free” Jerusalem and Palestine from Muslim rule. To call anything a crusade, Madden notes, requires several fundamentals: (1) it is a pilgrimage, (2) it achieves absolution, (3) it offers individual plenary indulgences, and (4) it requires a lofty objective serving God’s purpose. Many interpreters, including Madden, also have noted that participation satisfied a range of feudal obligations and many a knight responded as much for economic and political gain as for religious virtue.

There had been earlier calls for action against Islamists, as well as not fully in the Roman Catholic fold. But this one was different. It had strong support from various kingdoms and rulers who saw an opportunity to burnish reputations and eternal glory as well divert internal tensions to an outside enemy. It had a capable “sales force” that journeyed around Europe drumming up support. It also had support from Byzantium, whose emperor realized that this help would be needed to maintain his empire’s hegemony in Eastern Europe. Thousands of crusaders, only some of whom were effective from a military perspective, answered the call and traveled to the Middle East.

The First Crusade (1096–1099) achieved the most measurable results of all of the separate invasions, as well as unleashed a fair measure of overreach, a torrent of violence and extremism, and a level of barbarism not often seen in Western Civilization. It also resulted in the creation of several Crusader states in the Middle East, including the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Additional Crusades continued in the 12th through the 15th centuries. All of these efforts transformed both the Middle East and Western Europe. Madden makes this clear in his conclusion. The broad historical perception that this was one of the most negative eruptions of bigotry and violence ever perpetuated on other inhabitants of Eurasia is overblown, according to Madden. Certainly there were excesses and negatives, but most of the people engaged in the Crusades did so for piety, charity, and devotion. Most did not engage in atrocities. That is not to minimize the evil committed in the name of Christendom, but it does cast this in a somewhat broader context than previously.

Madden also emphasizes that the establishment of Crusader states in the Middle East served directly to transform many aspects of Medieval life. First, Christians ruled in the region for some two centuries and that beachhead brought closer together than ever before the cultures of two dynamically alternative lifestyles. This interchange proved critical to the development of both cultures and religions. Second, the Crusades also assured the integrity of Byzantium, thereby buttressing Christendom in Eastern Europe until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Finally, Europe emerged from the Crusading experience energized for further expansion; in that case to the Americas and Asia. At a fundamental level the Conquistadores from Spain that overran the Aztecs and the Incas were Crusaders every bit as much as those who captured Jerusalem in 1099.

One could question if all of these are positive developments. The path from Crusades to the Middle East, the creation of bulwark against Islamic expansionism, and the establishment of European imperial entities in other parts of the world is not direct, but is certainly present. Rightly or wrongly they are related. This is an excellent book recounting that path.



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The Esoteric Mormon Doctrine of Baptism for the Dead

Many have all wondered about it in Washington, D.C., at one time or another while driving around the Beltway and see the Mormon Temple rising before us like the Emerald City out of Oz. What do the Mormons do in there? They are willing to talk publicly, although they give few details, about only two rituals (although there are other rituals also performed there) that they practice there. The first is eternal marriage, not just “till death do you part” but for “time and all eternity.” I’m not sure what you think of that idea, but based on my past experience remaining with a wife for eternity sounds more like hell than almost anything else I can think of. The second temple ritual they talk about is baptism for the dead. That is what I want to discuss here.

Historic rendering of Nauvoo Temple from the 1840s. This was the earliest temple in which Mormon practiced baptism for the dead.

Historic rendering of Nauvoo Temple from the 1840s. This was the earliest temple in which Mormons practiced baptism for the dead.

This is an esoteric idea, to say the least. The concept of baptism for the dead arose during the Nauvoo period of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840s in response to several developments in the life of Joseph Smith Jr. and the movement he founded. Predicated on the double assumption that God loves all people and grants each an opportunity for salvation, and that salvation cannot be granted without baptism, the doctrine provided for the baptism of dead people by proxy. Those who had died without accepting the gospel would be taught after death, and others could be baptized on Earth in their stead.

Baptism for the dead was an extremely attractive concept for many Latter Day Saints, because it allowed for the salvation of all and signified the justice and mercy of God. It answered the fundamental question of what would happen to those who did not embrace the gospel as the early Mormons understood it, particularly ancestors who were already dead. This concern was registered by members of the Smith family for the soul of Alvin Smith, the oldest son who had died suddenly in 1823 without baptism into any Christian denomination.

The years of controversy and turmoil that had roiled the Mormon church from its origins in 1830, as well as the concomitant psychological problems that had arisen by the time of the church’s settlement in Nauvoo in 1839, also served to make the issue attractive to the church membership. The concern of the Saints for understanding the nature of the hereafter, particularly as revealed in obscure passages of scripture, also prompted its ready acceptance. As historian Richard P. Howard has observed:

All these developments‑the Smith family’s grief over Alvin, the intense persecution of the Saints, the speculative theological propensities of church leadership‑produced a milieu in which baptism for the dead came into focus as a means of sealing the deceased ancestors and relatives of the living Saints into the promises of the Mormon kingdom (celestial glory).

Joseph Smith Jr. apparently first considered the propriety of baptism for the dead after reading the only biblical reference to it: “Else what shall they do, which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” (I Corinthians 15:29). His consideration led to the full-fledged development of the idea.

Joseph Smith Jr.

Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844), founder of the Mormon church.

He made the first public disclosure of the doctrine of baptism for the dead on August 15, 1840, in Nauvoo at the funeral sermon for Seymour Brunson. An eyewitness, Simon Baker, reminisced about the occasion, commenting that Joseph Smith Jr. told the congregation that although baptism was necessary for salvation “that people could now act for their friends who had departed this life, and that the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God.” At the October 1840 conference Smith instructed his followers in Nauvoo to practice baptism for the dead, for a time in the nearby Mississippi River but more appropriately in a temple projected for the city.

After these actions the Nauvoo Mormons began enthusiastically to incorporate the doctrine into their belief system. The practice, thereafter, was formalized in the church by means of a revelation dated January 19, 1841. This edict, written by Smith as a statement of God’s will, was included in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, along with two 1842 letters on the same subject. The practice, with this undisputed revelatory instruction, was codified as a temple ritual within the Mormon religion and recognized as such by those in Nauvoo. There can be no doubt about the important place Smith and the early church members assigned it in church theology.

After the death of Joseph Smith in 1844 the Mormon church fragmented and the group under the leadership of Brigham Young embraced the practice and ensconced it into its temple ceremonies to the present. Hence the temple on the Washington, D.C., beltway and at other places around the world. Other groups practiced versions of it as well, and one, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints under the leadership of Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III, never adopted it as a formal ritual but also never rejected it.

Joseph Smith III

Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), leader of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

This position has not been officially changed to the present. But the institution’s official position tells less than half the story, for there was a torturous path woven by the movement during the past one-hundred+ years as it sought to deal with the legacy of baptism for the dead. Moving from a general acceptance of baptism for the dead‑a position which recognized it as a permissive rite, but a legitimate one, to be executed at the specific redirection of God‑the Reorganization (renamed the Community of Christ in 2000) began to move further away from the doctrine as time progressed.

This was a gradual and subtle drift that was not apparent to those in the midst of it. The shift has continued to the present, and now I suspect that while there is still some modest support for the doctrine, the overwhelming majority of the membership of the Community of Christ no longer accepts, even theoretically, baptism for the dead. The evolutionary process toward rejection of baptism for the dead has now been pretty much completed. The church’s leadership has continually suggested that baptisms for the dead could be carried out only by divine direction in a temple built explicitly for the purpose, the doctrine was shunted into a nether land between belief and practice. To ignore, as historian Alma R. Blair one appropriately remarked, was ultimately to reject.

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An Account of the Evacuation of Nauvoo by the Mormons in 1846

Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background

Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background

After a lengthy period of conflict between the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, and their non-Mormon neighbors, they negotiated a treaty, dated September 16, 1846, which gave the remaining Mormons five days to leave the city. A few days after this, on September 19, a correspondent for the Burlington Hawkeye, published in Iowa Territory about 30 miles north of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River, witnessed this evacuation scene and wrote a brief account. He signed the article “CHE MO KO MON,” a Sauk term meaning “White Man,” so his identity is unknown.  His letter to the editor, entitled, “Nauvoo. The Day After It was Evacuated,” appeared in the September 24, 1846, issue of the Burlington Hawkeye.

This article is a very effective piece of writing, largely because of the immediacy that it conveys. The author apparently wrote his account in the sanctuary of the Nauvoo Temple, after witnessing the results of the conflict and the still-ongoing evacuation. He caught the eerie quiet of the deserted streets and the incongruity of soldiers and armaments in a sacred building that proclaimed on its wall, “The Lord is our Sacrifice.” Also, he captured the suffering of hundreds of people by depicting a few cases of distress that came to his attention.

Another notable aspect of this remarkable piece of writing is that the author does not condemn the non-Mormons for their inhumanity or criticize the Mormons for their fanaticism, but rather, he suggests that both were responsible for the human tragedy that he witnessed. A poor widow from Yorkshire, whom he encountered on the street, was in distress not only because she and her family must leave, but also because her husband “gave all his money to the church.” She clearly felt abandoned, if not exploited, by the church and the circumstances of the exodus.

While the author roamed through the defeated and occupied town, he recalled the Mormon prophet, whom he noted had reveled in “military glory.” Also, by referring to Nauvoo as a “doomed city,” he invited the reader to reflect on the reasons for its evacuation. Whoever he was, CHE MO KO MON wrote perhaps the finest newspaper item related to the Mormon conflict in Illinois in the 1840s.


DEAR HAWK—My powers of description are totally inadequate to give your readers any just conception of the “scenes” that now present themselves on every hand in this vicinity.  On either shore of the Mississippi may be seen a long line of tents, wagons, cattle, &c., with numberless wretched specimens of humanity. Since the armistice or “treaty” the Mormons are crossing in almost breathless haste. Three or four “flats” are running constantly, both day and night. This morning, Saturday, 19th, at the solicitation of Capt. Vrooman, of the Fort Madison Guards, I crossed the river from Montrose, to take a peek at this City of Desolation. We proceeded to the Mansion House, where we met with a small detachment of soldiers and a number of strangers. From thence we went to the Temple. On entering the vestibule of this renowned edifice, a singular spectacle presented itself.  The seats of the High Priests of the “Twelve” and of the “seventy” were occupied by a grim visaged soldiery. Some lay sleeping on their “arms,” and others lay rolled up in their blankets.  On every hand lay scattered about in beautiful confusion, muskets, swords, cannon balls and terrible missiles of death. Verily, thought I, how are the holy places desecrated! I thought of old Oliver Cromwell, when he drove the horses of his army through the “cloisters” of the Worcester Cathedral, and appropriated the Baptismal fount as a manger.

I am penning this scrawl to you in the upper seat of the Sanctuary. Over my head there is an inscription in large gold letters, “The Lord is our Sacrifice”; on my right lie three soldiers asleep, resting on their arms—my feet are resting on a pile of chain shot—and a keg of powder, just discovered, lies at my elbow.

I left the Temple “solitary and alone,” to perambulate the desolate city. All was still and hushed as the charnel house.—Not a human being was seen. Houses appeared suddenly deserted, as though the inmates had precipitately fled from a pestilence or the burning of a volcano. Some had windows open and the flowers blooming the casements, but no fair hand was there, and no breath was heard, save the rustling zephyrs of heaven. It appeared as if the vengeance of the Almighty rested upon this doomed city.

Nauvoo, Illinois, as seen across the Mississippi River from Iowa in the 1840s.

Nauvoo, Illinois, as seen across the Mississippi River from Iowa in the 1840s.

I roamed over the vast Parade Ground where, four years ago, I beheld the soi distant “Prophet” review his Legion of 3000 strong, in all the “pride and circumstance” of military glory. Where now is the Prophet?  Let the Plains of Carthage answer! And where the multitudes that shouted hosannas to his name?  Verily, thought I, “truth is stranger than fiction.” I returned again through the desolate streets to the Mansion House. One solitary being, with a child in her arms, stood at the corner of a street, and saluted me with an imploring and almost frantic look.

“Pray, sir, are you one of the committee,” said she.

When I replied that I was a stranger, her eyes filled with tears.  She related her history. Tis soon told, and is the history of hundreds.

We came from Yorkshire, England, my husband died eighteen months after our arrival. He gave all his money to the church.”

“Where are your friends,” said I.

“I have none—not one. The soldiers say I must leave in two hours. This child is sick, and my other is a cripple.” She had flour enough for but one dinner!

On the Montrose side of the Mississippi, many of the scenes were heartbreaking. I stopped at the door of one tent, arrested by the subdued sobs of a young mother, whose heart was broken with grief. By her side lay her infant, a corpse. She had neither friend or relative to bury her child, nor a mouthful of food to eat.

I was convinced that Gen. Brockman, to his honor be it spoken, conducted [the evacuation] with marked distinction and humanity; and the night the army took possession of the city, not a rail was disturbed or a particle of property molested. Although they encamped adjoining an extensive orchard of choice fruit, not a hand was laid upon it. The boat is leaving for Montrose and I must drop my pen. Perhaps more anon from your faithful chronicler.


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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts and Supercars”

Death RaysDeath Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film’s Most Celebrated Secret Agent. By Barry Parker. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Did the jet pack that James Bond used in Thunderball actually work? What about the tiny helicopter in You Only Live Twice or the car/submarine combination used in The Spy Who Loved Me or the safe cracking gadget in Goldeneye? There is seemingly an endless supply of gimmicks, gadgets, and secret agent tricks in the James Bond franchise that extends back to the first film in 1962.

Emeritus professor of physics Barry Parker has written a fun, illuminating book on the reality—and the fantasy—of the gadgets and stunts from James Bond films. He includes chapters on amazing devices, death rays, cars, car chases and other stunts, spaceflight, and nuclear weapons. Yes, the jet pack is real and how it operates is easily understandable; Parker explains it in an accessible manner. Lasers do exist, but their lethality is an overstatement in every Bond film in which they appear. The cars are real, and most of their enhancements are possible. Any the stunts are certainly possible, but don’t try it home.

Barry Parker does a fine job explaining the physics of each of these gadgets and gizmos, as well as the stunts and epic struggles. Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film’s Most Celebrated Secret Agent is an enjoyable reading experience.

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Requiem for the “Sizzler”

George Sisler (1893-1973)

George Sisler, also known as the “Sizzler” because of his hot bat, was the greatest player ever to don a St. Louis Browns baseball uniform. First baseman for the Brownies between 1915 and 1927 Sisler compiled a .340 lifetime batting average, batted over .400 twice, led the league in stolen bases four times, and set a record at first base with 1,528 assists that stood for over sixty years.

Sisler was a Brownie until 1928 when he was traded to another American League team, the Washington Senators which quickly flipped him to the Boston Braves of the National League where he played the 1928-1930 seasons before retiring. In 1999 he was named as one of the top one-hundred greatest baseball players of the twentieth century. Appropriately enough, he is ensconced in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

Sisler also led the Browns during their most successful era, the 1920s. In 1920 the team finished in the first division for the first time since 1908 with Sisler setting the pace. He led the league with a .407 batting average, drove in 122 runs, hit 18 triples, stole 51 bases, and set the single season record of 257 base hits that stood until broken by Ichiro Suzuki’s 262 hits for the Seattle Mariners in 2004.

Ably assisted by outfielder Ken Williams, who hit 24 home runs and drove in 117, and pitcher Urban Shocker, who won 20 games and lost 10, the Browns made a run at the pennant. In 1921 they finished third, with the same cadre of players. It looked like 1922 would be the year of the Browns, and everyone in St. Louis was poised to take a championship.

SislerThey nearly did. In 1922 the Browns won 93 games, the most ever in the franchise’s history, but they finished one game behind the New York Yankees. Even so, it was probably the best team in Browns’ history. Sisler had a career year, batting a league high .420, and both Williams and Shocker also had exceptional years. The Browns ran neck and neck with the Yankees all summer, and were in first place as late as July 22. The fans in St. Louis were jubilant, rocking the city’s center with impromptu street parties and at least one riot. At a game on Labor Day, fans unable to get tickets to the Browns/Cleveland Indians game in St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park, a palace of a playing field by the standards of the day, rushed the gate. Police had to restore order. The Browns barely lost the 1922 pennant to the New York Yankees, who went on to lose the World Series to the rival New York Giants.

The 1922 season represented the high-water mark for the Browns. The next year, absent George Sisler, who missed the season with an eye infection that nearly did him in, the Browns slipped to fifth in the league. When Sisler returned in 1924, the team improved its record and vied for the pennant, finishing fourth. It finished third in both 1925 and 1926 but slipped to seventh in 1927, the last year of Sisler’s tenure in St. Louis. He moved on to play three years in Boston while the Browns, absent Sisler, began a collapse that lasted until their only pennant-winning year of 1944. Ironically, Sisler never played in the postseason, perhaps the greatest player never to have done so.

Sisler (1)Contrary to other colorful characters in the history of baseball—contemporaries Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth come to mind—George Sisler led a relatively quiet and noncontroversial life. After his retirement at the end of the 1930 season he worked for a time a scout and front office executive, usually with Branch Rickey who had originally signed him to play for the Browns. Two of Sisler’s sons, Dick and Dave, also played in the Major Leagues in the 1950s while a third, George Jr., served as the president of the International League. Sisler was still employed as a scout for the Pirates at the time of his death in 1973.

George Sisler was one of those excellent, competitive, and effective players who quietly toiled in Major League Baseball without great fame or fortune. He is largely forgotten today despite his importance as a player in the 1920s. I wonder how he would be remembered had he been with a better team or in a larger city with more extensive media?

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The Cold War Origins of Space Access

This launch of the Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, started the Cassini orbiter and its attached Huygens probe to Saturn. Launched on October 15, 1997, from Launch Complex 40 it would undertake a 2.2-billion mile journey that included two swingbys of Venus and one of Earth to gain additional velocity, arriving at Saturn in July 2004 where it entered orbit and soft landed Huygens on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

This launch of the Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, started the Cassini orbiter and its attached Huygens probe to Saturn. Launched on October 15, 1997, from Launch Complex 40 it would undertake a 2.2-billion mile journey that included two swingbys of Venus and one of Earth to gain additional velocity, arriving at Saturn in July 2004 where it entered orbit and soft landed Huygens on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

It is almost a truism that the primary U.S. space launch capabilities were created only because of the challenge of an exceptionally desperate Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. Accordingly, the development and deployment of ballistic missiles, space-based intelligence-gathering capabilities, and the orbiting of scientific satellites into space were all critical to ensuring the national security of the United States.

For the first decade of the space age, the U.S. space effort operated and evolved in response to consistently focused governmental policy of the highest national priority. During that era the focus was on test and evaluation of ICBMs and on developing these systems into space launch vehicles, primarily to support the reconnaissance mission operated from Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB) on the West Coast and the robotic space flight mission operated from Cape Canaveral on the East Coast. The initial development, test, and evaluation of ballistic missiles also drove the development for extensive tracking, telemetry collection, and precise photographic capabilities.

During this earliest period of space launch development the United States began employing the principal launchers—Atlas and Delta, as well as the now retired Titan—that found use beyond the Cold War era. It is hard to believe in the year 2014, but the United States still relies on the descendants of these three ballistic missiles for the bulk of its space access requirements. Even though the three families of space boosters—each with numerous variants—have enjoyed incremental improvement since first flight, there seems no way to escape their beginnings in technology (dating back to the early 1950s) and their primary task of launching nuclear warheads.

The first-generation ICBM, the Atlas, was flight tested beginning June 11, 1955, and made operational in 1959. A second ballistic missile, the Thor, also dates from the 1950s and under the name Delta became an early workhorse in America’s fleet of launchers. The Titan ICBM quickly followed the Atlas and Thor into service with the U.S. Air Force in 1959 and remained on alert until the end of the Cold War at the end of the 1980s.

Since these space launch vehicles began existence as national defense assets, they reflected both the benefits and liabilities of those origins. For example, the national defense requirements prompted the developers to emphasize development schedule and operational reliability over launch costs. Consequently, these vehicles were exceptionally costly both to develop and operate.

Indeed, the Eisenhower administration poured enormous resources into the development of these first generation space access vehicles. As a measure of government investment, through fiscal year 1957 the government spent $11.8 billion on military space activities in 1957 dollars. “The cost of continuing these programs from FY 1957 through FY 1963,” Eisenhower was told, “would amount to approximately $36.1 billion, for a grand total of $47 billion.”

In 2014 dollars, for comparison, this would have represented an investment of more than $235 billion. An investment of even 25 percent of that amount today would make possible an enormous advance of launch vehicle technology.

Vanguard on launch pad (TV-3), Dec. 6, 1957.

Vanguard on launch pad (TV-3), Dec. 6, 1957.

The period between 1957 and 1965 might best be viewed as the height of the Cold War era and the age of the great race for space. Engaged in broad contest over the ideologies and allegiances of the non-aligned nations of the world, space exploration was one major area contested. The Soviets gained the upper hand in this competition on October 4, 1957, when they launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, as part of a larger scientific effort associated with the International Geophysical Year. The Soviets did not relinquish their apparent lead in the space race until the mid-1960s.

At the same time that the United States seemed incapable of conducting space operations effectively—notably during the failed launch of the Vanguard satellite on national television on December 6, 1957—the Soviets seemed to enjoy every success. In those first 8 years of the space age, it looked as if the Soviet Union did everything right in space flight, and the United States appeared at best a weakling without the kind of capabilities that the command economy of the “workers’ state” in the Soviet Union had been able to muster. The result was that the United States mobilized to “catch up” to the apparent might of its Cold War

About 1965 the Cold War began to wane as a powerful motivator behind space activities. From the point where America began flying the Gemini spacecraft, and especially with the flights of Apollo—1968-1972—it became obvious that the United States led the world in rocket technology. Accordingly, the space race began to wane during that era, as the nation was consumed with issues other than crises with the Soviet Union, especially it focused on the war in Vietnam.

Since the beginning of spaceflight more than fifty years ago, those who seek to travel in space have been, in essence, between a rocket and hard place. The enormous release of energy made possible through the development of chemical rocket technology, allowed the first generation of launch vehicles to free humanity and its robots from the constraints of Earth’s gravity. It allowed the still exceptionally limited exploitation of space technology for all manner of activities important on Earth—communications, weather, GPS, and a host of other remote sensing satellites—to such an extent that many individuals in the United States today cannot conceive of a world in which they did not exist.

This launch of Falcon 9 in 2012 signals a step forward in space access–especially new, non-DoD developed rockets–but the technology is only incrementally improved and still relies on basic chemical propulsion.

This same chemical rocket technology made possible human flight into space, albeit for an exceptionally limited number of exceptional people, and the visiting of robotic probes from this planet to our neighbors in the Solar System. These have been enormously significant, and overwhelmingly positive, developments.

The rockets that make space access possible, however, have also been enormously expensive despite sustained efforts to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Most launch vehicle efforts throughout the history of the space age, unfortunately, have been fraught with a fair measure of self-deception and wishful thinking. A large ambitious program is created, hyped, and then fails as a result of unrealistic management, especially with regard to technical risk. These typically have blurred the line, which should be bright, between revolutionary, high-risk, high-payoff R&D efforts and low-risk, marginal payoff evolutionary efforts to improve operational systems. Efforts to break the bonds of this deception may well lead in remarkable new directions in future launcher development efforts. I hope so.


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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection”

bookcover_rhumb_linesRhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection. By Mark Monmonier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Mark Monmonier has nearly cornered the market for popular discussion of cartographical issues. A distinguished professor at Syracuse University, Monmonier takes on here the fascinating history of the Mercator projection of the globe. This is the standard classroom world map that we have all seen on schools everywhere. It was created by Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator in 1569, a map that successfully took a three-dimensional Earth and presented it on a two-dimensional chart. The real success of this map was that it was useful for navigation. By following the longitude and latitude on the map one may sail to virtually any spot on the globe accessible by water.

This very practical use of the map for ocean-going navigation led it to become the standard for maps, certainly in Europe but also elsewhere, by the eighteenth century. It also has a fundamental flaw, and this is what Monmonier is most interested in. The higher and lower latitudes are stretched to ensure that the projection may be used effectively for navigation and thereby create false impressions of the land masses in those regions. For example, it appears on a Mercator projection that Greenland is as large as Africa. It also privileges Europe in terms of size. Generations of students have been misled by this image of the globe. More importantly, it might be that part of this was intentional. It served a political purpose by underscoring the size of importance of such regions as Europe and North America in relation to other part of the world such as Africa and Asia. It subtly supported colonialism and European civilization as the world leaders.

In 1974 Arno Peters, a German historian, created a different projection that correctly depicted the size of countries. The down side of this projection, however, it was not useful for navigation. It also set off the so-called “map wars” that currently rage over the various projections of the globe. Monmonier detailed these debates and their state as of 2004. The map war is far from over.

This is an interesting, informative, and enjoyable book. Monmonier is not a great writer, however, even as he seeks to reach a broad audience. Check out this run-on sentence as an example: “Perhaps the earliest use of an oblique Mercator projection, or indeed any oblique cylindrical projection, was for maps of Central America and Southeast Asia in a world atlas published by the innovative German mapmaker Ernst Debes (1840-1923) in 1895, a year after American polymath Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) quietly, and apparently independently, sought a patent for his ‘Skew Mercator’ projection” (p. 112).

One final point, I know this is a popular account but I would have appreciated a work with much more rigorous scholarly apparatus. There is a listing of sources by page at the end of the book but these are a little difficult to follow. I prefer the tried and true system of referencing that I was taught in college.

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Is There a New Mormon History?

Joseph Smith Jr.

Joseph Smith Jr.

Is there a “New Mormon History?” D. Michael Quinn, one of the foremost practitioners of the type of work distinguished as the “New Mormon History,” certainly thinks so. He assembled more than two decades ago The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past (Signature Books, 1992), a set of fifteen previously published essays and a short epilogue by B. H. Roberts, all demonstrating most ably the basic trends identified as “New Mormon History” (to Quinn a broadly descriptive rather than polemical label).

Quinn notes that this type of historical analysis seeks to attain a “functional objectivity” and avoid the “seven deadly sins of traditional Mormon history” (viii). Quinn’s prototype was Juanita Brooks’s Mountain Meadows Massacre (Stanford University Press, 1950), to whose memory, incidently, he dedicated the book. In characterizing that book, Quinn wrote in the introduction:

Brooks had not refrained from analyzing a controversial topic. She had not hesitated to follow the evidence to “revisionist” interpretations that ran counter to “traditional” assumptions. She had not used her evidence to insult the religious beliefs of Mormons. She never disappointed the scholarly expectations of academics. She never catered to public relations preferences. Finally she avoided using an “academic” work to proselytize for religious conversion or defection. (p. viii)

“New Mormon historians” have adopted these as cardinal points against which all historical writing must be measured.

The fifteen essays in this volume certainly rise to Brooks’s standards. One can quibble over the propriety of labels, but there is no question that something important happened in Mormon historical writing after The Mountain Meadows Massacre was published in 1950. Indeed, perhaps what has been taking place has been not so much a “new” approach toward Mormon history as the rapid and sustained professionalization of the field.

The distinguishing features of the “New Mormon History” had been present to some degree long before Brooks published The Mountain Meadows Massacre (most assuredly in the work of such early Mormon historians as E. E. Erickson, Joseph A. Geddes, or Nels Anderson) but emphasis on adhering to the “Brooks Rule” became dominant during the latter 1950s. Both the quality and the quantity of the publications taking this approach skyrocketed during the next three decades. This book puts between two covers some of the best of that work.

Quinn’s introduction briefly sketches these general trends in the text, and endnotes exhaustively reference historiographical trends. While a serviceable preamble to the articles that follow, the introduction could have presented a more substantial and philosophical discussion of the “New Mormon History” and its role in furthering an understanding of the Mormon past.

Quinn is especially well suited to analyze the New Mormon History’s importance and the response to it both within and without the Mormon movement. The essays follow in roughly chronological order, making the book a useful text for classroom use. Taken altogether, the fifteen essays, each written by a different specialist and originally appearing between 1966 and 1983—perhaps the golden age of the New Mormon History—represent a powerful explanation of the larger aspects of Mormon history from its origins.

Some narrow and others broadly interpretive, these essays include the first major reassessments of unique topics in the history of the Church. Many of these pathbreaking studies, however, have since been revised by other historians. With the exception of a couple of instances where the authors have inserted some historiographical discussion into their endnotes, the essays do not comment on specific debates over interpretations. This lack of historiographical context is unfortunate, leaving readers with little understanding of the historians’ differing perspectives.

Although each of these essays has stood the test of time and can be considered a benchmark study, like most collected works, this book suffers from uneven quality. Some essays are more challenging than others; I found particularly rewarding Thomas G. Alexander’s “’To Maintain Harmony’: Adjusting to External and Internal Harmony,” first published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 1982; Ronald W. Walker’s provocative analysis of Mormon militarism, “Sheaves, Bucklers, and the State: Mormon Leaders Respond to the Dilemmas of War,” which first appeared in Sunstone that same year; and “A Demographic Portrait of the Mormons, 1830-1980” by Dean L. May, first published in 1983, which significantly revised early membership numbers and Utah migration figures.

In addition, the volume’s first essay, Leonard J. Arrington’s eloquent plea for serious, professional historical inquiry, “The Search for Truth and Meaning in Mormon History,” is an important declaration of intellectual independence that present-day historians of Mormonism should embrace just as fully as did those who first read it in Dialogue in 1968. His assertion that “historians ought to be free to suggest interpretations without placing their faith and loyalty on the line” (p. 5) is a central issue in the current restrictive environment. Arrington’s conclusion “that an intensive study of church history, while it will dispel certain myths or half-myths sometimes perpetuated in Sunday school (and other) classes, builds faith rather than weakens it” (p. 6) is especially germane to present debates over the faithfulness of Mormon history that strays from the agreed-upon story. With the current Latter-day Saint review policy, threat of censorship, and restricted access to the Church Archives, we would do well to listen to such past voices of concern.

Any essay collection of this type has built-in difficulties. Although The New Mormon History is an important work encapsulating Mormon history’s reinterpretation during the last generation, it views the Mormon experience only through the lens of selected events, institutions, and personalities, leaving huge gaps in the story of Mormonism and representing themes and events unevenly.

The Reorganized Church/Community of Christ experience, not even discussed in this work, deserves mention in a book such as this and could have provided a useful counterpoint for analyzing such themes as theological developments, political issues, relations with larger society, and organizational structures.

The collection also contains very little discussion of twentieth-century Mormonism. The era is ignored, with the exception of the Alexander and Walker essays, already mentioned, and some spillover of their subjects into the first part of this century in articles by Kenneth L. Cannon II, “After the Manifesto: Mormon Polygamy, 1890-1906,” and Klaus J. Hansen, “The Metamorphosis of the Kingdom of God: Toward a Reinterpretation of Mormon History.” Admittedly Quinn had much less to choose from for this field, although more than half of the Church’s history has been in the twentieth century. The volume would also have been enhanced had Quinn incorporated any of his own exemplary work.

Quinn anticipated some of these concerns in his introduction. “I can only apologize in advance,” he wrote, “for the omissions and acknowledge that others might choose differently” (p. x). No apologies are necessary. This is an excellent collection in spite of different choices that could have been made. In my recent correspondence with an individual interested in the Mormon past, I have been recommending readings and answering questions as best I can through the mail. I wish that The New Mormon History had been available when we first began corresponding. This book would have been one of the first I recommended as a starting place for exploring Mormon history.

No doubt this collection of essays provides a fundamentally useful work for scholars and general readers alike. It makes available between a single cover several classic essays—some of the best of the “New Mormon History”—and serves as a fine introduction to a complex and fascinating subject.

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An Infographic on the Evolution of Space Food

Space food is one of those items that is consistently fascinating. What do astronauts eat, and why. This infographic from has some interesting information. Enjoy.


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