I’m really looking forward to an adventure during the latter half of July. Smithsonian Journey’s is participating in an ocean-going experience where I will be lecturing on the Celebrity Cruise Lines ship, “Eclipse,” during its upcoming Baltic cruise. It should be a lot of fun. With stops at Brugges,(Zeebrugge), Belgium; Berlin (Warnemunde), Germany; Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Tallinn, Estonia; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Southampton, UK, what’s not to enjoy.
As stated in its literature, “Smithsonian Journeys, the Institution’s travel program, offers over 200 worldwide learning vacations annually. Top experts on history, science or the arts accompany each departure, enriching travelers’ experience with depth, insight and personal discovery.” True enough. In partnership with Celebrity Cruises, on the ships there are what is called the “Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series,” designed to entertain, educate, and spark intellectual curiosity.
Because of my work on the history of spaceflight, while on the ship I will be lecturing on the following topics:
- “Why Go to the Moon?”–What is it about the Moon that captures the fancy of humankind? A silvery disk hanging in the night sky, it conjures up images of romance and magic. It has been counted upon to foreshadow important events, both of good and ill, and its phases for eons served humanity as our most accurate measure of time. This presentation discusses the Moon as a target for human exploration and eventual settlement. It explores the more than 50-year long efforts to reach the Moon, succeeding with space probes and humans in the 1960s and early 1970s. It will then discuss efforts to make the Moon a second home, including post-Apollo planning, the Space Exploration Initiative of the 1980s, and problems and opportunities in the 2004 “Vision for Space Exploration.” This presentation is based on my forthcoming book relating to the legacy of the Moon landings in American culture.
- “Pretty Blue Planet: Earth from Space”–Astronaut Joseph Allen recently made the observation that exploring the Moon in the 1960s was never really about going to the Moon. “With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the Moon,” he commented, “no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact be the one important reason.” This observation serves as the entrée point for this presentation exploring the manner in which humanity has come to understand the Earth through observation from space. Beginning in the 1960s we gained a new perspective on this planet by seeing it from a new vantage point. The imagery is stunning, and the tracing of change on the planet’s surface during the 50-plus years of the space age with photography will illuminate and inspire. As all will realize, Earth truly is a “pretty blue planet.”
- “Mirror-Image Twins? Space Cooperation and Competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia”–In many respects, the history of U.S. competition and collaboration in space activities with the Soviet Union/Russia mirrors the larger story of how the United States has interrelated with this nation since the conclusion of World War II. If one were to characterize it accurately throughout the last fifty-plus years, the undeniable conclusion is that both parties have enjoyed an uneasy relationship in which they have recognized that they were inextricably tied together in space activities. Starting as a space race in the 1950s and 1960s, since then there has been ever increasing cooperation between these two superpowers. The current International Space Station is the key example of the expansion of this relationship, but additional initiatives in the future promise even more cooperation. This presentation traces this competitive/cooperative situation and points directions for possible future activities.
- “Whither the Space Shuttle?”–This presentation reviews the history and legacy of the Space Shuttle program after thirty years. It suggests that while the shuttle was not an unadulterated success, on balance it served a venerable role in spaceflight and deserves an overall positive assessment in history. Additionally, the Space Shuttle provided three decades of significant human spaceflight capability and stretched the nature of what could be accomplished in Earth orbit much beyond anything envisioned previously. Most significantly since the American human spaceflight program has always been focused in national prestige, the Space Shuttle served well as a symbol of American technological verisimilitude. Finally, this presentation discusses the retirement of the Space Shuttle and possibilities for the future of human spaceflight.
- “Robots versus Humans in the Future of Spaceflight”–This presentation is based on my recently published book, “Robots in Space” (2008). Interestingly, the one area where all spaceflight visionaries failed to make meaningful predictions concerning the rapidly advancing capabilities of robotics and electronics. With rapid advances in electronics in the space age, however, some question the role of continuing to fly humans into space. It is much less expensive and risky to send robot explorers than to go ourselves. This debate is the subject of this presentation; offering a history of how we came to this point in human spaceflight, as well as a discussion of the relative merits of human versus robotic space exploration. I shall suggest that the old paradigm for human exploration—ultimately becoming an interstellar species—is outmoded and ready for replacement. I will look to the future of a merger of humans and robots in space into a post-human cyborg species that may realize the dreams of spaceflight.
I spent the Fourth of July holiday break working on the audiovisual materials for these presentations. I would welcome comments on any of the ideas contained in these synopses, and I will post some of the presentations in the near future.