Video of Congressional Briefing on Spaceflight, June 15, 2012

On June 15, 2012, I moderated a briefing on the history of spaceflight and its relationship to current public policy issues. The National History Center xponsored this event and has placed information about it on-line. Check out the discussion and links below that are also at the National History Center website.


The National History Center hosted a Congressional Briefing on the commercialization of space travel and human participation in space exploration on Friday, June 15 in Rayburn House Office Building 2325 – informally known as the building’s “space room” for the final frontier-inspired photographs that line its walls. Though especially designed to help Congressional staff, the briefing was open to the public, and an estimated 75 guests were in attendance.

Roger D. Launius of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum moderated talks given by Matthew H. Hersch of the University of Pennsylvania, Joseph N. Tatarewicz of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Alexander C. MacDonald of NASA’s Emerging Commercial Space Office. Each presenter spoke to space exploration’s past and speculated about its future. Matthew Hersch briefly surveyed space history, especially its twentieth century context, discussing modern innovations on spaceflight in the United States and the Soviet Union. He acknowledged that presently, spaceflight capability remains modest, but has hope that eventually, even if well into the distant future, space settlement will be possible. Joe Tatarewicz complicated the Cold War history of spaceflight, arguing that American scientists in the mid-twentieth century were cautious about investing time and resources into the tenuous science of spaceflight rather than motivated by nationalist enthusiasm. Alex MacDonald discussed the history of funding for space exploration, noting that today’s reemergence of private funding for space projects hearkens back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before public funding during the Cold War became the norm.

A webcast of the briefing is available here and written summaries of each presenter’s discussion here:
Matthew Hersch, Human Spaceflight: Past, Present, and Future
Joseph Tatarewicz, Space Science and Space Policy 2012 – Historical Perspectives
Alexander MacDonald, A Brief Note on the Economic History of Space Exploration in America

The National History Center’s Congressional Briefings are designed to provide historical context and perspective on current issues for policy makers and members of their staff. The speakers reflect upon historical events and developments that have influenced the evolution of current policies and provide knowledge pertinent to the consideration of policy alternatives.

– Christine Kelly

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2 Responses to Video of Congressional Briefing on Spaceflight, June 15, 2012

  1. mike shupp says:

    Thanks for this post and the links to the summarized presentations,

    I’ve got to wince just a bit at Mathew Hirsch’s paper, however. The WHOLE POINT of the 1960’s
    space program, at least during Jack Kennedy’s lifetime, was that astronautics was somehow
    symbolic of military strength, in particular of military rocketry. You young guys don’t recall just
    how little information the average US citizen had about ICBMs and the like back at that time
    (hint: Google “The Missile Gap”), and how important the race for military superiority seemedat
    the time. And thje way government operated back then, the US just wasn’t going to come out
    with a report card explaining to the public where we were ahead of the Russians and where
    we were behind. Instead… we got a Space Race, with the semi-tacit understanding — around
    the globe — that since space rockets were sort of like military rockets, the country that led in
    astronautics was also ahead in building succesful ICBMs, Alas, by 1969 had become passe.
    The USA had them and the Russkis had them and the French and the Brits sort of had them,
    and the average citizen was no longer disturbed by this, so the psychological payoff for the
    Apollo 11 success was minimal, Also, memory tells me, by the late 1960’s most US citizens
    were quite conscious of other venues for US-Soviet rivalry; the existence of real international
    conflicts left most Americans jaundiced about the symbolic ones,

    My two cents.


    • launiusr says:

      Thanks Mike. I very much appreciate your perspecive on this. I thought everyone on the panel did a good job. I didn’t agree eith all of them. I was most interested in Alex MacDonald’s presentation and his new take on the subject.


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