See you in Orbit? The Evolution of the Dream to Fly in Space
Space Policy and History Forum #9
Presentation by Alan Ladwig
This is a story about your dream to fly in space. Some of you, especially the post-Apollo babies, hope to make space flight a career. You’ve been to Space Camp three times, can dissect a rocket engine, and have your sights set on a career in the astronaut corps.
You aging hippies are content with your current job and would settle for a simple excursion to orbit in any old space taxi that could be towed out of the hangar. “Once around the park; I’m kind of in a hurry,” will provide a natural high.
Still others are ready to fill out a permanent change of address card. You’ve had it with this planet and your destination lies beyond Earth’s boundaries–way beyond. Your sights are set on a town house at the Lunar Landings, or better yet, a condo on Mars. You’re fond of that catchy little phrase, “…when we become a multi-planet species.”
Who knows how long we’ve been trying to flap our way into orbit? The quest to mingle with the stars has been a driving goal for centuries, at least. Throughout all those years, we have been urged by the writers, space visionaries, government officials, aerospace executives, journalists, and those supposedly in the know, to “keep the dream alive.” We have patiently (and impatiently) anticipated the day of Sunday afternoon drives down celestial freeways. Our ticket to ride, we were told, was just a rocket away.
We like to think that what draws us towards the dream is up close and personal. Sorry, but the motivation has been the same for years. Since the 1920s when the New York Times scoffed at Robert Goddard’s Moon rocket fantasy, volunteers have flocked to the nearest launch pad with compelling reasons to be blasted into space. In the 1950s, 26,000 dreamers filled out application forms for the Hayden Planetarium’s Interplanetary Tour. During my tenure as manager of the Space Flight Participant Program at NASA, I received over 10,000 letters from arm-chair astronauts and 40,000 requests for applications for the Teacher in Space.
If you were to remove the dates from the letters to Goddard, to the Hayden, and to NASA and place them side by side, it would be difficult to tell when the request was written. The penmanship in the letters to Goddard was better, but beyond that, the letters mention common themes when it comes to the dream to fly in space.
We believe a trek into orbit will fulfill a yearning spiritual quest or add meaning to our otherwise meaningless lives. Achieving the challenge of star travel will extract a new level of excellence and unearth our true potential. We hear that those who have been there and back have been blessed with an “overview effect,” where memories of national borders gives way to a new respect for all our earthly “brothers.” And for those worried about our true place in the galactic scheme of things…well, you know just where to find the answer to that question.
But does the dream of space flight for “ordinary people” warrant so much optimism? Shouldn’t we all be there by now? If all had gone as planned, you should have already received your first ticket for driving while intoxicated under the influence of Moon shine. Whatever gave us the idea that space travel would become so routine that large numbers of us would some day great each other on Earth with the bold salutation: “See you in orbit!?”
Alan Ladwig recently retired as a political appointee of the Obama Administration serving in the Office of Communications as Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Outreach at NASA Headquarters. His office was responsible for the History Program, Speakers Bureau, Exhibits, Public Inquiries, Strategic Partnerships, Public Engagement, Guest Operations, and management of the Communications Coordinating Council.
Prior to returning to NASA Ladwig was the Manager of Space Systems for WBB Consulting and had been Sector Lead Executive for NASA business development at Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems. He served as Chief Operating Officer during the start-up phase of the Zero Gravity Corporation, a privately held space tourism and entertainment company. As Vice President of Washington Operations and Assistant to the Chairman of the Board, he established and managed the Space.com’s Washington Bureau and was responsible for business development, NASA relations, strategic planning, and authored stories for the web a regular opinion column, “Are We There Yet?” for Space Illustrated magazine.
Ladwig completed two previous tours at NASA. As a political appointee of the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1994 Ladwig established and managed the Office of Policy and Plans at NASA Headquarters. From 1981 to 1989 he was a civil servant at NASA Headquarters and managed a variety of programs for the Office of Education, the Office of Space Flight and the Office of Exploration. He managed both the Shuttle Student Involvement Program and the Spaceflight Participant Program.
NASA awarded Ladwig the Distinguished Service Medal, the Exceptional Achievement Medal, two Exceptional Service Medals, and the Outstanding Leadership Medal. He is a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society.
Date and Time
September 16 (Monday), 4:00-5:00 P.M.
Location, Parking, and Access
The presentation will be held at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 4:00-5:30 p.m. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Nathan Bridges, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Roger Launius, email@example.com, so your name can be put on a list for access to the 3rd floor of the Museum, where we will be meeting in the Director’s Conference Room. You may check in and obtain a badge for access to the building at the guard desk just to the right as you enter the Independence Ave. doors. If you have any questions regarding access, please contact Roger. Parking is not available in NASM, and is limited elsewhere; we recommend using the Metro system for travel to the National Air and Space Museum—the Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza stops are close by.