Human Space Flight in the Shuttle Era

A Unique Opportunity: Scientific Research and Human Space Flight in the Shuttle Era

April 14 & 15

For an entire generation around the world, thirty years of access to low-Earth orbit using the Space Shuttle orbiter and solid rocket boosters has created the almost iconic image of the winged ascending spacecraft lighting up the Florida sky. The once coveted pictures of Earth from two hundred miles up have become commonplace, as thousands of hours of video and still photography have been downloaded on millions of hard drives. Experiencing low gravity living has become a commercial marketing topic, and motion pictures special effects artists have mastered its simulation in action-packed, exciting sequences. Human space flight aboard the Space Shuttle is not, however, a very good spectator sport, as the real excitement and gratification are found in the doing. The context, perspective, and human experience of a singular research project enabled by Shuttle orbital flights will be discussed in this lecture. The value and impact of just one of many research endeavors will be discussed in detail, and in terms that will avoid superlatives often used in arguments about Human Space Flight.

Dr. Eugene Trinh, Manager, NASA Management Office at JPL

Downloadable version with captions Coming Soon.

Special Edition of the vK lectures

John F. Kennedy and Project Apollo

April 28

May 25 of this year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1961 speech to a joint session of Congress in which President John F. Kennedy, just four months in office, proposed sending Americans to the Moon "before this decade is out." This was the start of Project Apollo, which between 1969 and 1972 took twelve astronauts to the lunar surface. Three presidents since John Kennedy have proposed resuming human space travel beyond the immediate vicinity of Earth – George H.W. Bush in 1989, George W. Bush in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2010. The first two proposals literally went nowhere, and the fate of the third remains very uncertain. Noted space policy expert and author Dr. John M. Logsdon will examine how John Kennedy through his continuing involvement transformed his1961 proposal into the grand achievement that was Project Apollo. He will compare Kennedy's actions in implementing the decision to go to the Moon to those of his successors as they have proposed, without success, similar journeys of exploration. Based on Logsdon's recent research, the talk will highlight the little-known reality that racing the Soviet Union to the Moon was JFK's second choice. Kennedy, Logsdon will reveal, would have preferred to make outer space an arena for U.S.-Soviet cooperation, and at the end of his life proposed turning the lunar landing effort into a joint undertaking. The talk will conclude with an assessment of Project Apollo in terms both of how it served JFK's goals and influenced the long-range future of the American space effort, and whether there are any lessons that can be drawn from the Apollo experience relevant to today's space policy debates.

Dr. John M. Logsdon is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, where he was the founder and long-time director of GW's Space Policy Institute. Author of The Decision to Go to the Moon (1970), John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (2010) and the main article on "space exploration" for the Encyclopedia Britannica, and general editor of the seven-volume series Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program, he is a sought-after commentator on space issues who has appeared on all major broadcast and cable networks in addition to be frequently quoted in the print media. In 2008-2009 he held the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He has served on numerous advisory committees, including the NASA Advisory Council, and was a member of the 2003 Columbia Accident Investigation Board.