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Science and the New Space Race: Opportunities and Obstacles

Thursday, January 10, 2013
8:00-9:30 pm
Beckman Auditorium
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91125

No registration is required for this free panel. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis.

From the first radio signal received from Sputnik as it orbited the earth to stunning panoramic images the Curiosity rover has sent back from Mars, NASA and other space agencies worldwide have accomplished Herculean feats of engineering, science, and exploration. These accomplishments - often the result of collaboration between space agencies from different countries - have been celebrated for over half a century, but a paradigm shift is underway.  While industry contractors have long been an integral part of the US space program, the desires of some of these companies to lead the charge in advancing the commercialization and exploration of space is a dramatic change from the tradition of national space programs. Private corporations have ambitious agendas for orbital payload delivery, astronaut transport, space tourism, and even interplanetary travel and asteroid mining.  While the US’s Space Shuttle program has been retired, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft has successfully docked with the International Space Station; Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for flights in SpaceShipTwo and has unveiled LauncherOne, its small satellite launch system; and the share of space technologies developed and built in the private sphere continues to increase as both old and new companies ramp up their space efforts.  Furthermore, space agencies around the world, including NASA, are increasing their reliance on these services to reduce the costs and risks of their activities in space.

These changes have the potential to dramatically reshape how space technologies are developed, how space science is performed, and how the human frontier is expanded.  At 8:00 PM on January 10, 2013, a panel of leaders will discuss many of the implications of this shift at a public panel, Science and the New Space Race: Opportunities and Obstacles.  This event is free and open to the public, and will be held at the Beckman Auditorium on Caltech’s campus.  It is hosted by Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies and the Caltech Y Social Activism Speaker Series.

This discussion is especially timely.  The Obama Administration is currently drafting a budget that will continue the transfer of launch system development responsibilities to industry.  Calls for NASA to tighten its belt and skepticism of the value of government investment in its mission continue to grow, paired with a conspicuous lack of consensus on what exactly that mission is.  Panel moderator Dr. Fiona Harrison, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Caltech, will be joined by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, NASA Associate Administrator for Science and former space shuttle astronaut John Grunsfeld, Virgin Galactic Executive VP and Chief Technology Officer Steve Isakowitz, as well as Professor Paul Wennberg, an atmospheric scientist from Caltech, and Professor John Logsdon, a space policy expert from George Washington University.

For more information on this free public event visit the website at:

Erik Schomburg is a graduate student at Caltech and the student organizer of the Public Panel event.


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