Congressional Briefing on Spaceflight

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