The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration

New Perspectives on
Invention and Innovation

Moving Beyond Earth:
Innovations in Space

November 18-19, 2011
at the National Air and Space Museum


First Stage: Getting Off the Planet
Saturday, November 19, 2011

  • Michael Neufeld, Division of Space History, National Air and Space Museum
  • John Logsdon, professor emeritus, Department of Political Science and International Affairs, and founding director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
  • Lawrence Williams, vice president, Strategic Relations, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX)
  • Moderator: Joyce Bedi, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, the National Museum of American History

First and foremost, how do we overcome the Earth’s gravity? This panel addressed the topic of space access and examined the historical and cutting-edge innovations that are essential for leaving the planet and entering space. Speakers discussed the history of rockets and their limitations; government and commercial launch systems; and the various policy alternatives for pursuing a future, long-term presence in space.

Michael Neufeld, National Air and Space Museum

Michael NeufeldIn his overview of the history of human spaceflight, Michael Neufeld chronicled our collective space travel fantasies from Lucian of Samos to Cyrano de Bergerac and beyond, highlighting the work of such early visionaries as Ganswindt, Tsiolkovskii, Esnault-Pelterie, and Robert Goddard. Ballistic missiles, however, proved to be the foundation for space access, while the Space Shuttle, sometimes called "the DC-3 of space," functioned for decades as our main access to low-earth orbit. Today, private corporations and private-government collaboration are issuing in a new era of suborbital tourism and promises of a replacement for the Shuttle. Still, launch costs remain a drag on space travel development and chemical rocket technology may be nearing its limits. What's next?

Michael Neufeld is a curator in the Division of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum and a leading authority on the history of rocketry.

Watch the video of Neufeld's complete talk»

John LogsdonJohn Logsdon, George Washington University

John Logsdon opened his presentation with a provocative question: Did landing on the moon require inventions, or just many innovations? He pointed out that NASA's 1961 report “A Plan for a Manned Lunar Landing” asserted, “The present state of knowledge is such that no invention or breakthrough is believed to be required to insure the over-all feasibility of safe manned lunar flight.” Similarly, the basic design principles for Apollo systems, as reported in Astronautics & Aeronautics (March 1970, p. 46), were to "use established technology” and, “hardware design precluded," to avoid "as much as possible, the necessity to develop new components or techniques.” Logsdon concluded that landing men on the Moon may not have required an “invention or breakthrough,” but it clearly spawned multiple innovations, including upsized rocket and propulsion technology; innovative launch operations; rendezvous techniques; computer hardware and software; and applied system management techniques.

John Logsdon is professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science and International Affairs and the founding director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Watch the video of Logsdon's complete talk »

Lawrence Williams, SpaceXLawrence Williams, SpaceX

SpaceX's goal is to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of access to space by a factor of 10. What are the main factors that affect the cost of doing that? According to Lawrence Williams, they are overhead of the organization, operations, propulsion, structure, and avionics. But, he argues, you need to attack all five factors in coordination with each other.

Lawrence Williams is the Vice President of Strategic Relations at Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX).

Watch the video of Williams's complete talk »

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