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


Second Stage: Living and Working in Space
Saturday, November 19, 2011

  • Matthew Hersch, University of Pennsylvania
  • Amy Foster, University of Central Florida
  • Pablo de Leon, University of North Dakota
  • Moderator: Cathleen Lewis, National Air and Space Museum

What are the various technical challenges of supporting human beings in space? This panel addressed the physical and psychological rigors of space travel and the innovations that make this endeavor possible. Panelists discussed the life-support technologies built into spacecraft and space suits; food, sanitation and hygiene; and the inter-personal dynamics of living and working in an extreme environment.

Matthew Hersch, University of PennsylvaniaMatthew Hersch, University of Pennsylvania

"The pursuit of space travel," Matthew Hersch argues, "was less a quest for height than one for speed—astonishing, unprecedented, unparalleled speed—a thirty-fold increase in the fastest speeds humans had experienced up to that time. It was only by achieving these speeds that spacecraft would attain orbit: traveling fast enough to coast around the curvature of Earth without additional propulsion."

Building up enough speed to get into space is important, but controlling speed is critical to coming back home to Earth safely. "Spacecraft in Earth orbit must reduce their speed from 18,000 miles per hour to zero in a matter of minutes, while steadily descending through the atmosphere. Contact with the air heats these craft to temperatures of thousands of degrees, melting spacecraft not designed to survive such conditions." Hersch explains how "cracking the technology of speed, both of the acceleration necessary for orbital injection and the deceleration required for de-orbit and safe return to Earth, was the foremost technical problem of the Space Age."

Matthew Hersch is a space historian and a lecturer in history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Watch the video of Hersch's complete talk »
Listen to a podcast interview with Matthew Hersch »

Amy Foster, University of Central FloridaAmy Foster, University of Central Florida

Space travel poses unique challenges for humans. Amy Foster talks about eating, sleeping, privacy, and answering "the call of nature" for male and female astronauts. In space, everything floats--crumbs, liquids, people sleeping, etc. How do we keep astronauts happy and healthy in space?

Amy Foster is an associate professor of history at the University of Central Florida and an authority on the experiences of women in the American astronaut corps.

Watch the video of Foster's complete talk »

Pablo de Leon, University of North DakotaPablo de Leon, University of North Dakota

Pablo de Leon thinks of spacesuits as miniature spacecraft, providing astronauts with everything they need to live and work in space. In fact, some early designs literally were small spacecraft with manipulatable arms. But the development of spacesuits didn't begin with the space race. De Leon traces their origin back to Jules Verne in the 19th century. What kind of spacesuits will astronauts exploring the surface of the moon or Mars need?

Pablo de Leon is a research associate in the Department of Space Studies and director of the Space Suit Laboratory at the University of North Dakota.

Watch the video of de Leon's complete talk »

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