Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Why Go to the Moon?

A forum held at the Adler Planetarium on July 19, 2019, and continued online here.

On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. Fifty years later, five nations have sent spacecraft to the Moon and private enterprises are increasingly engaging with its exploration. The advancement of space science, the allure of profiting on lunar resources, and ideas for a permanent human presence on the Moon are raising attention. They also generate controversy and pose challenging questions. Why go to the Moon? Should we go back? Who benefits and who pays for going to the Moon?

Join us for a conversation with space historian Roger Launius and historian of colonialism Margaret Huettl and share your questions and thoughts as to the past and future of lunar exploration.

Questions or comments about this event or others like it? Let us know.




Margaret Huettl University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Margaret Huettl is Assistant Professor of History and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a scholar of Native American history and North American Wests, and her research examines Indigenous sovereignty and settler colonialism in a transnational context. Her current project, “Ojibwe Peoplehood in the North American West, 1854-1954,” explores Ojibwe or Anishinaabe sovereignty in the United States and Canada during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, centering her research on Anishinaabe ways of knowing. Her research and teaching interests focus on Indigenous histories in North America, with a special interest in ethnohistorical methods and public history.

Roger Launius Launius Historical Services

Roger Launius is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Academy of Astronautics, American Astronautical Society, and Royal Aeronautical Society, as well as associate fellow of AIAA. He previously served as Associate Director for Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and as Chief Historian at NASA. His recent books include Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce (2014) and Space Shuttle Legacy: How We Did It and What We Learned (2013). He regularly provides expert guest commentary on aerospace issues in electronic, print, and broadcast media.

Space Colonization
Stephen Pyne

Arizona State University

Stephen Pyne is an emeritus professor at Arizona State University, and the author of Voyager: Exploration, Space, and the Third Great Age of Discovery, and the forthcoming The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned About a Wider World.

From its onset the space age has conflated three themes - exploration, science, and colonization.  But two big divides run through them all.  One is between the inhabitable parts of Earth and the uninhabitable places exploration is taking us; the other, between humans and robots. 

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Colonialism in a Void?
Lisa Ruth Rand

Science History Institute

Lisa Ruth Rand is a historian of science, technology, and the environment, with a primary interest in discarded and decaying things. Rand earned her PhD in history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania.

The summer of 2019 saw the 50th anniversary of what President John F. Kennedy predicted would be the “most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” Collective commemoration celebrated high technological triumph that launched humans to another celestial body. Those who were alive in July 1969 shared memories of where they were when Neil Armstrong took one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind, and the current American presidential administration pledged to return Americans to the Moon by the end of a presumptive second term.

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Insights from the Collections

The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about the history of space exploration.

Our cross-institutional search tool allows researchers to investigate materials across multiple institutions from a single interface. With more than 4.4 million catalog records of rare books and manuscripts, the Consortium's search hub offers scholars and the public the ability to identify and locate relevant materials.

Search the Consortium search hub.

Some archival materials related to this topic include:

Apollo 15 moon rock, Adler Planetarium
David P. Marcus Collection of Apollo 11 Memorabilia, Adler Planetarium
Baruch S. Blumberg Papers, American Philosophical Society
Apollo 11 Mission Commentary, American Philosophical Society
Water on the moon, correspondence 1965, Caltech Archives
Gerald J. Wasserburg Papers, Caltech Archives
Geologic map of Apollo Landing Site 2 (Apollo 11), Linda Hall Library
The space program in the post-Apollo period, Rockefeller Archive Center
Oral history interview with Joshua Lederberg, Science History Institute
Apollo program functional area technical briefs, Smithsonian Institution
Apollo 11 special, Compendium of editorial comments and cartoons, Smithsonian Institution

Related publications from our speakers:

Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce
Smithsonian Atlas of Space Exploration, by Roger D. Launius and Andrew K. Johnston; HarperCollins, 2009. 
Exploring the Solar System: The History and Science of Planetary Exploration, edited by Roger D. Launius; Palgrave, 2013. 
Becoming Interplanetary: Mars on Earth (video)
Sovereignty under Water: Teaching Sovereignty in the Midst of Loss

See also recent work from our fellows:

The Space Race and American Public Diplomacy, Teasel Muir-Harmony
Space Junk: An Environmental History of Waste in Orbit, Lisa Ruth Rand