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Inaugurated in the spring of 2021, NYU Space Talks is a lecture series convened by Alexander C. T. Geppert at NYU's Center for European and Mediterranean Studies and NYU Shanghai with the Department of History in New York City. Each semester, established and upcoming scholars present the latest research on the history and politics of outer space, extraterrestrial life and astroculture, both in Europe and around the globe.


All NYU Space Talks are held on Zoom. Everybody is welcome but advance registration is required.



History, Politics, Astroculture

/ SPRING 2024

Interplanetary Contamination: Insights from Apollo for Asteroids, Artemis and Mars
Jonathan B. Wiener (Duke University)
Wednesday, 21 February 2024
10–11:30 EST
Location: Online
Space exploration raises the risk of interplanetary contamination, both forward and backward, and questions about regulatory design and implementation of 'planetary protection' policies. In 1967, the Outer Space Treaty called on its parties to 'avoid… harmful contamination and… adverse changes' (Article IX). This issue is urgent again today, with ongoing missions to visit and return from asteroids, the Moon, Mars and beyond. The history of the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s, NASA’s quarantine measures and contemporary activities all offer insights and challenges for risk regulation of potential interplanetary contamination. These include persistent inadequacies in our risk perceptions and planetary protection policies; lack of institutional coordination across regulatory agencies; lack of international cooperation regimes across governments; lack of regulation of private space missions; and disregard for the extraterrestrial other.
Words in Orbit: A Linguistic Inquiry into Outer Space
Kajsa Törmä (Umeå universitet)
Wednesday, 13 March 2024
10–11:30 EDT
Location: Online
Outer space, with its vast scale, distinct physical laws, and unique possibilities, challenges humanity to push not just our physical boundaries, but the boundaries of language as well. To make sense of the wealth of new innovations, ideas and possible actions that space affords, new modes of thinking and speaking are required. This talk explores how the language of outer space is influenced by three key factors: our imagination, the bodies we inhabit and the encyclopedic knowledge we possess. The data examined comes from large language corpora, primarily of American English. The expressions span from imaginative metaphors to everyday prepositions that are scrutinized through a cognitive lens on language.
SETI during the Cold War: The Prague Spring and an International Symposium that Wasn’t
Gabriela Radulescu (Technische Universität Berlin)
Wednesday, 10 April 2024
10–11:30 EDT
Location: Online
In the early 1960s, the nascent scientific field known today as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) was gaining momentum. The willingness of historical actors to communicate across the Iron Curtain peaked with the actions taken to hold an international symposium in Prague. The talk examines how Czechoslovakian aeronautics engineer Rudolf Pešek (1905–1989) represented a driving force from mid-1965 onwards: Pešek coined the term CETI (Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligences), lobbied the authorities in his country, initiated a wide chain of correspondence and got the International Academy of Astronautics on board. All of these efforts were cut abruptly by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. The talk shows how SETI was, despite many challenges, established as a legitimate international scientific pursuit – and a corresponding international network set in place.
Cosmism: A Spiritual Reenchantment of Technological Modernity
Juliette Faure (Sciences Po/Université Paris II Panthéon-Assas)
Comment by Michael Hagemeister (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Wednesday, 8 May 2024
10–11:30 EDT
Location: Online
Defined by Soviet scholars in the 1970s, the philosophical label 'cosmism' brings together a group of authors at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Nikolai Fedorov (1829–1903), Vladimir Vernadsky (1853–1945), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) and Konstantin Tsiolkovskii (1857–1935). Cosmism links the intellectual heritage of these authors around a common idea — their eschatological conception of scientific progress, highlighting the ability of human activity to regulate the Earth system and orient the development of the universe in the service of a salvation project. This paper explores the Soviet genesis of cosmism to show how it was consolidated as a school of thought reinvested today by various ideological entrepreneurs — ranging from Russian conservatives to Western transhumanists — to deconstruct the science/religion dualism constitutive of Western modernity.


Professor Alexander C.T. Geppert

New York University

King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center

53 Washington Square South

New York, NY 10012


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