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
/ FALL 2023
Mexico in Orbit: Modernity, Nationality and Satellite Fetishism
Anne W. Johnson (Universidad Iberoamericana)
Wednesday, 13 September 2023
The launch of Morelos, the first Mexican telecommunications satellite system in 1985, linked to the flight of the country’s first astronaut, sparked a wave of popular interest in outer space and space technology as an indicator of Mexican modernity, but this enthusiasm waned when the space sector seemed to stagnate. The creation of the Mexican Space Agency in 2010 amid a global space boom has inspired a new generation of space enthusiasts. At the same time, many older engineers express nostalgia for the “Coca-Cola can satellites“ like Morelos, which allowed for human intervention in their operations, unlike today’s “black box“ satellites. The talk traces the history of satellites in Mexico as fetishized infrastructural assemblages that condense global contradictions, national pride and individual subjectivities.
Woman/Astronaut: Sally Ride, Work and Gender in Space
Michèle Matetschk (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Thursday, 5 October 2023
Starting in the 1960s, with the rise of women’s rights and civil rights movements, women slowly entered professional fields to which they had previously been denied access. Space, both as a field of research and a workplace, was no exception. When NASA selected the first six US-American female astronauts, they faced a variety of attitudes. This talk explores how Sally Ride (1951–2012), the first female US-American spacefarer, dealt with the perceived contradiction between being female and being an astronaut in narrative situations. By separating her work into a public and a professional sphere and locating the problem within the public sphere, she emphasized that women’s abilities were not the problem, but rather society’s outdated perceptions. Thus, Ride represented a professional image of astronauts that operated, unlike before, without the notion of gender.
Politics, Personalities and Space Programs: The Case of Japan
Brian Harvey (FBIS)
Wednesday, 8 November 2023
How influential are politics and political leadership in shaping a space program? Japan launched its first satellite fifty years ago (1970). What was originally an independent endeavor for space science using small, indigenous, solid-fuel rockets evolved into successful wide-spectrum program but recently altered course to focus on defense and security. This talk examines the role of the key personalities who shaped the program (Hideo Itokawa, Hideo Shima) and the political leaders who guided its direction (Shigeru Yoshida, Eisaku Sato, Yasuhiro Nakasone, Takeo Kawamura and Shinzo Abe) and the role of changing political sentiment. In Japan, the natural dynamic of the program in space exploration and applications was much affected by its personalities and politics.
The LDEF: How a Returned Satellite Changed the Perception of Near-Earth Space
Luca Thanei (ETH Zürich)
Wednesday, 29 November 2023
On 20 January 1990, NASA’s Space Shuttle returned the so-called Long-Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) to Earth. The LDEF was a large cylindrical satellite holding 57 experiments, all of which were aimed at studying various environmental conditions in near-Earth space. When the LDEF was returned, it was welcomed as a long-awaited treasure trove of valuable data. However, NASA scientists quickly realized that the returned satellite was also riddled with unexpected impacts of tiny anthropogenic objects. Starting from these unexpected impacts, this talk will investigate what the impacts indicated to the NASA scientists, how they related to the consolidating research of space debris, and how they eventually changed the perception of near-Earth space as a distinct environment.
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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