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National Educational radio in cooperation with the Institute on man and science presents a series of talks drawn from the institute's annual conference held recently in Rensselaer Vale New York. The Institute on man and science is a nonprofit educational institution chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. The annual assembly of the institute is designed to focus attention on 20th century technology and human relationships resulting from its application. The speaker on this program is Curtis Hemenway director of the Dudley observatory who will discuss the subject probing space. Here now is Mr. Hemenway. I want to attempt to convince you I haven't already. The Space Science is very important to our future. And my approach to this will be to talk about a wide range of diverse topics in part
giving some reasons why I think it's important impart showing some of the results which have come out of space science which are already in my estimation of great importance to you as citizens. Now one of the great concerns in the space program is the anomalous amount of money which is being spent. And it is an enormous amount of money there are literally billions of dollars that have been spent a total roughly thus far through the NASA's budget in the order of 30 billion dollars and that's an enormous sum of money. And I think as citizens everyone has a right to question and be very concerned as to whether or not this money is being spent in a manner that's worthwhile to the society in which we live. I call your attention to the money thing in part because if you look at the expenditures over the years
you'll find that the expenditures are tapering off particularly the money for the development of new rocket systems and there is then as a result of this a constraint which will appear in the space program of the future for example if you taper off the money spending that you're spending. What happens is. That you with a long lead time for the rocket development the rocket the payload costs and so on. It means that you prone very sharply the effort that you can make in space in the future several years from the time that you make cuts now. We are in the position where the space budget has been cut from an annual budget in the order of 5 to 6 million dollars down to 5. For a million dollars and this year it looks like it's going down to something even perhaps less than three million three billion dollars excuse me. This has serious ramifications as to whether or not you really are going to
continue a space program because you may wash it out because you don't have the money to do the actual work that should be done. Well let me then. Talk about several other things. One do we have an arsenal of vehicles which can actually carry us forth in space and do the tasks that we need to do. How is it on the development side. And I think the answer here is very clearly that there is a wide range of vehicles which have the performance characteristics that we need to explore space effectively. We have the capability of putting man in space. Looks like we're on the verge of putting man on the moon. And I think from the viewpoint of the the immediate development we're in fair shape and from the viewpoint of the procurement of an AH of an already existing capability I think there we're not in such good shape in the space program may be curtailed somewhat drastically in the near future. The next
thing I should like to address myself to and it's an important facet of this whole question. What is our success rate in space. I mean are we having just one series of failures after another. If you take yourself back in time and look at the vanguard program which was our first effort to put a satellite in space remember it was a series of one disaster after another. And in fact. Vanguard was in an all too appropriate name because we ended up in a poor second to the Russian efforts to put a satellite in space. Well in 1966 you'll notice that there were a very high proportion of successes only one failure out of the major launches which actually took place in nineteen sixty seven. The rocket is comparable but not quite as good in 1067. There were three phases of vehicles some of them experimental and
perhaps not so serious. I think when you consider the fact then that when you deal with space science with rocket work that you're having your instruments and your men sit on top of a century a controlled explosion. The success rate is truly phenomenal and you can take great pride in the accomplishments of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They have been able to carry out such a fundamentally dangerous task with such a remarkable record of success and had a poor beginning. But the level of competence now is really in my estimation extraordinary. Well all right so I think we can say that at present the. Reason to believe that we can do the things that we need to do in space operationally. Well what other things that have been done and what are the gap overseas are there some things to be accomplished. And there are many things that are to be
done. We are in a very competitive race with the other great powers of the world. In some cases we have been ahead in some cases they have been ahead for example recently the Soviets made a soft landing on Venus and they essentially solve the physics of the Venus atmosphere and despite some of the questioning of the American groups why their results seem to have stood up very well to the international criticism so they have a very important first. They've made the first landing on another planet. They made the first effort to go to the backside of the moon although their pictures were not as high resolution as some of ours in the lunar orbiter. The range of Ceres they did first however crude it might have been. When one does the first one doesn't always do things as well as when one has more time to do them better and think a little bit more.
Well one question might be asked is who guides the space program is this something that there are a lot of people down in the night. National Aeronautics and Space Administration they're all by themselves and they just make these decisions. No it really isn't that way at all or the space program has a wide range of guidance on the part of the best brainpower that our country can bring forth. The head for example of the astronomy Missions Board is Dr Leo Goldberg president he's the director of the Harvard College Observatory. And there's a wide range of university and National Science Foundation and so on representation in the in the guidance of say for example this one aspect of it when it comes to more detailed problems for example in the field of astronomy there are subcommittees to handle. Different ranges in the astronomy subcommittee is is chaired by the chief of the astronomy division of of the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration. But their guidance does come from a broad range of organizations and it's not just something it's inbred and tied up and within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration itself. Now let's address this next a little bit to the questions of well what is it that one can do in space we've talked a little bit about this but let's sort of summarize it for a moment because the summary may be important in placing in proper evaluation in the potential importance of space research. One thing one can clearly say is that astronomy will be revolutionized by the space program. I might quote to you the words of the president of the Soviet Academy of Science whose plasma high energy physicists I believe
so he has no axe to grind in the field of astronomy. This is an academician Kaldis. And what he says quote of great importance for astronomy will be the launching of optical telescopes beyond the atmosphere. As a physicist talking about a field it's not is all and yet he understands fully the importance of it. If I were to quote one of our own people I'd pick an astronomer Dr. Lyman Spitz who is the director of the Princeton observatory and chairman of the astronomy department there. His words are if I can paraphrase and that the placing of astronomy astronomical objects in space is a revolution of comparable importance to the initial invention of the telescope. Well I don't think many of you would question the importance of the telescope and the enlargement of the horizons the visions into standing of man and the universe in which he has lived. But his line and spits his view.
What we're involved in. Well what can you do with telescopes in space. I would remind you that telescopes in space can observe in wavelengths which are not accessible from the ground you can see things in other manners and as you are able to view things in different ways you can develop a better understanding of what's going on. For example you can look at the various objects in the sky in the ultraviolet regions. Which you cannot accessible from the ground say from this developed new understanding of the astronomical objects. You can look at. Objects let's put it this way with the space program we've discovered that the environment of the earth is a far more complex one than we'd ever anticipated the earth exists. In a magnetic field this magnetic field consists of sort of a bottle which
has trapped in the vicinity of the earth the radiation belts which fortunately if you hurry through them aren't going to be a hazard. Well out they're going to be a hazard but not a hazard which forbids space travel by man. But it's a serious thing. We have we've learned that the earth is Bayes continuously in the solar wind that the sun is so hot that it blows off the surface of its atmosphere and we can think of the earth as being sort of a projectile with the solar wind blowing by it at extraordinarily high speeds well we know something about the nature of the solar wind. But there's a lot more to be learned about it and since the sun is the principal source of energy it behooves us for very practical reasons to come to understand it as well as we possibly can. As I say we know a great deal about the solar wind but there is
a great deal more to be learned. Well there are very great reasons why. Space Science is important and other feels strong to me. It seems to be possible to basically revolutionize meteorology by space science techniques yesterday I showed you some movies which show the power of the ATF 3 and he has one satellites in looking at the whole earth in a meteorological sense. It may be possible to devise In fact I think it will be possible to devise techniques with computers reducing data such that one can make reliable forecasts over a much greater span of time than have been possible in the past when the poor meteorologist was confined to looking at just a few data points and guessing what the weather was going to be. This is literally the position he's been in.
But it looks like now that computer programming and the practicing of the computer programming using the wonderful data that's available from the ATF and other satellites number satellites will essentially revolutionize meteorology. I would say that I'd like to quote a report of the National Academy of Science which estimated that if we could. Predict weather reliably over a two week span that the savings to us alone in this country would be in the order of two and a half billion dollars a year and that's getting to be a number which alone is almost approaching the space budget as it now stands. Well is it a space science important only to meteorology. I would say no it has great importance in geology. If you look in the past man is wonder about the earth. In the early days Newton discovered the flattening of the earth. In fact even before that we back in Grecian times the it was known that the U.S. was a sphere
or nearly a sphere. Well one of the remarkable things is that in the space program we've discovered measured the flattening not only more accurately but it's turned out that the earth is sort of a wrinkle prone if you want to describe it it has all kinds of gravitational anomalies. And you say Well Sol WATT Well if you're faced with a problem and defense business of knowing where things are and if you are in a desperate position and have to fire missiles to protect yourself or whatever else you better know where the object is that you're firing and it turns out with this fire you get where your target is while it turns with the space program you can locate points on the nearest surface far better than you can by any of the techniques because you can make observations on the satellite from various points and you can. Find tied the US together make nations of the earth which are possible and yet the way this says even important is in the space program itself because as you know more and more about the gravitational field of the
earth you can then make better computer programs to predict where the missiles and satellites and whatnot rockets will go. And this saves you money because you don't have to make so many corrections in the operation. The field of space science has I think enormous importance in the field of communications. It looks to me as though that we will have a situation where we can tie the world together in a communication way which wouldn't be possible by cable techniques or any of the techniques that are now known. I think that the political importance of tying the world together by TV perhaps in the future will have a circumstance whereby we listen to the Russian television programmes and they listen to ours. The human understanding which can develop from.
The bringing together of the world in this manner it may be of enormous importance and may be of far greater importance than the space budget multiplied many times fold. For you must realize that the world that you live in is dominated by military expenditures and if you can develop the human understanding it crossed across the borders which we have. You could pay for the entire space program and half the defense spending for one year. So I think this is not a point to be ignored. It's already clear that there are great commercial importances to the. Communication industries they find it cheaper to do that telephoning across the oceans by satellites than they do by cables and cables are terribly expensive to put down. It's expensive to maintain and to have ships that continuously lift them up and service them and so on. But a satellite for three three four million dollars which is a small expenditure compared with the
cost of an in a continental oceanic cable can be just replaced if one fails you shoot up another one. It's cheaper. Well I think space science has importance also in the fields of biology although the fields are not of the importance of it is not yet so visible to us but I don't think we should be afraid of this. I think you have to recognize that the true importance of something comes out oftentimes many years later. And sometimes when you wish to study something the best thing you can do is to stand aside and look at it in a different way. At the moment people are doing experiments in space biology and they're finding out what the influence of the gravitational field for example is if you put microorganisms or things in space you can culture them and you can see what happens when you attempt to grow them in the absence of a field of gravity in the weightless condition.
And some plants do some peculiar things and we may develop new understanding of the very complex biological systems just by having another view of them in a different environment and whether or not this will be directly important to you I can't say I can't say that quite a bit of money has been pumped into this and it's likely that in my estimation that someday although it's not visible now there will be a considerable amount of importance to you in a practical way. There are also age old questions which is tantalized man for example is there life on other planets I think these these these very questions which intrigue the curiosity of man may possibly be answered by the space program in their automated systems whereby one can hopefully explore the question by sending probes making soft landings on planets sterilizing them so that you don't hopefully
disturb the ecology of the planet that you are visiting and let the machines take some material in put nutrients there making the best guesses you can about the nutrients that might be important for the planet and seeing what happens and it may be that by telemetry you can insist on questions such as well is there other crude lifeforms on Mars or in the upper atmosphere of Venus as the temperature and the physical conditions such that life can exist here it looks like in Venus you don't have much chance on the. On the surface of Venus it's far too hot. Well there is a considerable amount of importance I think in the field of geology for space science. It turns out that as you can get above the earth that you can see things in an integrated fashion that you couldn't see looking at them
point to point on the ground. For example it may be possible by space science techniques to. Localize and predict when eruptions and volcanoes are going to occur. This may not have importance to us here on the East Coast. But if you lived on Hawaii you might be concerned about this or if you lived in Iceland you might be concerned about this. Some other parts of the world where this is important and the way you could do it is to just make continuous maps in the infrared and generally before such eruptions occur. There are hot spots that develop which are difficult to detect if you're sitting there you don't really notice the change but these senses Up above you in the sky can readily detect such changes and give you some warning that something violent is likely to happen. It may even be possible. And I'm not a geologist to examine the probabilities of earthquakes occurring too well. I think that.
This is all I want to say about the some of the things that I think are exciting and important in the space program. What are some of the arguments pro and con for our spending this sum of money I think that it gives you some feeling for the scientific importance. Well we might ask the question how do we stand with the space race. This is another argument that you and I would say that I think that the president and the Americans and the Russians are sort of neck and neck if anything I think we're a little ahead. But. It's a curious situation I think technologically we're able to do more than the Russians are able to do. However from the viewpoint of the theoretical understanding I think the Russians are a little bit ahead of us.
In fact there are some Russians whose abilities in theoretical astrophysics are just extraordinary I think of the Slav ski and I'd like to just read to you a list of the things that this man has predicted which of come to be true. He predicted the existence of quasars you've read in many of your popular magazines these mysterious high energy sources in the sky they were predicted by a Russian before they were discovered they were discovered in America. In fact this is the unusual feature of this thing. Almost all the predictions of slaw Skee have been made in America of the experimental confirmation predictions but the predictions were made in the Soviet Union. Something here that I think we have to be concerned about whether their educational system is able to select and bring into the utilization of the scientific program that they have a
larger fraction of their talent than ours maybe they have something in their testing program where they dig into the qualifications of this students and make sure that anyone who has ability is given the full education that he can he can take to contribute to this society. We have some very bright minds but we haven't gotten anybody in our country that I know of that's made this kind of a brilliant record in the theoretical side. So I think the we're the race is neck and neck and it will be an extremely exciting few years. In the future I just hope that we can keep our space program going. I think the importance of it to our So far outweighs its cost. This is the age old argument of course that it's important for man to do this because it's there I mean this is the same argument I guess that the people who climb mountains use well. Is that a useful argument or isn't it.
Well I'd like to turn it around a little bit to say that to me the important thing is that when man goes beyond his immediate needs and develops new knowledge inevitably this leads to things of great practical importance. And so I think the thing that's gotten this out of the trees as human beings has been the fact that we have learned to use tools we've gone beyond the things that we really need. If you go back to the time that well perhaps when the telephone was being invented and Alexander Graham Bell was this long haired wild man who had these dreams and when you were a citizen at the time what might have been the things that you would have said well yes it's an interesting technological development but the man has gotten along for years without the telephone and. We can probably survive without it. It really is Wolf. Why would men want to talk to each other anyway I mean there are all kinds of you know derision that you could have
given to it or if you look at the early development of the automobile in which we depend so much the common cry of the time was well get a horse when the automobile was in trouble beside the road and the firemen would laugh at you as he drove by with his old reliable Dobbin and so on. And yet look at what has happened in the case of the automobile we've become critically dependent now. I think this argument because it's there is an important one because when one goes beyond his immediate needs. Remarkable things happen. There's a there's a strong historical lesson here in this direction. I think you can say the following that if you look back in history that one man has devised new techniques of transportation of communication he has assumed great power by doing this. And I think you look back at the history of the Roman Empire and you find that. Well they were able to build roads which tied together a large segment of the route of the world and their ability then
to communicate to move from one part of the as the existing world at that time to another played a key role in their ability to essentially dominate the world at that time. We go on a little bit later and we find England learning how to navigate and what happened then. This little island country assumed importance through out the world which is still being felt. Their ability to travel to navigate to go from one place to another made England a first rate world power and the British Empire spanned the entire globe for a period. Now they're in trouble. Well in my view we're entering on a new age and the stakes are pretty high. The ability of man to explore and be in space has enormous importance. And my own view would be that the society which Masters and conquer space is going to be the society which dominates the world of the future our
The Institute on Man and Science
Probing Space
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Institute on Man and Science
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3566. This prog.: Probing Space. Curtis Hemenway, director, Dudley Observatory
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Chicago: “The Institute on Man and Science; Probing Space,” 1969-03-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
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APA: The Institute on Man and Science; Probing Space. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from