During the 1970s, college and university faculty reintensified efforts to teach and research the social science and humanities aspects of the space program, a development attributable in large part to the Space Shuttle. A 1978 survey of faculty suggested the need for a single volume that united introductory material on the various social science disciplines and the classroom experience of faculty already teaching in the field. In the absence of such a resource, individual instructors had to start from scratch‹organizing lecture notes, bibliographies, and research topics for their students, only to discover later that such tasks already had been undertaken by one or more professionals at other institution(s).

In response to this need, NASA issued a contract to Georgetown University to produce such a book, focusing primarily on the Space Shuttle era (1980s and 1990s). From the outset, NASA and the authors understood that not all social science and humanities disciplines could be represented in the volume, because of both the lack of sufficient materials in some fields and the strict page limitation on the book itself.

This project relied heavily on the efforts of a large number of people beyond the editors and contributors. We want to make special note of support and direction from the late Dr. Frederick B. Tuttle, a leading NASA authority on aerospace education, who enthusiastically promoted the project and supplied insights crucial to the volume's development. The editors are especially indebted to the NASA program officers monitoring the project‹William Nixon, Jesco von Puttkamer, and Gregory Vogt‹for their constructive criticisms and continued support. We also would like to gratefully acknowledge the administrative and production assistance provided by: David Hannah, Jr.; the department of biology at Georgetown University; Nancy Walsh; and Karen Dewey, Cheryl Newson, and Nancy Switkes.

T. Stephen Cheston
Principal Investigator
January 1983


The relationship between technology and society is a subject of continuing public interest, in large part because technological change and its effects constantly confront and challenge the various sectors and members of society. For example, progress in automation and robotics can render whole categories of employment obsolete in sectors such as the automotive industry; increases in air travel speeds can stimulate the formation of new service industries; advances in computer capabilities can revolutionize education, many professions, and personal tasks; continuing developments in electronic communication can restructure national and international business management and meeting practices and undercut U.S. Postal Service operations‹examples of technological change abound throughout society and the economy. Public interest in technological change is further documented by the strong popular response to books by authors such as Marshall McLuhan, Alvin Toffler, and Herman Kahn, who interpret the impact of technological change on society.

College students are especially concerned about technological change, knowing that they must cope with the pervasive and escalating effects of wide-ranging technological change. An individual's professional life spans approximately forty-four years, so a student graduating in the early 1980s will not retire until the late 2020s. Illustratively, in the forty-four years from 1938 to 1982, technological developments included the advent of jet air transportation, television, atomic weapons, and computers‹profound changes that affect everyone. Students interested in technological change over the next half century thus do not reflect simply youthful fascination with novelty, but also genuine pragmatic concern about personal and societal survival and advancement.

Concomitantly, social scientists have been intensifying their efforts to understand the relationship between technology and society. This complex and intriguing subject is replete with questions of value and points of controversy, such as: What is the precise definition of technology? To what extent does technology mold the fabric of society and vice versa? Is individual freedom enhanced or circumscribed by technological change? Does technological change promote or hinder the refinement and application of ethical values?

The Space Shuttle represents a particular type of technological change and is described in detail in Chapter One; at this point a thumbnail sketch is useful. As a technological artifact, the Shuttle is a recently-developed general purpose machine that constitutes the centerpiece of a system designed to provide bulk transportation services to low Earth orbit (roughly altitudes from 161 to 965 kilometers, or 100 to 600 miles). The Shuttle cannot fly to the Moon or the planets or even geosynchronous Earth orbit (an altitude of 35,881 kilometers, or 22,300 miles), but smaller machines that can be boosted to higher orbits or lunar or planetary missions can be transported to low Earth orbit by the Shuttle. Naturally, the Shuttle design accommodates the special environmental characteristics of space (hard vacuum, microgravity) and the Earth's atmosphere. The U.S. government conceived and financed the Shuttle, although the European Space Agency and Canada provided some of the developmental funds. The U.S. Congress continually subjected the Shuttle development project to intense scrutiny, as the social and political climate of the 1970s proved generally inauspicious for large-scale high-technology projects. The market for Shuttle services is a mix of private and government users in both the U.S. and foreign countries. For the most part, users will be institutions rather than individuals.

The social science study of space technology in general provides a perspective useful to a study of the Shuttle system. During the 1960s and 1970s a variety of books, articles, studies, and research projects addressed the relation of space technology to one or several aspects of society. By 1978 the volume of activity was sufficient to prompt NASA to commission an inventory and analysis of research on space technology produced by the social science and humanities disciplines (1).

A review of the historical development of this research demonstrated that the number of social science studies generally fluctuated with the volume of space activity and the level of public interest. During the 1960s social science research was stimulated by NASA, which responded both to the dictates of the 1958 Space Act that created the agency and to the concerns of officials who realized that the effects of space technology were rippling unevenly through society. A survey of NASA-sponsored social science grants and contracts from 1958 to 1968 found that NASA had spent about $35 million to "attempt to understand the socio-economic effects of its actions and programs" (2). NASA-sponsored research tended to concentrate on the effect of NASA activities on local economies: for example, the study of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and analyses of human factors related to manned missions (astronaut behavior, among other topics). NASA also encouraged more general research projects, such as those that resulted in the publication of "The Railroad and the Space Program: An Exploration in Historical Analogy and Social Indicators" (3). (The latter work is discussed below under Impact Analysis. )

Independent of NASA sponsorship, academic researchers investigated a variety of space policy topics, including public policy formulation processes, international political issues, and general historical studies (4). However, the dispersed nature of the works and their general submersion in established disciplines (e.g., political science and history) made it difficult to identify anything approaching a "space social science" discipline. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of professionals in the social sciences did not take space technology seriously, regarding it as a field apart and unrelated to the regular commerce of the disciplines.

This neglect by the social science and humanities academic communities widened with the radical decline of public support for space activities that occurred in late 1969 and 1970. The minimal academic attention to space studies that characterized this period was often more hostile and political than scholarly; for example, in 1969 the Association of American Geographers passed a resolution questioning the role of space in our national priorities (5). This period of academic quiescence lasted for the first half of the 1970s.

A modest upsurge in social science interest in space occurred around the middle of the decade. A precise reason for such interest is difficult to pinpoint but may have been attributable in part to increased public discussion on means of utilizing space to encourage economic and social growth. As the Space Shuttle development process matured, the system's capabilities became more familiar and real to the public. In addition, the public manifested considerable frustration over the potential and actual societal constraints imposed by so-called limits to growth. Although the theory and reality of limits to growth were hotly debated, many scholars acknowledged the serious risks inherent in economic and social systems that rely on the ultimately finite resources of one planet. This realization stimulated some scholars to think more audaciously, considering a wide range of solutions, including the exploration and use of space as a possible means of circumventing raw material, energy, agricultural, and pollution constraints.

Complementary to this rethinking, the scientific and engineering communities began to develop and evaluate concepts that called for the macro-utilization of space. Such concepts included a variety of plans for space industrialization and manufacturing, satellite solar power generation, and even space habitation. Of course, social scientists were not able to assess the technical feasibility of these plans‹for purposes of discussion, social scientists often assumed the fundamental credibility of the plans (in the long term if not the short term) as long as the professional technical community devoted serious and detailed discussion to them. Importantly, during this period the idea of permanent living facilities in space assumed a reality, in contrast to the previous relegation of the topic largely to the realm of science fiction. Technical and popular discussions about the long-term potential for space colonies and space settlements enthused many people, who frequently overestimated the technical feasibility and near-future possibilities of space habitats, despite constant admonitions from NASA and other members of the space technology community. Furthermore, the imagery of living permanently in space prompted many to relate space technology to the social sciences for the first time. This new relationship triggered the establishment of college courses, study programs, and even research centers specifically devoted to analyzing issues pertinent to living in space (6).

The spontaneous academic interest in space that emerged in the mid-1970s tended to focus on long-term issues, overlooking the impact of space technology on contemporary society and concentrating more on long-term possibilities and effects. Consequently, scholarship was often speculative and became closely interwoven with futurism. However, some researchers who initially approached the subject of space by analyzing its futuristic aspects subsequently began to address near-term questions.

The Space Shuttle era effectively began in 1982 with the Shuttle's first operational flight. The Shuttle flights and missions will provide increasing amounts of material and data for social science study. The hallmark of this stage of the U.S. space program is the rapid expansion of projects central to the economic utilization of space. This Shuttle era contrasts substantially with the Apollo era, which was almost totally exploratory (with the primary exception of communication satellites). As an activity, economic utilization links space to the more intrinsic interests of the social sciences and reduces the sense of separation between space and the social sciences that has isolated many professionals from space studies. Of course, this is not to say that there will be an avalanche of academic interest in near-term space issues, but rather that the groundwork is being laid to bring space studies more into the mainstream of the social science disciplines.

I. Organization of the Social Science Study of the Shuttle

A framework that can be applied to the general study of the Shuttle was identified by an intensive review of space-related social science literature conducted during the 1978 NASA study of the social sciences (7). The study clustered social science research related to space into three main categories: Impact Analysis, Orbital Human Factors, and Development Factors (8). Each is discussed briefly below.

A. Impact Analysis

Impact Analysis includes the range of comprehensive multidisciplinary studies that evaluate the effects of major space and technological projects on national and international societies (and on subsections of those societies). Impact Analysis takes a variety of forms and employs a number of different methodologies that all apply a breadth of social science knowledge to assess the full consequences of a particular technological change. More often than not, the aim of Impact Analysis is to assist policymakers who must decide whether or not to initiate or approve a technological change (and if so, in what form). Much of such analysis focuses on a comparison of technological options that address particular economic or social needs. Advanced forms of Impact Analysis examine the multifold reciprocal feedback relationships that even a modest technological change can generate.

Impact Analysis represented an intellectual invention of the late 1960s and early 1970s and evolved as part of the burgeoning academic study of technology in its social context (9). Coincidentally, MIT professor Raymond Bauer produced one of the first works to develop an Impact Analysis methodology, working under contract to NASA to examine the effects of space exploration on society. Discovering that existing methodologies could not adequately measure these effects, Bauer developed his own system of indices that became a principal methodology and teaching guide, published under the title "Social Indicators" (10).

Following Bauer's pioneering work, researchers refined two other approaches to Impact Analysis that deserve note. The first, Technology Assessment, is designed specifically for the public policy process and considers not only the cost and engineering feasibility of a new technology, but also the impact of the technology on: legal, political, and social institutions; the family; the environment; international relations; land use planning; and demographic patterns (11). The second Impact Analysis methodology, Social Impact Assessment, is designed as a flexible and adaptable tool for analyzing the direct and indirect effects of technological changes (12).

Some Impact Analysis studies focus on space-related technologies; such studies include Vary T. Coates' "Technological Assessment of a Space Station" and a nearly $20-million multivolume study conducted for the Department of Energy on satellite solar power system concepts (13). Periodically, studies have concentrated on the space program's economic impact; examples include Mary A. Holman's "Economic Impact of the Manned Space Program in the South" and Michael K. Evans' "The Economic Impact of NASA R&D Spending" (14).

B. Orbital Human Factors

Orbital Human Factors includes studies of human needs and behaviors during and after operations outside the Earth's biosphere. Such study is unique to space technologies, which expose humans to the special physical characteristics of space. For example, a key feature of space is the continuous risk of direct and lethal exposure to the vacuum of space; this characteristic requires that humans always operate within protective encapsulation, be it a tiny Mercury capsule, a space station, or a relatively large Moon base. To date, physical movement in space always has been limited, and group living conditions have been marked by both practical constraints and high population density relative to the available living space. Moreover, the omnipresent fear of potential physical danger resulting from a damaged space facility constitutes another feature intrinsic to the space environment.

Orbital Human Factors is discussed in the Psychology and Sociology segments of Chapter Two. Orbital Human Factors problems pose a particular challenge to these disciplines by requiring further advances in their powers to predict human behavior.

C. Development Factors

Development Factors includes studies of societal characteristics that stimulate and guide the creation of space technology. Development Factors is a two-tier category. The first tier addresses the cultural images, values, and interactions that affect attitudes toward space and space ventures. For example, such factors include science and exploration as a Western value and the relationship of space technology to images of power, economic achievement, and social growth. These factors are essentially inner impulses that prompt or facilitate decisions to devote resources to space technology. The second tier analyzes the particular mechanisms used to operationalize these impulses. Such mechanisms encompass the issues, processes, institutions, and their interactions that affect the direction of space activity. For instance, why does one nation concentrate at a particular time on unmanned planetary exploration and another on near-Earth manned space activity? Factors relevant to this question include public opinions, systems of public policy formulation, national defense implications of space projects, and methods for the economic institutionalization of space activity.

Studies of Development Factors almost always emerge without the stimulation of government financial support. They arise mainly from the academic community but also appear in other sectors. Examples of first-tier Development Factors studies include William Sims Bainbridge's "The Space Flight Revolution‹A Sociological Study" and George S. Robinson's "Living in Outer Space" (15). Examples of second-tier studies include John M. Logsdon's "The Space Shuttle Decision: Technology and Political Choice" and Michael Kinsley's "Outer Space and Inner Sanctums" (16).

II. Role, Structure, and Use of the Book

The book's role is to serve as a resource for the increasing number of college faculty and students who are or soon will be interested in the social science implications of space technology. The focus is on the Space Shuttle, because the vehicle will function as the principal tool for U.S. space activities during the 1980s and 1990s. The book is designed to provide introductory material on a variety of space social science topics to help faculty and students pursue teaching, learning, and research. The materials were gathered largely from college faculty members who have taught and/or researched the requirements and impacts of space technologies within a social science or humanities context. The intent here is to share the all-too-often narrowly accessible experience of social science professionals on issues such as: how instructors relate space technology to their respective disciplines; effective curriculum formats; and research topics of particular interest to students. The book is not comprehensive but rather addresses select aspects of relationships between the Space Shuttle and society. A comprehensive guide is currently infeasible because of two factors: many of the Shuttle's social effects will not manifest themselves for several years; and social science and humanities studies of space technology are still at a relatively rudimentary stage, and some disciplines are not yet adequately represented.

The book is divided into four sections. Chapter One outlines the characteristics and attributes of the Shuttle and the technologies scheduled for transport to orbit. This brief review offers as clear a view as possible of the precise nature of the seminal technologies, seeking to provide a kind of "technological stem" as a base of reference for social scientists and humanities faculty members and researchers. Chapter Two is divided into segments according to discipline, allowing faculty members to relate a specific discipline to space technology and to adapt space-related issues to the classroom teaching of a specific discipline. Chapter Three presents materials useful for teaching interdisciplinary courses and topics, including observations from college instructors who have offered interdisciplinary space-related courses and insights from faculty members who have analyzed space technologies in a debate format. The appendices include curricula materials and bibliographies that are perhaps most useful in actual curriculum development rather than the identification of teaching objective(s).


1. U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "A Study of the Potential Impacts of Space Utilization." Final Report NASW 3152, by the Space Utilization Team, Graduate School, Georgetown University, 1978.

2. Mary A. Holman. "The Political Economy of the Space Program." Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books, 1974.

3. Bruce Mazlish (ed). "The Railroad and the Space Program: An Exploration in Historical Analogy." Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965. Also: Raymond A. Bauer. "Social Indicators." Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966.

4. John M. Logsdon. "The Decision to Go to the Moon‹Project Apollo and the National Interest." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970; Don E. Kash. "The Politics of Space Cooperation." Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1967; Patrick Moore. "Space: The Story of Man's Greatest Feat of Exploration." New York: Natural History Press, 1969.

5. "Association of American Geographers Newsletter." Vol. 3, No. 8, October 1969 and Vol. 3, No. 10, December 1969.

6. For example, a course on "Space Colonization" at Stanford University. (1978 and 1979) and one on "The Colonization of Space" at the University of North Florida ( 1976-78). At Niagara University, the Center for the Study of Human Communities in Space was established (and has since been renamed the Space Settlements Studies Project).

7. See footnote 1.

8. In the original study, this third category was referred to as "General Space Social Science."

9. Information on Impact Assessment here is largely drawn from: T. Stephen Cheston. "Space Social Science: Suggested Paths to an Emerging Discipline." The Space Humanization Series. Vol. 1, 1979.

10. See footnote 3.

11. Joseph F. Coates. "Technological Assessment." Chemtech. June 1976.

12. Magoroh Maruyama, et. al. "Social Impact Assessment: An Overview." Corps of Engineers IWR paper 75, 1975, p. 7.

13. Vary T. Coates. "Technological Assessment of a Space Station." George Washington University Program in Science, Technology, and Public Policy, 1971. An overview of the results of the satellite solar power study is found in: U.S. Department of Energy. "Satellite Power Systems (SPS) Societal Assessment." DOE/ER 10041-T12, by PRC Energy Analysis Company.

14. Mary A. Holman. "Economic Impact of the Manned Space Programs in the South." Monthly Labor Review. 1968; Michael K. Evans. "The Economic Impact of NASA R&D Spending." NASW 2741, by Chase Econometric Associates, 1976.

15. William Sims Bainbridge. "The Space Flight-Revolution‹A Sociological Study." New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976; George S. Robinson. "Living in Outer Space." Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1975.

16. John M. Logsdon. "The Space Shuttle Decision: Technology and Political Choice." Journal of Contemporary Business. August 1978; Michael Kinsley. "Outer Space and Inner Sanctums." New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976.

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