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Why are we stuck in low-Earth orbit? ASU events explore future role of humans in space

October 15, 2012

If space is the final frontier, then why are we so tentative about exploring it and moving away from Earth? Space exploration comes with huge risks and a high price tag, but if we ever wanted to leave a truly lasting legacy, then humans will eventually need to have a permanent presence beyond our home planet.

Two events on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus will take a penetrating look at the future of space exploration and ask why progress has been so slow since Neil Armstrong landed on the moon 43 years ago.

The first event, fittingly, will be given by an astronaut who has logged more than 75 million miles in space. At 7:30 p.m., Oct. 25, Neeb Hall, Australian-born Andrew Thomas will deliver the 2012 Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Lecture, an annual event organized by ASU’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science to celebrate the life and work of Arizona-based Gene Shoemaker, a pioneer of cosmic impacts who also helped train the Apollo astronauts. Titled “Human space flight: Why aren’t we boldly going?” the lecture will set out Thomas’s personal take on how America can re-invigorate the manned space program.

“Andy Thomas is the quintessential astronaut – calm, professional, inspiring and a brilliant speaker,” said Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center. “I am thrilled we have managed to get him for the prestigious Shoemaker Lecture.”

On Friday, an all-day symposium, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Oct. 26, Marston Theater, ISTB4 building, will provide an in-depth analysis of how the dream of human space exploration can be re-kindled. Featuring an all-star line-up of space travel stakeholders, including the noted science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, the symposium is co-sponsored by the Beyond Center, the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) and the new Center for Science and the Imagination.

Imagination will be much in evidence, as the symposium will begin with near-term goals, such as space travel privatization, and end with a sweeping vision of how futuristic breakthrough technologies mean we can still dream of reaching for the stars.

“Fasten your seat belts for a wild ride,” said Davies, who is also a Regents' Professor in the Department of Physics in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Speakers include George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic, who will talk about privatizing space travel; SESE director Kip Hodges, aerospace engineer and author Robert Zubrin of Mars Now, as well as astronaut Andrew Thomas and ASU faculty members Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss and Sam Lawrence. This fascinating day of science, speculation and space will be launched by TV personality Hugh Downs.

Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, please go to, or call 480-965-3240.