Dr. Erik Conway

March 22, 2017  |  180-101, 10:30-11:30 am

About Dr. Erik Conway

Erik Conway is the JPL historian. His duties include research and writing, conducting oral histories, and contributing to the lab’s historical collections. Erik received his PhD from the University of Minnesota, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy for four years before graduate school. He has also worked as a contract historian at Langley Research Center. Conway enjoys studying the historical interaction between national politics, scientific research, and technological change. He is a prolific writer of books, research articles, essays, and blogs. One of his recent popular and highly cited publications is as co-author with Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.

In this talk, I’ll illuminate the historical roots of Earth science in NASA. Many people labor under the illusion that NASA has always had an Earth science program, but when the agency was formed out of the old National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics and a couple of Army laboratories like JPL, the agency charter did not include a mandate for Earth sciences. Instead, NASA formed an Office of Applications, whose function was to produce space observation technologies that would be useful for other federal scientific agencies. Despite  Congressional popularity, the Applications program was terminated by the Reagan administration and replaced with what became the Earth Observing System and its support for fundamental scientific research.