Our Future in Space: Billionaires, Rockets and Gravity

University of Arizona

Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona whose research has been supported by $20 million in NASA and National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. The recipient of eleven teaching awards, he is a past Vice President of the American Astronomical Society, as well as a winner of their career Education Prize. He’s also been NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar, Carnegie Council’s Arizona Professor of the Year, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. Professor Impey is the author of two textbooks, a novel called Shadow World, and nine popular science books, including Beyond: Our Future in Space.



The early successes of the Space Age were driven by a fierce superpower rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States, which obscured the fact that exploration and risk-taking is built into human DNA. Half a century after we last set foot on the Moon, space travel is finally leaving the doldrums. A vibrant private sector, led by SpaceX and Blue Origin, plans to launch supplies cheaply into Earth’s orbit and give anyone a joy ride into space. Three billionaires are competing to be kings of the new space frontier. Materials are being developed that could lead to space elevators and transform the economics of space travel. Fighting gravity will always be difficult, but engineers are rethinking rockets and developing new propulsion technologies. Permanent bases on the Moon and Mars are now within reach, and a new space race with China is brewing. Medical advances might allow us to one day reach for the stars. In this talk, astronomy professor Chris Impey will review the history of the space program, give a snapshot of the current situation, and lay out the likely trajectory of the future of space travel. It’s time to envision our future off-Earth.


Recommended Reading:

The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility, by Robert Zubrin

Beyond: Our Future in Space, by Chris Impey

Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX, by Eric Berger


Discussion Questions:

  1. Will space travel ever be for the masses, or will it only be for the rich and the elite?
  2. How long will it take, and what will have to happen, for people to be able to travel to the stars?
  3. How important have superpower rivalries been in propelling the history of space exploration?
  4. Do humans have a future off-Earth, or are we better off focusing on the home planet?




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Maftin Grant

Very interesting and well delivered.

2 years ago
David Schwarz

Very insightful. Easy to listen to this professor. Thank you.

2 years ago
Jane Touchet

Very Interesting! Thanks!

2 years ago
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