CFP: NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space Symposium

March 18-19, 2021, Huntsville, AL, USA

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center History Office and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) History Department are pleased to invite paper proposals for a two-day symposium in Huntsville, Alabama exploring the history of commercial space to the present day. Today, the commercial space industry is taking on an increased leadership role and position of innovator in both space access and exploration. This growth of commercial space over the past decades offers the potential for a new paradigm for space exploration—one in which industry transitions from supplier to partner. Still, many questions remain. These questions span from the most seemingly consequential “How will humanity explore the Moon and Mars?” to the most basic, “What is Commercial Space?”

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Call for papers

To develop further the historical context of commercial space—and thereby better inform decision-making at NASA going forward—the organizers of this symposium invite proposals on a broad range of topics related to the history of commercial space operations, including but not limited to:

Contextualizing “Commercial Space”: How has the concept of “commercial space” evolved in different fields and disciplines? Submissions can address topics of interest in fields of policy, law, environment, political science, economics, or organizational studies.

  • Evolution of United States and international commercial space policy
  • Pre-NASA conceptions of commercial space activities
  • Environmental impacts of commercial space
  • Social history of commercial space
  • Historical impact of innovative technologies

Exploring the History of Non-Government Activities: What have been the major events and milestones in the emergence and evolution of commercial space activities in the U.S., and international?

  • Commercial space in United States and international law/property rights/space mining
  • Commercial analogs for space exploration and exploitation
  • Development of commercial efforts in space tourism, colonization, and exploration
  • Commercial activities in low Earth/geosynchronous orbit
  • Public perception of space tourism (Suborbital vs. orbital, lunar, Mars)
  • Advance of the philosophy, economics, and politics of commercial space

Examining Relevant Government Activities Past and Present: How has the U.S. Government assisted or impeded the emergence and evolution of the commercial space activities?

  • Origins of programs such as Commercial Crew
  • Comparison of commercial space industry to Apollo/Shuttle procurement models
  • Comparative experiences in commercialization from governmental and private industries
  • Applicable experiences of national security and civil space programs
  • Development of public-private partnerships at NASA

The format of the symposium will be a combination of panel discussions, keynote talks, and group discussion. The intended outcome is a deeper understanding of the relationship between NASA and commercial space as well as an improved definition of commercial space. As part of this goal, each presenter must also propose a definition of “commercial space” and develop that definition as it relates to their chosen topic. The intention is to publish an anthology of selected papers.

As part of the effort to offer insight to broad constituencies, the organizers envision a range of products emerging from this symposium. The possibility of on-line blogs and other means of communication are being considered. So is a fully referenced edited collection of essays on the origins and development of commercial space activities. Participants are invited to make their presentations available in written form for dissemination.

Submission Procedures:

If you wish to present a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 400 words and a short biography or curriculum vita, including affiliation by November 1, 2020 to Dr. Brian C. Odom at or Dr. Stephen P. Waring at

Decisions about acceptance will be made by December 1, 2020.

For more information contact Brian Odom at

Deadline: November 1, 2020

Posted: April 25, 2020