NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space

NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space: A Symposium to Examine the Meaning(s) and Context(s) of Commercial Space


Wednesday – March 17, 2021 – Friday, March 19, 2021

Final Session: March 25, 2021

From activities in low-Earth orbit to the Artemis program, the commercial space industry is beginning to take on an increased role as innovator in both space access, commerce, 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 transitioned from supplier to partner. Still, many questions remain spanning from the most seemingly consequential “How will humanity explore the Moon and Mars?” to the more basic, “What is Commercial Space?” This virtually hosted symposium will explore this transformation and examine the historical context for answering these questions. Our hope is that this historical analysis will inform the relationship between government and industry moving forward.




Dr. Brian C. Odom, Acting NASA Chief Historian (chair)
Dr. Stephen P. Waring, University of Alabama Huntsville (co-chair)
Dr. Ken Davidian, Director of Research FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
Dr. Rick Sturdevant, Deputy Director of History at Space Operations Command, US Space Force
Stephen J. Garber , NASA HQ History Office

Call for Papers



Wednesday – March 17, 2021
2:00pm – 3:15pm ET

2:00pm – 2:10pm
Introduction to Symposium Format and Schedule
Brian Odom, Acting NASA Chief Historian


2:10pm – 3:10pm       
Keynote: Early Days of SpaceX
Eric Berger, Ars Technica


Eric Berger is the senior space editor at Ars Technica, covering everything from astronomy to private space to wonky NASA policy, and author of the book Liftoff, about the rise of SpaceX. Eric has an astronomy degree from the University of Texas and a master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri. He previously worked at the Houston Chronicle for 17 years, where the paper was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 for his coverage of Hurricane Ike. A certified meteorologist, Eric founded Space City Weather and lives in Houston.



3:10pm – 3:15pm
Closing Remarks



Thursday – March 18, 2021
10:30am – 3:30pm ET


10:30am – 10:35am

Brian Odom, Acting NASA Chief Historian


10:35am – 10:55am
Keynote: Ken Davidian, Director of Research FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
What is Commercial Space?




Ken Davidian has worked for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in Washington, DC since 2008 and is currently the AST Director of Research and Program Manager for the FAA Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. Dr. Davidian currently serves as a member of the Ohio State University Aerospace Engineering External Advisory Board, Associate Editor of the New Space Journal, Chair of the IAF Entrepreneurial & Investment Committee, and Vice Chair of the IAF Space Economy Committee.



11am – 12:30am
First Session: Contextualizing Commercial Space

Moderator, S. Pete Worden, Chairman Breakthrough Prize Foundation


Rick Sturdevant, Deputy Director of History at Space Operations Command, US Space Force
The Evolution of Commercial Space and Its Integration with US Military Space


Roger Launius, Launius Historical Services
Historical Analogies in Lunar Commercialization


Wendy Whitman-Cobb, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS)
Organizing for Success: The Lessons of Early Commercial Air for Commercial Space

Deganit Paikowsky, International Relations-Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Dual-Use Nature of Space Technology from a Considerable Threat to an Opportunity

12:30pm – 2:00pm
Lunch Break

2:00pm – 3:30pm
Second Session: Legal and Entrepreneurial Frameworks

Moderator: Diane HowardChief Counsel for Space Commerce at US Department of Commerce





PJ Blount, Research Fellow, University of Luxembourg
The Fragmentation of American Commercial Space Law: Historical Development and Current Issues of US Space Regulation

Steven Freeland, Emeritus Professor of International Law, Western Sydney University
International Law in a Commercial Space ‘World’: Historical Lessons and Future Development

Raja Roy, Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Saikat Chaudhuri, Haas School of Business and College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley
Entrepreneurial Firms and the Transformation of Lunar and Martian Spaces to Commercial Ones


Matthew Hersch, Associate Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University
Pathfinder to Profit: Lessons from the Space Shuttle Era


Closing Remarks
Brian Odom, Acting NASA Chief Historian



Friday – March 19, 2021
10:30am – 3:30pm ET



10:30am – 10:35am
Brian Odom, Acting NASA Chief Historian



10:35am – 10:55am
Keynote: Alexander MacDonald, NASA Chief Economist

Alexander MacDonald is the Chief Economist at NASA. He was previously the Senior Economic Advisor in the Office of the Administrator and was the founding program executive of NASA’s Emerging Space Office within the Office of the Chief Technologist. He is the author and editor of several NASA reports including Emerging Space: The Evolving Landscape of 21st Century American Spaceflight, Public-Private Partnerships for Space Capability Development, and Economic Development of Low-Earth Orbit.

11:00am – 12:30am
First Session: The Birth of Commercial Space: Beyond Apollo to the Shuttle Era
Moderator: Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University

John Logsdon, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
Commercialization during the Reagan Administration






Jonathan Coopersmith, Department of History, Texas A&M University

“What were we thinking? Space commercialization, 1981-2002


Linda Billings, National Institute of Aerospace
Commercial Space in the ‘80s: A (Former) Journalist’s View

Brian Jirout, Georgia Institute of Technology
The Politics of Commercialization and the Near Collapse of American Civil Remote Sensing, 1978-1998




12:30pm – 2:00pm
Lunch Break



March 19, 2021 – 2:00pm – 3:45pm ET
Second Session: Current Status, New Trajectories
Moderator: Chris Davenport, Washington Post



Amy Kaminski, NASA STMD, Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing and Jennifer Gustetic, NASA, Director of Early Stage Innovations and Partnerships
Re-imagining “Commercial Space”: The Role of Private Sector Actors in Industries Far and Wide

James Anderson, NASA Ames Research Center Historian
The Lunar Prospector Mission


Temidayo Oniosun, Managing Director, Space in Africa
The Rise of Commercial Space Activities in Africa

LK Kubendran, NASA Lead Commercial Space Technology Partnerships
NASA STMD Approach to Commercializing Space

Matthew Shindell, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
Space for Commercial Spaceflight/Questioning the Future in a History Museum

Closing Remarks

Brian Odom, Acting NASA Chief Historian




Follow-up Session
Thursday – March 25, 2021 1-3:30pm ET