St. Louis Space Frontier

In the early 1980s the cold war was in full swing and Reagan’s Star Wars program added some complications. Some space advocates saw it as an opportunity to develop the technology needed for large scale space development. Others saw it as counter to the peaceful exploration of space. The Carter and Reagan administrations decimation of the planetary exploration program resulted in no NASA launches beyond Earth orbit from 1978 (ISEE-3) until 1989 (Magellan). So there were a lot of dynamics going on - the new Shuttle program, a lack of planetary missions, Star Wars, a thriving Soviet space station effort, controversy over funding for the Space Station, and the emergence of grass roots groups expecting to build space colonies within the decade.

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SLSF exhibit at the 1985 VP Fair

With Spaceweek as a focus project, the local chapter of the L-5 Society was up and running by 1982 as the St. Louis Space Frontier. A high school science teacher (Tom Becker) got on board and we started doing a lot of work with K-12 students, teachers, including a lot of talks to kids. In addition to Spaceweek, we had a speakers bureau and I gave about one talk each month for a couple years in the late 1980s. By 1987 the national planners for the SDC were asking the St. Louis chapter to plan the educational track for that conference. By this time I had developed a “Satellite Design Class” that could be adapted for presentations from grade 4 through adults. I still use an updated version of this presentation in 2012. We promoted the “MIr Watch” program to observe the Soviet space station during its twilight overhead passes (where’s ours?). Meanwhile Bill Proxmire was trying to kill the Space Station.

Somehow the company got wind of my enthusiasm for space. After my wife and I attended the first Space Shuttle launch on our own, the company sent me as a guest to the STS-5 launch. I think they had slots for such guests since this was the first McDonnell upper stage (PAM-D) on the shuttle. I was written up in the company newsletter in 1990 (below). We started an employee club for space enthusiasts. We had exhibits at festivals like Earth Day and the VP Fair (July 4th celebration at the Arch). What great times!

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McDonnell Douglas newsletter article

I did TV and radio interviews, networked with local science museums, attended several International Space Development Conferences (and got McDonnell to pay for them). In 1988 I was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Space Society. By the next year, SLSF had 89 members, 56 of which were NSS members. In 1990 we did a space education workshop for teachers which was very successful. This included Young Astronauts, Parks College, Gifted Resource Council, Civil Air Patrol, etc. We (“we” being the local Spaceweek committee and the SLSF) were recognized for our work by receiving the L-5 Society’s outreach award in 1988 (below) and the St. Louis AIAA section awarded me the “Civic Award” in 1990 (?) for my outreach activities.

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But by the early 1990s the SLSF leadership was getting frustrated and burned out. The Science Center had their own agenda and was not always enthusiastic about hosting our Spaceweek activities. The SLSF club was involved in a lot of other events (NSS symposiums, mall exhibits, etc.), but it was never clear that we were really accomplishing anything. The battle in Congress for space station funding seemed never-ending and frustrating. One of our leaders described the general public as:

  • Unmotivated (they support space, but not strongly)
    • Uneducated (a few know a little, but not much)
    • Uninterested (who cares?)
It became tough to keep this up.