Saturday, January 9, 2010

Biographical note

I was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in Sydney. I learned to fly in a Tiger Moth during National Service with the RAAF, while I was an undergraduate in physics at Sydney University. After graduating, I spent 15 months during the International Geophysical Year studying the aurora australis in Antarctica. The observations required spending most of the winter living in a packing crate at a remote two-man camp, a stint that eventually earned me the British Polar Medal.

After returning to Australia, I moved to Boston, MA, where I gained a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics and a doctorate in physics and instrumentation, both at MIT. I was then selected by NASA as one of the second intake of scientist astronauts (and the first foreign-born astronaut); my principal advantages over many other candidates were that I had some flying experience and had lived under quite stressful conditions in Antarctica. In those days, astronaut training, even for scientists, included jet pilot training with the USAF; the photo is a self-portrait I took one day while flying a NASA T-38.

My most important jobs with NASA were serving as Mission Scientist for Apollo 14 and as a member of the Space Station Study Group, working on modifications to the second Skylab workshop so that it could become a permanent space station. I left the program to work in the space industry when Skylab II was canceled, partly because I had hoped to fly an experiment in general relativity in that Skylab that a group at MIT were building for me, and partly because I was convinced that the decision to build the shuttle was a major mistake.

Since then, my principal research interests have included energy and environmental policy, laser propulsion, the Solar Power Satellite, lunar transportation systems, and economical launch vehicles. In the early ‘Eighties, I was President of the L5 Society (now the National Space Society); the most notable achievement on my watch was the campaign run by Leigh Ratiner that blocked US ratification of the iniquitous Moon Treaty. I was also a founding member of the Citizens’ Advisory Council on National Space Policy, which prepared position papers for several US Presidents and was partly responsible for President Reagan’s decision to develop ballistic missile defenses (which led to the collapse of the USSR).

In 1989, I led a private expedition named Polar High from Cape Town to Enderby Land, Antarctica, in the ice-strengthened ocean going tugboat Wilhaditurm.  Our objective was to investigate some issues related to mineral resources before the moratorium on prospecting took effect.

My interest in US history and the American conception of constitutional government was energized in 1970, when Encyclopedia Britannica presented to each astronaut a copy of the newly published Annals of America, a fascinating encyclopedic collection in 20 volumes of the original documents, with commentary, concerning major issues in the life of this country. More recently, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, published by the Heritage Foundation in 2005, has provided an invaluable line-by-line analysis of the Constitution, with historical details of controversies and of Supreme Court decisions.

I am now spending most of my time writing. I have completed a novel, Strike on the Ice, an adventure drawing on my trips to Antarctica, which I hope to publish this year, and I am working on two non-fiction books. The first is an autobiographical memoir, tentatively entitled A Life in Space, that is intended to be light reading but has some serious things to say about opportunities in space, why NASA has achieved so little in human spaceflight in the last forty years, and what we need to do to fix it. The second, with the working title The Future, by Design, is an argument that the traditional environmentalist agenda aimed at limiting economic growth, including the flap about global warming, is woefully misguided a because it will perpetuate poverty and the resulting population growth in dysfunctional nations will end up doing more environmental damage than if we did nothing. In particular, keeping energy cheap is both a humanitarian and environmental imperative.

Google me (Philip K. Chapman) for more detail.

1 comment:

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- Henry