Space Pioneering - Dreams, Math, and Steel on the Existential Boundary Winter 2023

Class Details

Over the Earth’s five and a half billion year history, only within the last century have its evolved conscious inhabitants acquired the tentative means to travel across the Solar System. At the same moment, in the estimate of Oxford scientist – philosopher Toby Ord The Precipice, the total probability of existential catastrophe, including the risk of cometary impacts, climate change, pandemics, and nuclear war over the next one hundred years is as large as 1 in 6. Spacefaring commerce, already honed to astronomical observation, global communication, navigation, and weather-climate monitoring, could serve as a primary defense against life extinction. This course will consider the prospects for a spacefaring civilization, with an elementary, but physics-driven exposition of astronautics, celestial mechanics, lunar resources, space manufacturing, global warming mitigation, and the human settlement of Mars and other space environments – including the eventual possibility of interstellar flight. Students will be invited to apply quantitative reasoning to their critical exploration of global trends in resource consumption and human opportunities toward an open future, as potentially enabled by space technology, commerce, and culture. Elementary mathematical exposition and applications will emphasize conceptual/analog thinking, relying upon “back-of-the-envelope” scaling methods and graphical interpretation. Course grades will be primarily based on class attendance and individual projects. Although brief quantitative papers will be encouraged, students may choose to make an artistic, philosophical, or socially discursive response with their project. Class lectures of 6 to 8 hours per week will constitute the core instructional material, along with small group tutorials and student presentations of up to 3 hours per week. Weekly outside-of-class work including reading, research, or other creative activity can be expected to take approximately 10 hours
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 30
Expected: NA
Class#: 1055
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Short paper and final project or presentation
Prerequisites: Although previous enrollment in physics, mathematics, or other science courses will be helpful, any Williams College student should be eligible to benefit from this Winter Study offering.
Enrollment Preferences: Should enrollment be over-subscribed, preference will be given to members of the junior/senior class, and with a view to balancing a mix of both science/math majors and non-majors.
Unit Notes: Michael Allison worked for many years as a Space Scientist at the NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, also serving on several planetary flight projects, including the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn and Juno at Jupiter.
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses
SLFX Winter Study Self-Expression
STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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