Here is the full text of Alex MacDonald’s talk titled “The Narrative Origins of Spaceflight” at TEDxAuckland conference.
In this talk, Dr. Alexander MacDonald, describes the history of spaceflight stories, how they inspired and influenced the development of space launch vehicles, and how the stories we tell as a society shape our collective future.
Dr. MacDonald is the senior economic advisor at NASA and the founding program executive for NASA’s Emerging Space Program. With the rising interest in commercial and private space exploration, Alex bridges the knowledge gap and provides the economic expertise.
I want to tell you a story about stories. And I want to tell you this story because I think we need to remember that sometimes the stories we tell each other are more than just tales or entertainment or narratives. They’re also vehicles for sowing inspiration and ideas across our societies and across time.
The story I’m about to tell you is about how one of the most advanced technological achievements of the modern era has its roots in stories, and how some of the most important transformations yet to come might also.
The story begins over 300 years ago, when Galileo Galilei first learned of the recent Dutch invention that took two pieces of shaped glass and put them in a long tube and thereby extended human sight farther than ever before. When Galileo turned his new telescope to the heavens and to the Moon in particular, he discovered something incredible.
These are pages from Galileo’s book “Sidereus Nuncius,” published in 1610. And in them, he revealed to the world what he had discovered. And what he discovered was that the Moon was not just a celestial object wandering across the night sky, but rather, it was a world, a world with high, sunlit mountains and dark “mare,” the Latin word for seas.
And once this new world and the Moon had been discovered, people immediately began to think about how to travel there. And just as importantly, they began to write stories about how that might happen and what those voyages might be like.
One of the first people to do so was actually the Bishop of Hereford, a man named Francis Godwin. Godwin wrote a story about a Spanish explorer, Domingo Gonsales, who ended up marooned on the island of St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic, and there, in an effort to get home, developed a machine, an invention, to harness the power of the local wild geese to allow him to fly — and eventually to embark on a voyage to the Moon.