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Cosmic Musings Lecture - Caltech and the Origin of Rocketry in Southern California
January 29th, 2018 to January 29th, 2017 7:30pm
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Cosmic Musings lecture series presented by United Airlines.



Come celebrate the 60th anniversary of Explorer 1! Griffith Observatory's Explorer 1 replica in the Wilder Hall of the Eye will be available for guests to visit before and after the presentation!

The California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is often known as a center of planetary exploration by the United States, but it was originally founded to develop rocket technology in the late 1930s. Far less well known is the reality that Caltech had a second rocket project operated by its Physics Department during World War II. That effort ultimately spun off what is now the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Center. It was the Physics Department project that developed the shore bombardment rockets used by the U.S. Navy during the Pacific War, and the U.S. Navy’s first air-launched rockets. In this talk Erik Conway, JPL Historian, will tell the story of these two rocket projects, and suggest why they took such very different paths.


LEFT TO RIGHT: Erik Conway, JPL Historian. | On February 1, 1958, an Explorer 1 duplicate is held high in mission success by William H. Pickering, JPL Director; James Van Allen, University of Iowa physicist; and Wernher von Braun, Project Director for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. | The Explorer 1 replica and exhibit at Griffith Observatory | One of the early rocket motor experiments in the Arroyo Seco - 1936. Image credit: JPL.


ERIK CONWAY is a historian of science and technology residing in Pasadena, CA and currently employed by the California Institute of Technology. He studies and documents the history of space exploration, and examines the intersections of space science, Earth science, and technological change. He has received the NASA History award for “pathbreaking contributions to space history ranging from aeronautics to Earth and space sciences,” and the AIAA History Manuscript Award for his fourth book, Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History.

Before his work at Caltech, Conway served in the U.S. Navy, initially as a nuclear field electronics technician and culminating as a commissioned Operations Planner for a Pacific Fleet Amphibious Squadron, participating in the 1994 US withdrawal in Somalia and the noncombatant evacuations in Rwanda. He’s a devout fan of influential American science writer Stephen J. Gould’s work on natural history and considers it Gould’s fault that he’s now a historian of science and technology.

His latest work is Exploration and Engineering: JPL and the Quest for Mars, published in 2015.


Come check out a replica of Explorer 1 at Griffith Observatory's Wilder Hall of the Eye
Griffith Observatory Director Dr. E.C Krupp completes the countdown for Explorer 1 in the “Observing in California” exhibit in the Wilder Hall of the Eye.


Check-in and the Café at the End of the Universe open at 6:00 p.m. The Observatory will be closed to the general public, and the only area/exhibits inside the building open to ticketed guests is in the immediate vicinity of the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater and the Wilder Hall of the Eye. The Stellar Emporium will be closed. The presentation begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater.



Reservations are required to access event parking and enter Griffith Observatory. In the case of sold-out shows, ticket sales will close. The event wait list may be joined by emailing, including the number of seats requested and a full name for the reservation. Wait list tickets are sold at the door, cash (exact change) only. Tickets not picked up by 7:40 p.m. will be made available to wait-listed guests. No refunds are available. All registration closes JANUARY 29, 4:00 p.m.

If your membership has lapsed or you would like to become a FOTO member, renew or join easily on-line at For event or membership questions, please send an email to Marc at or call 213.473.0879.

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