On a rainy afternoon, John Logsdon sits in his office on the fourth floor of the Elliott School of International Affairs building. His workspace is lightly decorated with models of the Space Shuttle and the Saturn V rocket that first took men to the moon and other pieces of space memorabilia.
If his office does not resemble any other on campus, it is because Logsdon is unlike any other professor on campus. As the director of GW’s Space Policy Institute, this expert on international space activities has studied and influenced some of America’s most important decisions in the field of space exploration over the past 30 years.
Logsdon first became involved in the field in graduate school, where he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on America’s decision to go to the moon. This paper was later published as one of Logsdon’s most well-recognized books.
“I got a good launching pad,” said Logsdon, adding that since his entry into the space policy arena, he has worked with every NASA administrator.
Logsdon began teaching at GW in 1970 and pushed for the 1987 founding of the Space Policy Institute. Over the course of his time teaching at the University, Logsdon has become recognized as one of the foremost experts in space policy.
“I was invited by European Commission and European Space Agency to keynote conferences on international space cooperation in February and April . And I’m about to go off to Japan for a conference,” said Logsdon, outlining some of his major appointments in the recent past and near future.
Logsdon is not shy of his accomplishments and said he loves to share his knowledge with the wealth of reporters and media professionals that seek his advice every week.
“I am gratified that the media comes to us when they want an outside opinion,” said Logsdon, who was most recently conducting interviews with Chinese journalists about their nation’s nascent manned space program. “I think I’ve brought good visibility to GW through the Space Policy Institute.”
“Professor Logsdon is one of the leading experts in the academic world on space policy issues. It is a great privilege to have such a
distinguished scholar as a colleague,” said Michael Brown, dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs, which is home to the Space Policy Institute, in an e-mail. “It gives the Elliott School and GW a high profile in this important area.”
Following the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia on reentry in January 2003, Logsdon was selected to be a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, which probed the main causes for the disaster. He said that the portion of the report that he co-authored was used as the basis for President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, a plan to phase out the Space Shuttle and put a man on the moon around 2020.
“Because of my contributions to the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, I feel a paternal relationship to Bush’s Vision . even though I was one of three people doing space policy for the Kerry/Edwards campaign,” he said.
Logsdon added that the new plan, which has been gaining momentum over the past few months, is essential to NASA’s human space flight initiative. “I think the only long-term rationale for putting people into space is for having people to go somewhere,” he said.
In addition to making a name for himself, Logsdon said he takes pride in the fact that he has helped several students rise to prominent positions in NASA and other parts of the space community.
“One of the heritages I’m most proud of is helping people who want to work in the space arena in the policy field, opposed to the sciences, achieve that goal,” he said. “I think 95 percent of students coming to GW to work in space-related fields end up leaving satisfied.”
Thor Hogan, who works as a space policy specialist for the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research institution, said if it were not for his former teacher, he would not have his job today.
“It was an honor to study under the direction of John Logsdon,” said Hogan, who teaches an undergraduate class in space policy formerly taught by Logsdon.
Jon Krezel, who is pursuing his Ph.D. at the Space Policy Institute, said he is grateful Logsdon took a chance on him by bringing in someone with no experience in the field.
“He has been, as far as generosity goes, one of the best professors I’ve ever had,” said Krezel, who works as a policy and program analyst for the Space Shuttle program at NASA. “He not only got me into the program . with his connections is more or less how I ended up (at NASA).”
While Logsdon is still busy teaching, writing an addition to his authoritative history of the United States’ space program, “Exploring the Unknown,” and creating an update on space exploration for Encyclopedia Britannica, he said he is looking to take it easy in the coming years.
“I’m currently planning, after 35 years, to retire in the not-too-distant future,” Logsdon said, adding that the University will need to decide if it wants to continue its commitment to the study of space policy.
He added, “It’s certainly almost a smug thing for me to say I have found something early on in my professional career that I love to do on a daily basis.”