This I Know: Space

American asks four wonks to weigh in on a single topic

Illustra­tion by
Traci Daberko

cyber space, head space, space law, urban space

Chun-Hsi Huang, CAS professor

As a big Star Trek fan, there’s no phrase more familiar to me than, “Space: the final frontier.” 
Growing up, I fantasized about navigating the universe in a spaceship, learning about the boundless nature of space, and strategizing how to overcome new obstacles. 
Professionally trained as a computer scientist, I now work in a cyberspace enabled by modern digital technology. Exploration is part of my daily routine and, in a sense, I have realized my fantasy voyage. Each moment in cyberspace is one of discovery: I encounter new questions, receive help, make friends, meet hostile people, get attacked, assess impacts, and strategically map out plans. 

For the Star Trek travelers, space seemed like the last unknown entity to investigate. Few people will ever travel in a spaceship, but most have trekked through cyberspace. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, probably didn’t anticipate the impacts of digital technology on modern society that allow us at any time to go on a cyber version of the Star Trek voyage.

Huang teaches computer science and is director of the National Science Foundation’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program.

Nealey Stapleton, CAS/BA ’05

We need space to live, feel, think, breathe, and grow. It’s important for our mental, emotional, and physical health. And decluttering is a proven stress-reducer. 

As a professional organizer, I help people better utilize their spaces. When clients call me, it’s because they feel a space isn’t working. Over the years, clutter has found its way into all of the nooks and crannies of their living space and they’re feeling overwhelmed. They are filling the space instead of using it.

One of my clients recently needed help organizing her kids’ playroom. We went through all their toys, sorting them onto shelves and transforming the room into a beautiful and functional play space. We also left a couple of shelves empty. My client knows her children will make more Lego masterpieces that need to be displayed and that more toys will find their way into the room. 

Using space efficiently doesn’t mean filling it up. It means leaving room for growth.

Stapleton is a professional organizer and owner of On Track Organizing in Washington, DC.

Pamela Meredith, WCL adjunct professor

In 1967, a group of nations reached a consensus on key principles governing their activities in space. Today, the Outer Space Treaty has more than 100 parties. Its most important principle: Space is free for use but cannot be appropriated. The treaty has been the legal foundation for awe-inspiring civil space missions, the thriving modern commercial space industry, and both valuable and worrisome military space activities. 

Technological advances have led to larger, more powerful commercial satellites. They have also sparked a trend toward smaller, faster, and cheaper yet capable satellites, leading to the global democratization of space. The civil sector, however, has yet to match the spectacular achievement of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. On the military side, nations will continue to push boundaries, checked only by the Outer Space Treaty’s unambiguous ban on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and a nebulous restriction on non-peaceful activities on celestial bodies.

Treaty notwithstanding, legal challenges abound in the space domain, inspiring space law practitioners like me and offering opportunities for new lawyers.

Meredith teaches space law and is chair of the space law practice at KMA Zuckert LLC.

Thomas Hamed, SPA/BA ’11

I have never been to Worth County, Georgia, but we share a special relationship. Over dozens of hours in graduate school in 2015, I manipulated two Landsat images—from 1993 and 2007—to determine the county’s land use changes. My instructors insisted that I code the changes pixel by pixel. Rotating images so they projected the same was grueling, as was ensuring that each pixel aligned. 

But there was a point to my suffering. Worth County is large and rural, and this work used to take thousands of hours. My efforts took a few days, and most practitioners can do it in less than one. 

Today, as a manager of a commuter program in Northern Virginia, I still appreciate how hard good data is to produce and manipulate. I also know how much trust is invested in me to do it responsibly.

Technological advances have given us instant access to more data than ever before. How we use that data—and how we relate to space—is entirely on us. 

Hamed is an urban planner and the transportation demand management coordinator for the City of Alexandria, Virginia.