Wasted Space: The History of Orbiting Junk

Fellow in Focus
Thursday, December 5, 2019
6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

The Fall 2019 Fellow in Focus Lecture will be presented by Lisa Ruth Rand, our 2019–2021 Haas Fellow.


Space Debris

Computer-generated image of objects in Earth’s orbit that are currently being tracked by NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office.

What is “space junk”? Why should anyone care about waste circling far overhead and out of sight, in a place devoid of land, air, water, and life as we know it?

In this talk Lisa Ruth Rand will illuminate the history of human endeavors to understand, shape, and manage the nearest reaches of outer space. Topics will range from the empty core of the rocket that launched Sputnik 1 in 1957 to recent public and private efforts to remove unwanted debris from orbit. Rand will also discuss the globalizing role of space junk during the Cold War and its relevance to a current space policy debate about how best to address a looming orbital debris crisis.

Event Schedule

  • 6:00 p.m.
  • 7:00 p.m.

About the Speaker


Lisa Ruth Rand headshot

Science History Institute/Jay Muhlin

Lisa Ruth Rand is a historian of science, technology, and the environment, with a primary interest in discarded and decaying things. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Science History Institute, she will continue her research on the history of space junk, tracing the Cold War transformation of Earth orbit from a boundless expanse to a limited natural resource.

Rand earned her PhD in history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania. Before arriving at the Institute she held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Center for the Humanities and served as a program coordinator and postdoctoral fellow in residence at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. She has also held positions at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the RAND Corporation.

About the Series

The Rohm and Haas Fellow in Focus Lecture series gives the Institute’s scholars an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience interested in history, science, and culture. Fellow in Focus lectures are presented by the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.