Associate Director, Collections and Curatorial Affairs
Collection: Lunar and Planetary Spacecraft
Roger D. Launius is Associate Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Between 1990 and 2002 he served as chief historian of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A graduate of Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, he received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1982 and worked as a civilian historian with the United States Air Force until 1990. He has written or edited more than twenty books on aerospace history, including Exploring the Solar System: The History and Science of Planetary Probes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Coming Home: Reentry and Recovery from Space (NASA SP -2011-593, 2012), which received the AIAA’s history manuscript prize; Globalizing Polar Science: Reconsidering the International Polar and Geophysical Years (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Smithsonian Atlas of Space Exploration (HarperCollins, 2009); Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Societal Impact of Spaceflight (NASA SP-2007-4801, 2007); Critical Issues in the History of Spaceflight (NASA SP-2006-4702, 2006); Space: A Journey to Our Future (Tehabi Books, 2004); Space Stations: Base Camps to the Stars (Smithsonian Books, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009), which received the AIAA’s history manuscript prize; Flight: A Celebration of 100 Years in Art and Literature (Welcome Books, 2003); Taking Off: A Century of Manned Flight (American Institute for Aeronautics and Aastronautics, 2003); Reconsidering a Century of Flight (University of North Carolina Press, 2003); To Reach the High Frontier: A History of U.S. Launch Vehicles (University Press of Kentucky, 2002); Imagining Space: Achievements, Possibilities, Projections, 1950-2050 (Chronicle Books, 2001); Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (Harwood Academic, 2000); Innovation and the Development of Flight (Texas A&M University Press, 1999); NASA & the Exploration of Space (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1998); Frontiers of Space Exploration (Greenwood Press, 1998, rev. ed. 2004); Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership (University of Illinois Press, 1997); NASA: A History of the U.S. Civil Space Program (Krieger Publishing Co., 1994, rev. ed. 2001); and others.
He is also involved in other historical studies. His book, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet (University of Illinois Press, 1988), won the prestigious Evans Award for biography. He has also published Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History (University of Illinois Press, 1994), Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois (Utah State University Press, 1995), Kingdom on the Mississippi Revisited: Nauvoo in Mormon History (University of Illinois Press, 1996), and several others. Alexander William Doniphan: Portrait of a Missouri Moderate (University of Missouri Press, 1997), discusses the role of the vital center in American politics during the Mexican-American War and sectional conflict. More recently he has been studying the relationship of baseball to American culture and has published, Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Super Showman (Walker and Co., 2010), and Seasons in the Sun: The Story of Big League Baseball in Missouri (University of Missouri Press, 2002).
Dr. Launius has lectured widely on historical subjects to military, academic, technical, and general audiences. He has also served part-time on the faculties of several colleges and universities. He has acted as a reader for publishers, as a member of the governing councils of several professional associations, and on the editorial boards of numerous journals. He served as chair of the history and education panel of the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission between 1999 and 2004. He was a consultant to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in 2003 and presented the prestigious Harmon Memorial Lecture in Military History at the United States Air Force Academy in 2006. He is also a recipient of the Exceptional Service Medal and the Exceptional Achievement Medal from NASA. In 2009 he received the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award from the American Astronautical Society, the Secretary’s Research Prize from the Smithsonian Institution, and the Roger R. Trask Award from the Society for History in the Federal Government, 2009. In addition, he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Academy of Astronautics, and the American Astronautical Society; and Associate Fellow of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is frequently consulted by the electronic and print media for his views on space issues, and has been a guest commentator on National Public Radio and all the major television networks.