Science, Technology, and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard


Monday, March 6, 2017, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


CGIS Knafel Building, 1737 Cambridge Street, Bowie-Vernon Room (K262)

"In-House to Outhouse: The Strange Life of Film-Return Spy Satellites, 1946-1986"


Matthew Hersch, Assistant Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University.

Co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.


Shana Ashar


Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.

Lunch is provided if you RSVP via our online form by Thursday of the week before the event.


Histories of the Cold War often connect the appearance of America’s first photographic reconnaissance satellites to the increasing inability of the United States, during the late-1950s, to obtain intelligence regarding the Soviet ballistic missile program. These descriptions, though, reverse the history of space-based surveillance—the technology of the reconnaissance satellite predates both the rocketry necessary to loft it into orbit and the missiles it later detected. Advocates of satellite surveillance never viewed the technology simply as a solution to any single “intelligence gap,” but as an entirely novel intelligence resource and the bedrock of a new defense strategy. Intended only as an “interim” technology until better platforms were invented, though, the first film-return spy satellites became a permanent fixture of national defense and helped define the parameters of the Nuclear Age.


Matthew Hersch is an Assistant Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. He received his SB in Political Science from MIT, his JD from NYU, and his PhD in the History and Sociology of Science from Penn, where he later taught in the School of Arts and Sciences and in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He has held the Guggenheim Fellowship of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and the HSS-NASA Fellowship in the History of Space Science. Matthew also served as the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Aerospace History of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. He specializes in the history of spaceflight and in 20th-century American technology, labor, and popular culture. Matthew is the author of Inventing the American Astronaut (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).