Gerard O'Neill - Image for NASA

The Final Frontier: Mythologies of Outer Space (2022)

Exploring ideas about space exploration, travel and colonization, and the development of the technologies that will take us there.

The Calgary Institute for the Humanities 41st Annual Community Seminar

One of the most enduring lines in popular culture describes outer space as the “final frontier.” This metaphor, which is intended to be optimistic and idealistic, is nonetheless revealing about how our thinking about space travel has always been rooted in more earth-bound matters: in this case, the idea that outer space is like the early American west, a largely empty place waiting for European-style settlement. This year’s Community Seminar will explore some of the ideas that have shaped the way we have thought about space exploration, travel and colonization, and the development of the technologies that have brought us there. We will look at such things as the ethics of terraforming (making planets habitable for humans), the political status of extraterrestrial sites, and the history of the earthly sites chosen for rocket testing, space training and the placement of telescopes.

This year’s forum will feature a panel of international guest speakers, a short film screening, poetry reading, and lunch and conversation with the community.

Invited Panelists

Alice Gorman, PhD

Associate Professor
College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Flinders University

Alice Gorman is an internationally recognised leader in the field of space archaeology. Her research on space exploration has been featured in National Geographic, New Scientist, and Archaeology magazine and her book Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future (2019) won the NIB Award People's Choice and the John Mulvaney Book Award. She is a faculty member of the International Space University's Southern Hemisphere Space Program in Adelaide. She has worked extensively in Indigenous heritage management, providing advice for mining industry, urban development, government departments, local councils and Native Title groups in NSW, WA, SA and Queensland. She is also a specialist in stone tool analysis, and the Aboriginal use of bottle glass after European settlement.

Hilding Neilson, PhD

Assistant Professor
David A. Dunlap Dept of Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto

Hilding Neilson is an interdisciplinary scientist, working on astrophysics and on the intersection of science, astronomy, and Indigenous knowledge. As a Mi’kmaw person, he strives to embrace and integrate Indigenous knowledges and methodologies to better understand the physics of stars and the Universe and our place in it. More specifically, he probes the physics of stars, from the nuclear-burning core out to the circumstellar medium where stellar winds interact with the interstellar medium to understand connections between stars and planets; stars and cosmology; and stars and us. He exploits theoretical and numerical tools to compare with observational data sets to reveal the hidden physics of stars.

Chris Pak, PhD

Department of English
Swansea University

Chris Pak specialises in the study of Science Fiction and was an Arthur C. Clarke award judge from 2018-2020. He is the author of Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press, 2016), and is especially interested in the ecological and environmental significance of stories of terraforming and pantropy - the modification of other planets and the modification of bodies to enable the habitation of otherwise uninhabitable environments, respectively.