Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Life on earth...after the PhD

Some time last year I stopped updating this blog. It was the time when the serious business of getting my PhD thesis written-up, edited and submitted finally kicked in. It's nice to be able to return to the blog and complete it.

On September 24 this year, I submitted my thesis - all 94,810 words + bibliography. On December 12, I defended my thesis - Eisenhower's Parallel Track at Brunel University. It was a successful defence. I am now Dr. Shanahan.

My last seven years has been spent as a 40-something and then 50 year old student. I'm a very different person now to the frustrated researcher who started this process. Where the future will take me, I don't yet know. But I'm looking forward to it.

The research thesis I eventually produced is very different from the point at which I began. My abstract says:

Historians of the early space age have established a norm whereby President Eisenhower's actions are judged solely as a response to the launch of the Sputnik satellite, and are indicative of a passive, negative presidency. His low-key actions are seen merely as a prelude to the US triumph in space in the 1960s. This study presents an alternative view showing that Eisenhower’s space policy was not a reaction to the heavily-propagandised Soviet satellite launches, or even the effect they caused in the US political and military elites, but the continuation of a strategic track. In so doing, it also contributes to the reassessment of the wider Eisenhower presidency. 

Having assessed the development of three intersecting discourses: Eisenhower as president; the genesis of the US space programme; and developments in Cold War US reconnaissance, this thesis charts Eisenhower’s influence both on the ICBM and reconnaissance programmes and his support for a non-military approach to the International Geophysical Year. These actions provided the basis for his space policy for the remainder of his presidency. The following chapters show that Sputnik had no impact on the policies already in place and highlight Eisenhower’s pragmatic activism in enabling the implementation of these policies by a carefully-chosen group of expert ‘helping hands’. 

This study delivers a new interpretation of Eisenhower’s actions. It argues that he was operating on a parallel track that started with the Castle H-bomb tests; developed through the CIA's reconnaissance efforts and was distilled in the Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. This set a policy for US involvement in outer space that matched Eisenhower’s desire for a balanced budget and fundamental belief in maintaining peace. By challenging the orthodox view, this paper shows that President Eisenhower’s space policy actions were strategic steps that provided a logical next step for both civilian and military space programmes at the completion of the International Geophysical Year.

For the last seven years I've been reading books about space; about politics; about reconnaissance and about missiles that have all fed the PhD research. It was a great pleasure to take them all down to Reading where I now teach and park them on my office shelves. They'll re-emerge in the coming months as portions of the thesis become articles and the bones of a monograph. Today I bought a space book purely for the fun of reading it. Chris Hadfield, I'm thoroughly looking forward to leafing my way through An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. 

Onwards and Upwards.