Press Release

Robert W. Smith to Receive 2020 Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy

By SpaceRef Editor
July 25, 2019
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The Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has selected Dr. Robert W. Smith as the recipient of its 2020 LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy []. The Doggett Prize is awarded biennially to an individual who has significantly influenced the field through a career-long effort. Over the last five decades Robert Smith has worked alongside astronomers and engineers to produce in-depth histories of the Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope, written a series of well-regarded books, and generated groundbreaking articles on the history of cosmology in the 19th and 20th centuries. The HAD Doggett Prize recognizes both his scholarly achievements and his lengthy record of research mentorship to the next generation of science historians.

Robert Smith received his PhD in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge in 1979 under the guidance of previous Doggett Prize recipient Michael Hoskin. From 1982 to 1998 he was a historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, DC, and an adjunct professor of the history of science, technology, and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University. In 1998 Smith moved to the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada.

Smith’s main scholarly interests are in the history of science and technology from the late 18th century to today. Among his broad array of research topics are the discovery of Neptune; the rise of astrophysics; the technology and science of large reflector telescopes; the development of 20th-century cosmology, especially its observational aspects; Big Science; and historical themes in space science, including NASA and especially the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). He is currently acting as on-the-scene historian for the James Webb Space Telescope, attending project meetings, conducting interviews, and reviewing project documents. He is also editor of the forthcoming book “Neptune: From Grand Discovery to a World Revealed,” which examines the circumstances and varied reactions to the discovery of the eighth planet, the controversies that swirled around it, and what these events tell us about the nature of discovery and the history of astronomy. The book also explores later studies of Neptune, including the revelations of the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

In addition to numerous scholarly articles and reviews, Smith has written a series of well-regarded books, including “The Hubble Space Telescope: Imaging the Universe” (2004), “Imaging Space and Time” (2008), and “The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space” (2014), all three published by the National Geographic Society and coauthored with David DeVorkin of the NASM. Smith’s 1989 book, “The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics” won the History of Science Society’s Watson Davis Prize in 1990 and was listed by the New York Times as one of the notable books of the year. He also is the author of “The Expanding Universe: Astronomy’s ‘Great Debate’ 1900-1931” (Cambridge University Press, 1982; paperback 2010) and co-editor, with R. Launius and J. Logsdon, of “Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite” (Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000).

HAD is pleased to recognize Robert W. Smith for his significant scholarship and his numerous contributions to the history of astronomy. The Doggett Prize will be presented to him at a plenary session of the 235th AAS meeting, 4-8 January 2020, in Honolulu, Hawaii [].

SpaceRef staff editor.