Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Tribute to Ken Cox

One of the great leaders of the space exploration movement died recently. Ken Cox worked on the Apollo program and he founded the Advanced Technology Working Group as a part of NASA.

Ken brought together an eclectic group of thinkers at ATWG, and a number of books and ideas emerged from their deliberations. On a very personal note, the key was that Ken invited me to a number of the meetings and I participated enthusiastically. Even more important, though, he played a critical role in keeping the idea of the Overview Effect alive.

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution had been published in 1987 by Houghton-Mifflin, a leading mainline publisher. I had harbored high hopes for its success, and held a vision that it would start a revolution in thinking about space exploration and the human future.

Instead, we had what is called a "critical success" but a "financial failure." The first edition of about 7500 copies sold out, and the book was translated into German. However, this was not enough to justify a second edition or going into paperback. I suppose that would have been the end of the Overview Effect as a book if Ken hadn't stepped in.

A friend of mine suggested I get in touch with Ken because he was pulling together a group of people to talk about the softer side of space exploration: politics, economics, philosophy, and so on. When I did contact him, I received a warm welcome from Ken and an invitation to a gathering in Washington, DC.

It turned out that Ken admired my work and wanted the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to publish a second edition of the book.

He was on the board of AIAA, and he contacted their publishing team about taking on the second edition. The Overview Effect was somewhat outside their area of interest, which focused more on the engineering/technical aspects of spaceflight, but they agreed to take on the book, and we published the second edition in 1998.

AIAA is still the publisher of The Overview Effect, and the third edition came out in 2014. To my surprise and delight, my editor has now approved a fourth edition!

Robbie Davis-Floyd, another ATWG member, Ken, and I also worked together on a book called Space Stories, which is a great compendium of stories from the early pioneers of the Space Age. It is now on Kindle.

Ken played a major role in bringing us to where we are today in space exploration and development, and he kept the flame of the Overview Effect alive during its darkest days. Most of all, though, he was a smart, kind, and funny colleague.

Thank you, Ken, for all you did for me and for humanity!

Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

The New Camelot: the Quest for the Overview Effect is available at Apogee Prime

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