Catherine L. Newell

Associate Professor of Religion and Science at the University of Miami

9:30am EST., Friday February 18th

Presenting Live via Zoom

To Believe Without Having Seen: Chesley Bonestell, Willy Ley, and the Invention of Outer Space


This talk traces a history of the popularization of space exploration through scientific illustration and popular science writing between 1946 and 1958, and begins with the career of Chesley Bonestell, a man with a gift for being in the right place at the right time. This history begins with his partnership with German rocket expert Willy Ley. The two men collaborated on several articles and eventually a book, The Conquest of Space (1949). The book was an illustrated introduction to the solar system and a primer on rocketry and the science of space exploration. Their intention was to present “outer space” as a site for scientific study. In contrast to contemporary science fiction, Bonestell’s photograph-like paintings and Ley’s accessible prose provided scientifically accurate representations of the planets to their readers. But The Conquest of Space was also an intentionally dramatic revelation of the new frontier of outer space. Bonestell and Ley purposefully conjured the romance and excitement of exploration, discovery, and conquest, and built clear connections between the space frontier and the American frontier. Their method was so effective that many NASA scientists and engineers credit their interest in space exploration to the sense of wonder they felt while reading The Conquest of Space. This spirit of “conquest” became the zeitgeist of an era, and Americans dedicated themselves to a technological conquest of the new frontier that continues even today.

Catherine L. Newell is an associate professor of Religion and Science at the University of Miami. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara. As a scholar, she is interested in any aspect of American culture where religion and science intersect. She is the author of Destined for the Stars: Faith, the Future, and America’s Final Frontier.

Catherine Newell

Page last modified January 8, 2022