Tribute to Molly Macauley
As many will know, our colleague and friend Molly Macauley was killed on 8 July, whilst walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore.
The journal Space Policy, of which I am privileged to be Editor in Chief, released an emotional and respectful Special Issue commemorating Dr Macauley and her work. It is Guest Edited by Space Policy Deputy Editor Marcia Smith, who brings together the intellectual and personal impact of Dr Macauley through a series of responses to her death, and reflection on her career… The Special Issue represents and respects her in her intellectual achievements, whilst also paying tribute to the lovely, funny, friendly, personable ‘Molly’ known to those of us privileged enough to cross her path.
I will separately blog about the Special Issue, when the time is right.
This Special Issue puts to words those that knew her far better than I did… Still, Dr Macauley touched my life (and my career) significantly, so I am also posting the below. It focuses on her intellectual contribution, but that was only augmented by the personal when I finally met her in person.
I first came across the work of Dr Macauley as a PhD student, when a book chapter that she had authored gave me my a much needed ‘aha’ moment of intellectual inspiration. I was grappling with a case study, that of geostationary orbit. My intention was to consider the orbit as a type of common pool resource, and build from there upon the work of Elinor Ostrom on how and why various entities had come to coordinate activity for the orbit.
And, frankly, I was stuck. I had the pieces of the intellectual puzzle but was missing an image of how they all fit together in order to make sense of it all. In a moment of academic joy I came across Dr Macauley’s piece “The Economics of Outer Space” in the 2002 texted edited by another Space policy Board member Eligar Sadeh Space Politics and Policy: An Evolutionary Perspective. Her unpretentious and clear writing belied the complex and sophisticated arguments underpinning her explanation of not only how technology and policy met in outer space activity but why. Here was the map key I was looking for in my own work—the big-picture jigsaw image that I could apply to my own case.
Some immediate backtracking brought me to her 1998 article in the Journal of Law and Economics, “Allocation of Orbit and Spectrum Resources for Regional Communications: What’s at Stake?” Again in this work she maneuvered the interface of science and politics in an inspired and highly readable way.
Between these two pieces I was able to crack open two of my challenges: firstly conceptualising geostationary orbit as a resource, which Dr Macauley uniquely did, envisioning it laid out flat as a space that could be occupied, with satellites exploiting fixed receiver stations beneath in order to reduce costs; and secondly, embedding this understanding of the resource within the political context in which regulation and coordination developed. Dr Macauley explained in these two pieces the wider landscape in which the US Government and the free market mutually reconstituted each other to drive space privatization. From that point I could build upon her foundation to look at how international relations had influenced geostationary orbit activity, and the ways in which policy and economics interacted with the technology and geography of the orbital realm to drive conflict and, ultimately, coordination.
From that point on I became an academic groupie of Dr Macauley, reading all of her publications and following the over-arching themes of her research. My respect for her was entirely based on her academic rigour, but I was also excited and drawn to the fact that she was a female academic making her way in the field of outer space economics. Without having yet met her, I came to think of her as a role model as I continued on my own academic path.