Basics of Interplanetary Flight

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Participants come from all walks of life.
What about the math? See below.

Here's a link to the school calendar.

  • Seven consecutive Thursdays 7-10 pm
  • Twelve participants total (age 18 min)
  • Syllabus
  • Map to South Campus
  • About the instructor
  • Questions? Please email Dave

Please spread the word among friends and family who are interested in planetary exploration!

Registration opened
Monday April 7 2014

  • The correct course description can be found in the online catalog.
  • To register online, do a Keyword Search for  INTERPLANETARY.
    Or download and fill out this PDF Registration Form.
  • First class meeting is Thursday May 15.
  • Late Registration Fee applies on/after: 2014 May 12
  • Scholarship Deadline 2014 April 10.
  • For registering in person: South Campus, 950 S. Raymond Ave., Office hours are posted here. Office phone 626.396.2319, fax 626.396.4219. Here's the PDF Registration Form.

Tuition and Discounts:

  • Tuition is $350 (or as updated in the ArtCenter Catalog)
  • Discounts are offered to teachers, seniors, ACCD grads, and others:
    visit this page for information.
  • Art Cente kindly offers members of The Planetary Society a 25% discount. When registering in person, bring evidence of TPS membership (address imprint on The Planetary Report suffices). Fill out and bring a PDF Registration Form.

Texts for the course

By course instructor Dave Doody:

  • JPL's free online Basics of Space Flight Tutorial
  • Optional hardback book (Springer-Praxis 2009) written with participants of this course in mind. This textbook is part of Springer's Astronautical Engineering series, so it doesn't avoid the math. It has a full-color hardback cover, and is printed on acid-free paper: in other words, it's expensive. But it's well worth it!
  • Optional paperback book, Basics of Space Flight created from the contents of the JPL Basics website. Available in a full color edition, and a low-cost black & white edition. This book does not cover as much technical detail as the above title. It does contain good reference material, and should serve well in class. This book is produced by Amazon Print-on-Demand, and is much less expensive than the above. The entire book is also available as a PDF, free of charge, for use on some portable devices. If you'd like to download the 20 MB file, go to the JPL Basics website; you'll see the "Download" icon in the lower left corner.

Instructor's notes:

  • You don't have to know the first thing about space flight to participate fully in this class. All you have to be is curious about how humans are exploring the universe today, and what is being found.   
  • If you have a web-enabled phone or other device, bring it along, it will come in handy. There's wireless internet access in the classroom, of course.

  • Is there a lot of Math? Many people are looking for in-depth mathematical treatment. Most, though, say they'd rather not have a lot of math. In our classroom sessions, you probably won't notice much math at all. But you'll find you can go as far as you want in the optional book Deep Space Craft (Springer, 2009), which I wrote for participants who want to follow its more technical content and references.

    — Dave

Comments from previous course participants

  • "One of the best courses I have taken in my past eight years of college courses."
  • "This class offers a unique and unparalleled opportunity to explore and learn about a very exciting field of study that offers much to draw upon."
  • "The many ingenious demonstrations of abstract concepts was a treasure trove."
  • "This class really does two things: teaches the concepts, but also is a survey of how to communicate difficult material of any field."
  • "I was having too much fun for the course to end."

We live on a rare and fragile life-sustaining planet, the companion of an average star orbiting a spiral galaxy's central black hole. We have new senses at our disposal, many of them originally developed for space exploration. How do these new senses work? What are they telling us? How are we affected by the ability to see and hear and "smell" in radio "light"? The infra-red? Ultra-violet? Gamma radiation?

We are encountering new worlds with our new senses. And we humans are in the extraordinary position today to be seeing some of these places up close for the first time ever, all via robot emissaries. How do you design a robot spacecraft and travel among the planets? How do you fly it and tell it what to do? What information is it sending back?

If you find these topics compelling, please join us for seven consecutive Thursday evenings at the inspiring Art Center College of Design South Campus at Raymond & Glenarm in Pasadena.

The course is an interactive, high-fidelity survey of disciplines and projects in today's interplanetary flight. It involves the participants in a variety of techniques, including visuals, design-based learning, hands-on physics, brainstorming, lecture, demonstrations, guest speakers, and lots more. No credit means no tests, no mandatory assignments, only a 3-hour-per-week time commitment: 7-10 p.m. Thursdays.

We generally divide each of our three-hour meetings into developing three lines of inquiry:

  1. Grasping each of the major factors in the whole environment in which we live and in which we operate interplanetary robots (this environment can be concisely described as the space among the many companions of a dwarf star in a bubble, orbiting a supermassive black hole at the center of one of many galaxies); Understanding how such a description is obtained and interpreted.
  2. Learning how spacecraft are put together, what all their components do, how they move and work, the paths they follow, and why;
  3. Surveying the results; seeing and experiencing new worlds, encountering the latest and ongoing discoveries, all placed in proper context with #1 and #2 above.

About the Instructor

Art Center College of Design South Campus




The campus is close to the Gold Line Filmore station; Art Center College runs a convnient shuttle to the hillside campus and the rail station.

We'll probably be meeting in Room B38 again.

(Use the B3 elevator button.)

For the Summer 2014 term, please check back here right before class starts to confirm the location.

Please be on time each week, as a courtesy to other class participants.