1961/1981 Human Spaceflight: ABSTRACTS
The conference has ended
Michael F. Robinson (Keynote)
Title: Lessons from the Last Frontier
NASA has always stood at the
fulcrum of the past and future. It is the inheritor of
Alexander C.T. Geppert
Title: When was the Space Age?
Most space historians would agree that they aim to locate the so-called ‘space age’ in time. Yet they have generated surprisingly little explicit discussion about what characterized this ominous period; whether the notion should be regarded as a historical or, rather, a purely analytical concept; and when this nebulous ‘space age’ actually took place, if at all. Did the ‘space age’ define an entire epoch, was it one period among many, a specific and bounded time span – or simply an alluring, if short-lived and overloaded label that the international space movement created in the 1940s with a view to promoting and publicizing its costly cause? In order to simultaneously de-metaphorize this ‘space’, ‘orbital’ or ‘planetary’ age and to suggest several answers as to its duration, in particular its end, this paper approaches the linked problems of both definition and periodization from two oppositional perspectives. On the one hand, it historicizes the notion of a ‘space age’ by tracing, comparing and juxtaposing salient definitional attempts and their respectively assigned characteristics through historical publications, pamphlets, and the popular press. A full representation of these arguments must draw also from the writings of European science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke, historians of science and psychoanalysts such as Alexandre Koyré and C. G. Jung, philosophers including Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ernst Jünger, Hannah Arendt and Hans Blumenberg, and contemporary cultural critics and art theorists such as Peter Weibel. On the other, the paper isolates and extracts the most pertinent definitional elements from these divergent writings, reassembling them into a new take on periodization. Specifically conceptualized and designed to allow for the space age’s controlled, theory-led and empirically saturated historicization, this move attempts to leave aside all political agendas, however intentional or oblique. Extending and applying Reinhart Koselleck’s idea of Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history) well into the twentieth century, this variegated approach results in a dynamic combination of historical semantics and practical historiography with an emphasis on Western Europe during the decades prior to the establishment of the European Space Agency in 1975.
Title: The Rise (1961) and Fall and Rise Again (1981) of America’s “Space Frontier”
This presentation closely examines the reasons why the trope of the “space frontier” became commonplace in the early years of the space age, waned dramatically in the early 1970s, and waxed once again in the beginning of the following decade.
The space frontier had developed as a popular cultural motif decades earlier, but it became a conventional, serious-minded way of framing spaceflight by 1961 because many national leaders and aerospace professionals purposefully used the motif to promote an expensive and fast-growing U.S. space program. They did so not as a cynical ploy, but because the frontier motif provided culturally meaningful shorthand that ennobled their celestial aims and resonated with a popular nationalist frontier mythology. The motif naturalized the U.S. space program by casting it as a pioneering effort aligned with the nation’s past and as proof of the basic Cold War principle that American liberalism continued to unleash people’s innate talents, as no other nation could, for the “benefit of Mankind.”
This presentation does not assume that the space frontier trope was monolithic and unchanging. Instead, the salience of that motif in the years around 1961 depended not only on favorable geopolitics and domestic context, but also on the internal complexity of frontier mythology, which had two distinct and mutually reinforcing strands. One vein, prominently articulated by historian Frederick Jackson Turner, held that geographic frontiers spawned Americans’ exceptional liberalism and their nation’s progressive economic and political development. The other, famously evoked by Theodore Roosevelt, held that Americans’ strenuous efforts of frontier conquest (specifically those of particular “races” of white men) morally and psychically rejuvenated the nation, maintaining its competitive fitness and preventing Americans from slipping into overcivilized sloth and indulgence. This presentation will explain why, in the context of the 1960s, these two mutually reinforcing strands worked together to make the space frontier an effective rhetorical framing devise to market and make meaningful the U.S. space program.
This presentation will then propose how international relations and domestic affairs undercut the space frontier motif in the early 1970s, prompting national figures to abandon the Rooseveltian strand as anachronistically gendered, racist, and martially nationalistic and the Turnerian vein as ill-suited to the economic limitations of that decade. It concludes by elaborating how the space frontier motif enjoyed a second (albeit temporary) life by 1981, as Turner’s frontier-focused account of freedom and economic progress and an attenuated version of Roosevelt’s frontier-based national revivalism captured the zeitgeist and suited the political and cultural agenda of an increasingly conservative and nationalist America.
Title: Exploration and Discovery in Science and Human Spaceflight
Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, exploration, discovery and science are not synonymous. Magellan was an explorer, but not a scientist or natural philosopher. Many scientists undertake routine science that can hardly be called exploration. Exploration and science may or may not lead to discovery, which is a complex process that by any definition must mean finding something new, or, as Proust preferred, “seeing with new eyes.” These distinctions are important not just for academic reasons but because they represent the very vocabulary of both NASA and of those who determine space policy, as was made clear most recently when the new human spaceflight policy announced in 2004 was labeled “A Renewed Spirit of Discovery” and its strategic objectives “The New Age of Exploration.” In human spaceflight, exploration, discovery and science can be synergistic, as they were in the Apollo program. By contrast, and despite notable successes, the judgment of history will likely be that the Space Shuttle itself, inarguably a magnificent winged machine and an engineering accomplishment unlikely to be seen again in the space arena for generations, was not a robust agent of exploration, discovery or science. The Shuttle, with its triple mission of transportation, construction and repair, did demonstrate that human and robotic spaceflight are potentially complementary approaches to the larger goal that is in both the American tradition and in the tradition of our species: exploration of the unknown. Exploration of the universe beyond Earth orbit, which remains the new frontier even after 50 years of the Space Age and despite the historical baggage of the term “frontier,” will be accomplished sooner or later by humans and robots working together. To achieve a balanced program of both robotic and human spaceflight emphasizing exploration, discovery and science, with the limited resources at hand, in the midst of turbulent events on Earth, is the challenge now before NASA.
Margaret A. Weitekamp
Title: Setting the Scene for Human Spaceflights: Men Into Space and The Man and the Challenge
As both the United States and the Soviet Union prepared for the first human spaceflights in 1961, two significant programs appeared on American television. On NBC, The Man and the Challenge (1959-60) used the inspiration of John Paul Stapp’s well-publicized rocket sled experiments to create a series featuring a fictional doctor/researcher whose scientific experiments probed the limits of man’s endurance. On CBS, Man Into Space (1959-60) depicted the realistic adventures of Colonel Ed McCauley, head of the American space program. Aimed at adults, and with the cooperation of the US Air Force, “technical advisor” Wernher von Braun, and space artist Chesley Bonestell, this short-lived television series offered a fact-based depiction of space flight in the near future of the budding space age.
These two television programs represented a significant break from the abundant fantastical space adventures of the early- and mid-1950s, such as the well-known Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949-55), Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950-1955), Space Patrol (1950-55), Buck Rogers (1950-51), and Flash Gordon (1954-55), or the shorter runs of Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (1953-54), Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954), or Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe (1955). They also represented a very different cultural moment than the space-themed shows that would follow them on American television in the late 1960s. Programs such as The Jetsons (1962-1963), My Favorite Martian (1963-66), Lost in Space (1965-68), and I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70), cast changing family and gender dynamics in space-themed settings. Notably, Star Trek (1966-69) took spaceflight most seriously, although still using its space setting mostly to defamiliarize contemporary social and cultural issues.
Examining this transitional moment in American space-themed television provides both context and background for understanding how the first human spaceflights were received. Both programs emphasized assertions of masculinity at a time when the rigid post-war gender roles could be seen to be breaking down. Likewise, both shows glorified the ingenuity of men’s technological prowess as they pushed back boundaries. By depicting realistic adventures based on actual scientific principles and practices, they also prepared the television audience for the kinds of public performances of technological achievement that human spaceflight provided. This paper will use an analysis of these two television programs to unpack the cultural contexts that helped shape the reception in the United States of Yuri Gagarin’s flight and, even more so, Alan Shepard’s mission as the first American in space, both in 1961.
Yuri Gagarin was both a popular hero and official Soviet icon. Genuine love for him as well as the prodigious resources of the state fueled the cosmonaut's worldwide celebrity. His public image was a curious hybrid of socialist realist hero and Russian playboy. Even as the regime urged young Soviets to be like Gagarin, the first cosmonaut was also rumored -- for good reason -- to enjoy fast cars, alcohol, and the company of women. He traveled the world over. He was head of both the Cuban-Soviet friendship society and the Soviet water-skiing association. For the older generation, Gagarin was the ideal patriotic son. For those too young to fight against the Nazis in World War II, Gagarin proved that heroism was nonetheless possible. And everyone was charmed by Gagarin's charisma, sense of humor, and love of life. He was, in short, an ideal image of Soviet Russian maleness -- a kind of Soviet Russian brand. And that brand has endured, surviving the collapse of the Soviet system that produced it.
John M. Logsdon
Title: Pursuit of an Illusion? JFK and U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in Missions to the Moon
May 25 of this year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1961 speech to a joint session of Congress in which President John F. Kennedy, just four months in office, proposed sending Americans to the Moon “before this decade is out.” This was the start of Project Apollo, which between 1969 and 1972 took twelve astronauts to the lunar surface. The talk will highlight the little-known reality that racing the Soviet Union to the Moon was JFK’s second choice. He would have preferred to make outer space an arena for U.S.-Soviet cooperation, and at the end of his life proposed turning the lunar landing effort into a joint undertaking. The talk will trace the role of U.S.-Soviet cooperation in JFK’s thinking about space and speculate with respect to what might have happened should Nikita Khrushchev have accepted JFK’s September 1963 offer of a joint mission to the Moon (and Kennedy not been assassinated).
Title: 1961 – 1981: A Comparative Study of Human and Robotic Spaceflight as Represented in Industrial Advertising
This paper asserts that our national human and robotic spaceflight programs experienced a reversal of aspirations between 1961 and 1981, and that this reversal is clearly articulated in the changing visual and textual elements of the advertising that promoted both projects. The paper is based on evidence found in industrial and trade advertising from 1961 and 1981. Industrial advertisements constitute a distinct body of evidence that, when analyzed, tell a multi-part history of our U.S. national space program.
In 1961 human spaceflight was poised to aim far higher than satellite programs, promising to deliver people to the Moon and then to Mars and beyond. Its every stance was outwardly and upwardly directed, away from Earth and beyond Earth-orbit. Robotic spaceflight, in contrast, was centered at the time on the emerging promise of orbital telecommunications satellites. The 1981 commencement of the Space Transportation System (the Space Shuttle program) fixed the reversal of those trends. The reversal had begun in the 1970s when the robotic programs captured the broadest public attention with the Pioneer, Viking, and Voyager probes and their dramatic interplanetary trajectories. At the same time, human spaceflight struggled for definition as a cultural objective, leading to the scaled-down Shuttle program with a dramatically reduced “exploration” horizon of low-Earth orbit. This exchange of horizons between robotic and human spaceflight programs is expressed through the cultural frames cast around these two broad projects in their surrounding trade industry advertising.
Guillaume de Syon
Title: Astronauts and Cosmonauts in Frenchmen: Understanding Space Travel Through The Popular Weekly Paris-Match
This paper examines the vision of human space travel that a mainstream publication, Paris-Match, offered the Francophone public between 1961 and 1981. This widely read publication cast an essentially foreign event into one that was right at home in France. In so doing, to borrow from Marshall McLuhan, it neither alienated nor polarized public opinion, but made it part of an early “global village.” Paris Match became a standard weekly magazine in the 1950s, but occupied a unique niche in French culture that does not appear to have parallels in American media history. Simply put, as an odd cross between Time, People, and the Saturday Evening Post, the publication came to be viewed as a respectable form of entertainment in both working and middle class households. The combination of glamour entertainment and news generally stressed human dimensions in all stories and pictures, and space travel was part of the mix. The culmination of such coverage came during the Apollo moon missions when Paris Match went so far as to commission artistic representations of some astronauts to honor their achievement and emphasize the magnitude of the event to readers. This emphasis on the human element carried on with the Apollo Soyouz test program and the first space shuttle flight.
French readers thus came to envision space travel with an uncritical and in fact welcoming eye that also helped pave the way for France’s own fielding of “spationauts” aboard Soviet and American spacecraft.
Title: They May Remake Our Image of Mankind: Representations of Cosmonauts and Astronauts in Soviet and American Space Propaganda 1961-1981
This paper compares representations of space explorers in Soviet and American propaganda magazines between 1961 and 1981. The two publications—the American America Illustrated, and its Soviet counterpart Soviet Life—were large format, glossy, monthlies produced and distributed after 1956 as part of a cultural exchange agreement between the two superpowers. They played a significant role in each nation’s propaganda strategy. Space exploration was one of the most prominent themes in each magazine, and manned spaceflight was the most frequent subject of space‐themed articles. The periodicals thus provide an excellent source for investigating how representations of cosmonauts and astronauts functioned as Cold War propaganda. They offer fascinating insight into how each nation viewed the significance of manned spaceflight, and how they sought to use it to suggest global leadership.
This paper will highlight the main themes associated with manned spaceflight in Soviet and American propaganda. In many ways, Soviet and American representations of manned spaceflight were similar. Both assumed manned spaceflight was necessary, and used depictions of space explorers to associate their respective space programs with notions of peace and progress. Both portrayed their space explorers as heroes, but also stressed their ordinariness as humans. Their heroism and humanity suggested that the collective society they personified was likewise both heroic and humane.
Representations of astronauts and cosmonauts straddled the heroic and the human to reinforce the predominant narratives of peace and progress in the broader space propaganda. As heroes, both Soviet and American propaganda stressed the space explorers’ courage and determination in the face of adversity and danger, their ability to perform demanding tasks in a difficult environment, and the scientific nature of their training and missions. But the publications also routinely portrayed astronauts and cosmonauts as ordinary humans, linking them to the “millions” of ordinary earthlings following their exploits worldwide. Both magazines emphasized their ordinariness, modesty, cheerfulness, humor, manliness, work ethic, and spiritual values. Overall, they were depicted as a powerful unifying force, uniting humanity to follow their space achievements, and illustrating the ideals of the society that they represented. In spite of these similarities, there were key differences between the Soviet and American treatments of manned spaceflight in their propaganda. Such differences grew out of their divergent definitions of peace and progress, and the different communications techniques they employed in the production of propaganda.
George C. Herring (Keynote)
Title: The Cold War, 1961-1981
This keynote address will discuss the Cold War during this 20-year period as context for other topics covered at the conference. It will analyze briefly the origins and nature of the Cold War and its emergence as the central fact of international politics and economics in the 1960s and 1970s. During these two decades, Soviet-American conflict came full circle, from the events leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most perilous time in the Cold War, through the era of detente and Vietnam, and then back to the resurgence of Cold War tensions after 1979. Dr. George Herring will seek to explain how, despite the Vietnam War, detente evolved out of the missile crisis, why its duration was quite short, and why by 1981 the two superpowers were on the verge of another period of extreme tension, what would become in fact the final "campaign" of the Cold War.
Matthew H. Hersch
Title: The Creature That Wouldn’t Die: Spaceplane 1961/1981
Today, man, with his intelligence and reason, has suddenly come to the crossroads. Some believe that the guided missile and electronically controlled space vehicles are the ultimate answers to spaceflight. The recent orbital and suborbital achievements have been spectacular and extremely important. However, man will never be satisfied in the undignified position of sitting in a nosecone, acting as a biomedical specimen.
―Jimmy Stewart (voiceover), in Richard Donner’s X-15 (1961)
Today, few would regard 1961’s X-15 as an “important” film, but the mere fact of its existence reminds historians that the year of the movie’s release was more than one of milestones and records: it was the year Americans were finally convinced that their first forays into space would be in semi-automated capsules like the Project Mercury spacecraft instead of souped-up airplanes like those depicted in the film. Americans reached this decision only after vigorous debate and independent demonstrations of the capsule’s capabilities on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The spaceplane, though, was a creature that wouldn’t die. Twenty years after Alan Shepard’s first spaceflight, when Americans once again sought to hurl themselves beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the spaceplane re-emerged as a state-of-the-art solution to a decades-old problem―one with a profound impact upon the astronaut labor force. The 1981 flights of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia—including one with a veteran X-15 pilot in the left seat—demonstrated not only the stubborn resilience of one particular design concept, but the continued efforts of spaceplane proponents to place the history of spaceflight within the larger techno-cultural narrative of aviation innovation. As the supposed next step in fixed-wing flight after the jet, the spaceplane was to be the heir to an American aeronautical tradition dating back to the Wright brothers, and a rebuttal to rocket-builders who craved an alternative to the tyranny of the wing.
This paper draws upon archival
materials of the George M. Low Papers of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
the Johnson Space Center History Collection at the University of Houston-Clear
Lake, the NASA Historical Reference Collection in
A short film clip on DVD and a PowerPoint presentation accompany this paper.
Title: Explorers We? Prospects for Public Participation in Human Space Flight during the Space Shuttle Development Era
Scholars in the field of science and technology studies are interested in examining the nature, extent, and processes of democratic decision-making and public participation in scientific and technological issues facing society. They have typically explored the roles of “laypersons” or “non-experts” in policy development, research agenda-setting, and participation in research within the environmental and health sciences – areas that understandably have strong bearing on individuals’ daily lives. But what can be said of the extent and forms of the general public’s participatory role in the history of space exploration, and in NASA’s human space flight program in particular?
This paper takes up that question as it relates to NASA’s development of plans in the 1970s and early 1980s for use of the Space Shuttle. While NASA had worked diligently to inform the American and global publics of its achievements up through the Apollo era, members of the general public remained passive participants in the adventure. With the start of the Space Shuttle program’s development, however, NASA along with corporate contractors, major news media outlets, and space advocates began to offer discourses and take actions suggesting that the space agency was preparing to use the nascent space transportation system to engage the public in new ways and to open space flight opportunities to various sectors and segments of society including, perhaps, the ordinary person. In this paper I closely examine the particular discourses and actions NASA embraced to promote the Shuttle’s instrumentality in the routinization and even the democratization of space flight, including the creation of a program intended to fly citizens with non-technical backgrounds on the Shuttle, and the leaders and technical, social, and political considerations that drove them. Through probing the decision processes NASA used and the choices the agency ultimately made regarding how and why to select particular citizen-in-space participants, I assess the degree to which NASA’s discourse and actions amounted to an opening of its human space flight program vis-à-vis the Space Shuttle to non-traditional participants, addressing who benefited, how, and why. In doing so, I identify where these discourses and actions positioned the loci of authority, expertise, the ideal type of an astronaut, democratic decision-making, and public participation in space exploration during this timeframe in human space flight history.
Title: Bringing Spaceflight Down to Earth: The IMAX Films Experience
Bringing spaceflight down to
Earth to the public through the popular media of commercial film and television
had always posed a dilemma for NASA: how to ensure the accuracy and tone of a
studio production. NASA entered the Shuttle era still reluctant to engage with
A dramatic new motion picture
technology—IMAX—that emerged during the Shuttle development period of the
1970s, opened the way for NASA to become involved in commercial film production
that would vividly bring the experience of spaceflight down to Earth. The
high-resolution, large-frame IMAX film format and giant-screen projection
system would essentially put people in space, seeing what the astronauts saw
and sharing in their experience, to introduce a wide audience to the excitement
and benefits of
This paper examines the NASA, IMAX, Smithsonian, Lockheed partnership to bring the spaceflight experience to the giant screen. Examining how these four entities shared roles and responsibilities and how they carried out the projects from planning to premieres opens to exploration such crucial issues as content control, message shaping, public and private sector motives and benefits, and public access to the experience of spaceflight. It also situates the IMAX space films within one of the key themes of the Shuttle era—making human spaceflight routine and practical. NASA’s IMAX experience also tracks with the agency’s evolving comfort with externally-produced depictions of spaceflight. By 2000 NASA had embraced cooperation on programs that reached the public through commercial theaters without surrendering the agency’s ability to frame its own vision of human spaceflight. The pairing of IMAX technology and Shuttle flights, and the resultant space films, effectively brought spaceflight down to Earth and also gave NASA a comfortable entrée into the motion picture industry.
Title: Finding Your Way to Orbit: History, Politics and Institutions’ Role in Initiating Human Spaceflight
Human spaceflight remains the most publicly visible facet of the space enterprise. Sending individuals to orbit has long been considered the marker of a world class national space program. Evidence to support this can be seen in the funding dedicated such activities compared to the funding usually available for other space activities outside the realm of military space activities. The question I explore and present is: “What have we learned about national space agencies versus transnational consortia such as the European Space Agency versus private sector investment in human spaceflight capabilities?” What is interesting about this question is that until the early 1990s it was largely a question of ESA as a singular example compared to an N of 2, the US and the Soviet Union with others more distant. What makes the question particularly interesting now is that new national players are entering the arena while ESA begins the delicate task of reassessing what they now deem possible or necessary. Motivations to pursue human spaceflight usually are multiple and evolve over time so the analysis here will begin with the initiation of human spaceflight activities. These are presented in their starkest form and will be refined for the presentation and final paper. The two original space pioneers, the Soviet Union and the United States, found themselves in a global competition that had both security and prestige components. The result was space programs that began in the early 1960s when the space race heated up with no fiscal constraints at least rhetorically; reality was much murkier that this but the Apollo myth in the United States assumes little fiscal constraints existed. What is occurring now is that cost increasingly matter even though prestige and national mythology continue as political supports for continuation of a program if initiated or one is contemplated. Human spaceflight is rapidly becoming the new totem of international politics with a diversity of states suggesting they are next pursuing human spaceflight. Their success or failure is obviously unclear at this time although there appears to be some ignoring of past experience, a reflection of nationalism in that the new participants can do it better than the original ones. How the new aspirants pursue the goal of human spaceflight and older participants cope with the challenge posed by the new is the story of the next generation of human spaceflight.
Title: China and Human Spaceflight
On October 15, 2003, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) launched Lieutenant Colonel Yang Liwei into space aboard Shenzhou V, and joined the former Soviet Union and the United States as the third state to place an astronaut into orbit. Yang’s successful mission marked the culmination of a decades-long interest in manned spaceflight, dating back to the first decade of the PRC. It also reflects ongoing support for China’s manned space program from the highest levels of the Chinese government.
This presentation will review China’s manned space efforts, including Project 571 and Project 921 and the Shenzhou development program. It will also examine Chinese statements regarding where their manned space program is heading.
Title: India's Ambitions in Human Space Flight: History, Challenges and Opportunities
Few today contest the significance of India’s rapid economic expansion, or question the growing importance of India in world affairs. As an emerging global power its nuclear and space ambitions has grown by leaps and bounds. During the past two years, India’s space budget has doubled to $4.7 billion, and India now looks towards an ambitious space program, including human space flight, in the coming decades. This paper will give an overview of India's forays into space since 1963, "portraits" of Indians who have traveled to space, and the rationale for including human space flight as one of its major goals for the next twenty years.