Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

The Great Storefront of American Nationalism: Narratives of Mars and the Outerspatial Frontier

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

The Great Storefront of American Nationalism: Narratives of Mars and the Outerspatial Frontier

Article excerpt

[Americans have a] continuing urge to chart new paths and explore the unknown. That instinct drove Lewis and Clark to press across the uncharted continent. . .[It] sustained twelve Americans as they walked on the moon.

-James Beggs, NASA Administrator, 23 June 1982

From the voyages of Columbus-to the Oregon Trail -to the journey to the Moon itself -history proves that we have never lost by pressing the limits of our frontiers.

-George Bush, 20 July 1989

A deep-space mission to Mars is a focus for the new century. It's like westward expansion -the effort and journey will spark creativity and imagination.

-Dr. Jon Bowersox, consultant for the National

Space Biomedical Research Institute, 14 February 2000

Some very powerful claims have been made about the frontier-like qualities of outer space and, therefore, its liberating promise for the currently earth-bound. Indeed, most Americans are familiar with Star Trek's Captain James Kirk's famous words, "Space: The Final Frontier." As the epigraphs of Bowersox and others demonstrate, Americans have frequently drawn analogies between the outer-spatial frontier and the North American frontier, often in an effort to motivate the public to support the exploration and colonization of Mars. "The frontier that was opened by the voyage of Christopher Columbus is now closed," astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin has argued,

If the era of Western humanist society is not to be seen by future historians as some kind of transitory golden age, a brief shining moment in an otherwise endless chronicle of human misery, then a new frontier must be opened. Humanity needs Mars. An open frontier on Mars will allow for the preservation of cultural diversity . . . [and] will create a strong driver for technological progress. (Entering Space 123)

In 1982, during his announcement of NASA's intention to gather political support for a new space station, James Beggs made a similar argument for the consequences of not exploring outer space: "If we ever lose this urge to know the unknown, we would no longer be a great nation." 1. In addition to invoking the frontier myth as a justification for sociopolitical and economic expansion which allegedly needs no explanation (a tendency not specific to the Cold War era), the tendency to link, implicitly or explicitly, exploration of the outer-spatial frontier with issues of national security was common among politicians of the Cold War era. In 1958, then Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson boldly positioned space as the primary concern of the Senate agenda. Borrowing language that had been used by scientists such as Wernher Von Braun and invoking the imperialist discourse of command and control, Johnson argued before a congregation of Democratic senators that "control of space means control of the world." 2. Delivered in the aftermath of Sputnik, Johnson's argument was clearly militaristic; however, he was also playing into popular notions that 1) resources are limited, 2) space is a new frontier which will ultimately provide the nation which controls it with a great deal of socioeconomic and political power, and 3) an increase in one nation's power can only occur at the expense of another nation's power (a zero sum game). Indeed, these were fairly safe assumptions to make, and his Cold War era audience found the discourse of control motivating in the ways he hoped they would.

Other Democratic senators like Stuart Symington of Missouri, who declared at a 1957 Veterans' Day celebration that "the race for the conquest of space is today's major engagement in technological war," joined Johnson in this approach: "We must win it, because the nation which dominates spaces [sic] will be in a position to dominate the world." 3. As Symington's address emphasizes, however, before this country or any other could "control space," it needed to develop and control technologies for exploring outer-spatial frontiers. As a result, many American space boosters worked to find a way to conjoin the desire for access to outer space to the desire for frontier technologies. …

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