Much in the same way many of the newer works that we have looked at so far, Apollo in the Age of Aquarius takes a thematic approach to the general overall topic of resistance to NASA and the space program. This was introduced early on by Neil Maher, in the introduction, where he also took the time to discuss his work in finding sources and his process for writing this specific book. Of all of the historiographies which I have read at the introductions of texts, I found Maher’s discussion of the current work being done in environmental histories of space, and his decision to look at resistance movements in conjunction with the space race, to be the most helpful and purposeful historiography which I have read. I normally struggle with authors who work to place their writing within a larger canon of literature, I understand its purpose but still find it difficult to enter myself into that text especially at the beginning of a book, however Maher’s decision to discuss what other historians were doing, as well as the beginnings of his research and his original goal for the text (explaining the unexpected ecology of NASA’s space capsules) into how he wrote the book that he did (“less an environmental and technological history of the space race and more a political history of the 1960s era, albeit one that focuses on the unforeseen relationship between space technology and the natural environment both in space and back on Earth”) works well to place the development of this text.
This text had many elements that will work well in conjunction with the work I am doing with my thesis, since it is a political and cultural history which is firmly placed in conversation with new technologies and Cold War rhetoric. First, however, I have to admit, that while I realize that the United States is a country full of diverse groups with different agendas and cultural views, I have been woefully ignorant of the backlash which the space program faced during the height of the space race. It makes perfect sense why each of these many groups (Poor People’s protests, civil rights groups, environmental groups, the “New Left”, the “New Right”, anti-war activists, women’s rights groups) would choose to protest a technological endeavor which undermined and actively worked against these causes. The familiar narrative today of the Space Race fits in with the narrative of this created American identity which we have been discussing, it was contrived to seem much more positive in retrospect, which is exactly the point of creating such a narrative about a collective identity, to make society seem homogeneous when it is clearly not.
There are many moments in this text which I felt were directly useful to my thesis, but it was chapter four, “Heavenly Bodies: ‘Manned Spaceflight’ and the Women’s Movement” that I found to be the most compelling to me as a reader, and which really worked to dismantle some of the identity construction we have discussed. The contrast which Maher provides to a discussion of the “place” of women in space between the United States and the Soviet Union speaks to the idea of a war of ideology which we saw earlier. When Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go to space, the Soviets were not concerned with that fact that space was no longer a men’s-only club, nor were they focused on her beauty as a woman, but instead celebrated that she was a strong, fit woman who was able to handle the rigours of going into space. On the other hand, scientists in the United States were still unsure of if the female body could handle a launch into space, let alone could they figure out what to do when women would need to use the restroom, which apparently held its own set of logistical issues. The fact that women went to space in the Soviet Union more than a decade before they were allowed into space in the United States was a large part of the rhetoric of second-wave feminists in the US, playing directly into the tensions of the Cold War. There were also fears regarding the degrading of the male form in the United States. Men were growing soft due to their office jobs (another major aspect of my thesis) and strong, masculine, physically active astronauts could be held up as the model for what the American Man should be. If women were allowed into space, what would this mean for the male form? Would they still be considered the prime example of a human, if women could achieve the same goals? It is a very interesting discussion which Maher was bringing to light in this chapter, which encapsulates many of the themes of my own thesis.
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