Space and the American Imagination

Howard E. McCurdy, Author Smithsonian Books $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-56098-764-2
In a book guaranteed to disturb technophiles and policy wonks, McCurdy (Inside NASA) examines the relationships over the past half century among the U.S. space program, the American national character, popular culture and public policy. In a nation where the distinction between perception and reality is becoming increasingly vague, imagination--for good or ill--drives public policy and the programs that implement it, he finds. In his brilliant conclusion, McCurdy writes, ""Advocates took fantastic ideas and laid upon them images already rooted in the American culture, such as the myth of the frontier. The resulting vision... had the power to excite or entertain, or as in the case of the Cold War, to frighten. The vision prevailed... not because of its technical superiority but because it aroused the imaginations of people who viewed it."" McCurdy compares the evolution of space exploration to the history of other policy arenas, from slavery through nuclear power and the war on poverty, revealing a consistent pattern. Policy shifts follow shifts in popular culture, he demonstrates, and cultural shifts follow imaginative new visions. And in late-20th-century America, he makes clear, those visions sweep faddishly past, carried primarily by advertising and the entertainment media. 43 b&w photos. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 294 pages - 978-1-56098-445-0
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