Space and the American Imagination

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JHU Press, 2011 - 395 pages

People dreamed of cosmic exploration—winged spaceships and lunar voyages; space stations and robot astronauts—long before it actually happened. Space and the American Imagination traces the emergence of space travel in the popular mind, its expression in science fiction, and its influence on national space programs.

Space exploration dramatically illustrates the power of imagination. Howard E. McCurdy shows how that power inspired people to attempt what they once deemed impossible. In a mere half-century since the launch of the first Earth-orbiting satellite in 1957, humans achieved much of what they had once only read about in the fiction of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and the nonfiction of Willy Ley.

Reaching these goals, however, required broad-based support, and McCurdy examines how advocates employed familiar metaphors to excite interest (promising, for example, that space exploration would recreate the American frontier experience) and prepare the public for daring missions into space. When unexpected realities and harsh obstacles threatened their progress, the space community intensified efforts to make their wildest dreams come true.

This lively and important work remains relevant given contemporary questions about future plans at NASA. Fully revised and updated since its original publication in 1997, Space and the American Imagination includes a reworked introduction and conclusion and new chapters on robotics and space commerce.


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In Space and the American Imagination, Howard E. McCurdy argues, “In a dramatic way, space exploration tests the connection between culture and technology. The visions associated with it stretch ... Read full review

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CHAPTER 1 The Vision
CHAPTER 2 Making Space Flight Seem Real
CHAPTER 3 The Cold War
The Aura of Competence
CHAPTER 5 Mysteries of Life
CHAPTER 6 The Extraterrestrial Frontier
CHAPTER 7 Stations in Space
CHAPTER 8 Spacecraft
CHAPTER 9 Robots
CHAPTER 10 Space Commerce
CHAPTER 11 Back on Earth
Imagination and Culture

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About the author (2011)

Howard E. McCurdy is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University; author of Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program, Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program, and The Space Station Decision: Incremental Politics and Technological Choice; and coauthor of Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel, all published by Johns Hopkins.

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