Ambassadors for Apollo: NASA, Tourism, and Cold War American Values

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 10:00 AM
Stevens C-5 (Hilton Chicago)
Emily Margolis, Johns Hopkins University
In a 1963 survey of popular attitudes towards the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Apollo lunar landing program, one respondent remarked that the American people “question the value of a moon shot per se- what does it really mean?... what are [we] getting out of it?” The 20 billion dollars earmarked for the project, they believed, could “be put to better use on earth” to address the most pressing problems of the day: education, poverty, and racial inequality.

As the 1963 congressional appropriations hearings unfolded, citizens raised their voices to express confusion and concern, marking a departure from the enthusiasm with which they responded only two years earlier to President John F. Kennedy’s directive to land “a man on the moon and [return] him safely to the earth.” The American public struggled to find significance in human footprints on the moon- especially at a multi-billion dollar price tag- and this posed a very real threat to the Apollo program.

NASA’s sophisticated public affairs operation had failed to convey to the American taxpayer the merits of the moon mission. Administrator James E. Webb called for a more active form of engagement, explaining that the public should be given “a chance to participate, however vicariously, in our programs.” The result was a program of guided bus tours and exhibits at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s launch complex in east central Florida.

This paper explores how NASA employed tourism to frame its lunar program as a national imperative. Rather than demonstrating Apollo’s relevance to American culture, visitor programs presented the lunar landing program as manifestation of American culture: scientific excellence, technological prowess, creativity, transparency, and a higher standard of living. Millions of visitors returned to their communities as ardent ambassadors of Apollo, continuing the ideological work performed by space center tourism.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation