Project Apollo and the Vision of Global Interdependence

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:50 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Teasel Muir-Harmony, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
The growing awareness of global interdependence in the postwar period has often been linked to a new view of earth, captured by the cameras of Apollo astronauts on their way to and from the moon. This space-based optic, which revealed a seemingly fragile planet undivided by political boundaries, helped frame conversations about the pressing need for environmental action and world peace. US President Lyndon Johnson sent the photograph of the earth rising above the horizon of the moon taken during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission, along with farewell letters to nearly two-hundred world leaders when he left office. This image of earth, he said, evidenced that countries must "work together" to survive in the "new world of interdependence which science and technology are helping create."

As this paper will detail, US government elites, from Johnson to foreign affairs officers to astronauts, utilized Project Apollo to assert the United States' role as a global steward in the postwar era. After the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik established outer space as the arena where the Cold War competition for political alignment would play out, the United States invested immense resources in human space exploration. These resources not only launched humans to the moon, they also funded the largest information campaign in history. The United States' promotion of Project Apollo abroad, especially the first lunar landing, engaged over half of the world’s population, yet historians have not investigated the implications of this global-scale diplomacy undertaking.

Through a comparative analysis of how the United States' employed Project Apollo to support its foreign relations interests in different national contexts, this presentation shows how lunar exploration was part of a broader political strategy to build a global coalition aligned with US Cold War interests.