Rethinking Apollo: Technopolitics, Globality, and the Space Age

AHA Session 44
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Pedro M.P. Raposo, Adler Planetarium
A Postcolonial Moment? Apollo and American Empire
Stephen Buono, Indiana University
Project Apollo and the Vision of Global Interdependence
Teasel Muir-Harmony, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Moontime: Global Synchronicity in the Age of Space
Alexander C.T. Geppert, New York University
Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

Session Abstract

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1969, half of the world’s population followed the first lunar landing. Power companies logged a record-breaking upsurge in energy consumption brought on by the number of televisions and radios tuned to the broadcast of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Never before had a human been so far away from Earth, and critics worldwide were convinced that later generations would hail this unprecedented achievement as an epoch-making event. Even though more people turned their attention to the moon landing than to any previous event in world history, for years historians have largely understood Apollo as a domestic US affair, referencing but not always engaging with the complex dynamics of 1960s geopolitics and the ensuing, crisis-ridden 1970s. Two low-priority by-products of the $20 billion program, the photographs Earthrise (1968) and Blue Marble (1972), have enjoyed particular scholarly attention. But the history of the $20 billion program is more than a story of gigantic rockets, astronauts-cum-celebrities, moon rocks and a cross-border community of emotionally engaged television viewers, the so-called moon children. It is also a history of geopolitical maneuvering, territorial debates and technoscientific diplomacy, of world-wide attention and globe-spanning resonance, and of short-lived hopes for fostering human unity from the vantage point of outer space.

The proposed panel, Rethinking Apollo: Technopolitics, Globality and the Space Age, takes the forthcoming anniversary as an impetus to reevaluate the six moon landings, undertaken between 1969 and 1972, from three complementary historiographical perspectives: legal, diplomatic and temporal. Stephen Buono examines how the 1967 Outer Space Treaty intersected with Cold War debates about post-colonialism, territory and US empire. Teasel Muir-Harmony demonstrates that US government officials employed Project Apollo to advance foreign relations in different national contexts. And Alexander Geppert probes the implications of the first moon walk as a transient moment of global synchronicity. Finally, Andrew Jenks, a historian of Russia, offers comments on the landing’s transnational dimensions, while Pedro Raposo, a historian of colonial science, engages in the post-presentation conversation about the relationship of technopolitics, global consciousness and sovereignty.

The panel uses the Apollo moment as a trigger to address larger issues in the history of space exploration, science and technology on the one hand, and 'general' twentieth-century historiography on the other. It contends that reassessing the moon landings as a key caesura which both ended the classical Space Age and heralded the ensuing Post-Apollo period has far-reaching implications for our understanding of the distinctive contradictions that characterized 1968 and the ‘long’ 1970s. Apollo showed how large-scale, national technological programs reshaped international power configurations. It played a decisive role in redrawing crucial boundaries – forging alliances across national borders, redefining concepts of territory, and enabling a sense of interconnection – that would frame expectations of the global order for decades to come. As such, putting a human on the moon was a singularly defining, if unrepeated moment in the making of our planetized present.

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