If space exploration is understood as not just one of the twentieth century’s most prestigious feats of engineering, but also a central theme in period visions of the future and utopias, then how might we understand the transition from the 1960s to the 1970s, with its emphasis on reduced possibilities and limitations to progress? The conference aimed to shift the focus away from explanations of transition from Cold War contexts and produce more nuanced narratives: from the familiar struggle between two superpowers, namely the USA and the former USSR, to distinctly West-European perspectives, and from political to socio-cultural dimensions of the Space Age. How were limits created, challenged and maintained? And in what sense was outer space invoked to transform cultural boundaries and how were these conveyed to different audiences? The conference looked at utopia not as a socio-cultural objective but rather as a process. Through defining limitless opportunities afforded by outer space, advocates of space exploration not only opened up new possibilities for accelerating or even surpassing human development, but also delineated the historicity and limitations of the imagination.
Conference speakers included Debbora Battaglia (Mount Holyoke College), Martin Collins (National Air and Space Museum), David A. Kirby (University of Manchester), John Krige (Georgia Institute of Technology), Agnes Meyer-Brandis (Universität der Künste Berlin), Roger D. Launius (National Air and Space Museum) and Helmuth Trischler (Deutsches Museum).
A selection of revised conference contributions will be published in a forthcoming volume Post-Apollo: Outer Space and the Limits of Utopia, under contract with Palgrave Macmillan.