On 7 October 1976, Grenada's Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy brought up the subject of UFOs at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. His action was of historical significance. It was the first intervention at the UN related to extraterrestrial life, which in 1977 resulted in discussions about extraterrestrial civilizations by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Gairy's subsequent proposals lead to the adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1978 of decision 33/426 calling for the establishment of an agency or a department of the UN for coordinating and disseminating the results of research into UFOs. The decision was never applied, but its development nonetheless marked the pinnacle of serious public consideration of UFOs. In parallel with these developments and throughout the 1970s, the exploration of our solar system and the streams of images and data received from our space probes (Venera 9, Viking) revealed the non-hospitable environments of Earth's solar neighborhood. Interestingly, it was also during the same decade that humanity started launching into interstellar space vehicles equipped with the ability to communicate with other space-faring civilizations (Pioneer, Voyager).
Bringing closer these UN hearings and space milestones, I argue in this paper that the 1970s constituted a crucial transitional period in the history of human contemplation regarding extraterrestrial life. It was the moment that our inner speculations and hopes of discovering non-terrestrial sentients were reduced to nothing. It marked the end of exobiological utopias. This paper retraces the major steps of Grenada's UN UFO initiative and examines the ufological discourse in terms of socio-cultural dimensions linked to the space age and search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This analysis will examine the argumentation used, crossing cultural and national boundaries (e.g. Earth as the inheritance of all humanity, limiting common anthropocentric presuppositions, security) and show the constraints faced by Gairy and the tactics of de-legitimation used by opponents (e.g. funding, credibility, influence) while emphasizing societal issues that still prove valid today (e.g. the need for scientific engagement, communication and transparency).
In 1978, six years after the last human footprint was left on the Moon, the Danish LEGO Company launched its first series of models dedicated solely to the theme of outer space. Now known as 'Classic Space LEGO' it is lauded by adult LEGO fans around the world. Some of the designs were vaguely reminiscent of the first Star Wars movie from 1977, which may partly explain the theme's world-wide success. The LEGO space theme was introduced in a time that, in the words of Roger D. Launius, 'might best be viewed as a nadir in human space exploration, with the Apollo program gone and the Shuttle not yet flying.' Yet, the building instructions for the classic space themed toys depicted neat little mini-figures with eternally smiling faces, garbed in white and red space suits, and occupied with colonizing and mining a Moon-like planetary surface. In the sketchily suggested story lines for the theme there were no conflicts, no weapons, no warring factions. With their horizons of softly rolling Moon-dunes and the alluring blackness of space looming behind, the visual representations of the theme transcended the limits imposed by historical contingence, suggesting instead a vision of unlimited space for peaceful exploration and expansion by humankind. As such, it connected to utopian sentiments running through the American space program, as exemplified by Gerard O'Neill's optimistic plans for building space habitats. Through an analysis of the LEGO sets themselves, various LEGO publications, writings of online LEGO fan communities, and interviews with LEGO designers, this paper elucidates the origins of the LEGO Classic Space theme and its connections to the historical and cultural context of the time. My analysis,will shed light on how a vision of outer space was created in a Danish toy company and how it subsequently captured the minds of a generation.
In early 1969 a brand new illustrated monthly appeared at West German newsstands: X – unsere Welt heute ('our world of today'). X called itself an Aktuelles Magazin für Naturwissenschaft und Technik ('magazine for the latest news from science and technology') and was the first popular sci-tech journal of decent quality to be sold to the German public in great numbers: Nearly 100 000 copies were printed each month. In spite of its success the magazine run only a little over four years: In April 1973 X was merged with another sci-tech periodical and is largely forgotten today.
X magazine was produced in a time when the perception of science and technology changed in West German society. During the 1960s scientific and technological progress and, of course, spaceflight were seen mostly positive, whereas in the 1970s many people lost interest or developed a more critical view. It can be assumed that the contents of a popular sci-tech magazine, which each month has to find its buyers, somehow reflect not only the personal views of its writers but also the changing climate of opinion among its readers.
In this paper, the following questions will be addressed: Which topics can be found in the magazine? Which topics were pushed? And which were overlooked? What images were used for the magazine cover? How did X write about spaceflight and astronomy? And how did its outlook change over the years? We will also look at the letters to the editor and the results of a readers' poll conducted in 1970. It may thus be argued that X can be used as an indicator how West Germans interested in science, technology and spaceflight saw the world during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This presentation is not a historical study per se, but a reflection on the attempts of historians and critical theorists to interpret the 1970s – its significance, its main vectors of change, its positioning as a passage between the postwar period through the 1960s and 1980s and after, decades (however chronologically marked) that have been taken as distinct historical formations. Thus, the 1970s, from the scholarly perspective, has come to be seen as an interpretive problem in mediating our understanding of the American-European experience in the decades that bracket it. Typically, such interpretive searching has centered on changes in American-European political economy, political ideology, and conceptions of self (particularly as grounded in market-based consumption) – in short, giving analytic preference to understanding structures as opposed to events (such as the 1973 Oil Crisis). These domains, spanning broad conceptions of social order to the inner experience of individuals, speak to period notions of 'limits' and 'utopia' in different ways. This reconnaissance will seek to do two tasks: To, first, provide a critical account of thinking about the 1970s, drawing together period theorists such as Daniel Bell and Francois Lyotard as well as recent historiography and theory, and then, second, suggest the ways in which spaceflight has been conceptualized, indirectly and directly, in such framing of the decade. The focus in the first part will be to sort through the central problem as seen by a variety of authors writing about the 1970s: Perceived changes in capitalism and the relation of this transformation (late capitalism) to questions of politics, the state, and citizens as consumers. The focus of the second part will be to make a case for seeing spaceflight (as element of political economy, as trope and ideology, as a realm of consumption) as an integral aspect of period change.
The transition between the 1960s and 1970s witnessed an easing of the Cold War 'Space Race' and an escalation of international collaboration concerning human activities in space, symbolized both by the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and the creation of the European Space Agency. Yet this period also involved an extensive elaboration and normalization of 'space law': the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Astronaut Agreement of 1968, the Liability Convention of 1972, the Registration Convention of 1975 and the Moon Agreement of 1979 collectively defined the scope of law in outer space and entrenched a score of ambiguities and inconsistencies within corpus juris spatialis. In conscious renunciation of Earth's imperial, colonial and Cold War legacies these treaties set up a legal regime which sought to preclude claims to sovereignty and ownership over space. In many significant respects these agreements represented the first steps towards the creation of a post-national, post-sovereign global community. At the same time, when viewed from the perspective of the early twenty-first century, in a period in which the sovereign state is in decline and the future of space exploration seems to be largely left in the hands of private enterprise, the ambiguities and inconsistencies contained in corpus juris spatialis reassert themselves with imminent force. What is space? Is it a resource? Is it an extension of the environment? This paper considers the normative legacy of the 1960s and 1970s and explores its viability for the twenty-first century.
This paper will introduce the principal themes of the Envisioning Limits conference. It will provide a conceptual frame (envisioning as a constitutive process in the cultural history of outer space) and focus on three analytical questions (Western Europe, limits, utopia) for interrogating the argument that the 1970s represent a rupture in the history of space, spaceflight and extraterrestrial life, as symbolized by the first Moon landing in July 1969. Further, this introductory presentation will clarify how the conference structure integrates different approaches to explaining how the process of envisioning space exploration created opportunities for transcending perceived limits, but also delineated the historicity and boundaries of the imagination. Attempting to overcome an obvious intermission-vs.-transition dichotomy and to avoid decadological thinking, the paper argues that the post-Apollo and pre-Ariane years constitute a crucial, if hitherto overlooked and underestimated period in space history that awaits closer scrutiny and integration into general historiography.
If there were any question that the first Space Race had ended by 1972, Wernher von Braun's retirement from the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the final Apollo Moon landing that year extinguished all doubts. In 1972, space agencies in the United States, the Soviet Union, and Western Europe savored important successes while recognizing that the optimistic visions of exploration that had been popular in the 1960s could not survive an environment of political, economic, and social change. With preeminence over the Soviet Union seemingly established, Americans in particular could either abandon space travel or finally pursue it for the reasons the most grandiose prophets of flight had once imagined: to transform the human spirit. In 1972, various groups of Americans demanded starships, not space capsules, and a space program that would benefit all people, instead of a select few. While NASA tested its new Skylab space station and began work on its Space Shuttle – a people's spacecraft unlike any ever constructed – science fiction fans fractured into 'trekkers' and 'freaks.' Star Trek enthusiasts held their first convention, celebrating anachronistic visions of future spaceflight rooted in early-1960s American liberalism. Meanwhile, a growing community of counter-culturists imagined a space program freed from the violence and petty jealousies of nation-states, where the only mission was the elevation of human consciousness. 'Space is the place,' afro-futurist jazz musician Sun Ra exclaimed in 1972: a vast, fertile wilderness where Earth's social ills would find no purchase. Drawing upon institutional histories, archival documents, oral history, and popular culture, this paper examines a single, critical year in the history of spaceflight, and the uneasy consensus for space exploration that ultimately emerged from it.
The starting point of my paper is the Apollo-Soyuz mission in July 1975, which marked both the beginning of a new era of transnational space exploration and an important shift in the political and cultural meanings associated with space flight. Aleksei Leonov, the cosmonaut who participated in the mission, said he was struck again and again during the flight, that 'cooperation means friendship, and friendship means peace.' Banal statements, perhaps, but not devoid of genuine belief. New ideas about collaboration and cooperation – which often clashed with heroic national narratives of space from the previous era – envisioned spaceflight as a way to forge a global consciousness and community. That realization came in part from a recognition of the limits of the Cold War struggle, reinforced by the terrifying prospect of Mutual Assured Destruction. It was also a perfect complement to the spirit of the 1970s, initiated by the first Earth Day in 1970 and inspired, in part, by a new breed of environmentalists such as the British scientist James Lovelock who imagined the Earth as a kind of spaceship – and its human inhabitants as just one minor component of a far larger cosmos. His 1979 book Gaia, from the Greek for Mother Earth, captured the spirit of the age. An amalgam of ideas that had crisscrossed many national boundaries, it was inspired in part by the ideas of the Russian cosmist and geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, by images from the Apollo missions, and by anti-nuclear and environmental advocates throughout Europe.
This paper is based on a rich collection of documents contained in the Hoover Institution and Archives. Entitled the 'Association of Space Explorers,' the document collection recounts attempts by a group of Western European public figures, cosmonauts and retired astronauts – led by Apollo 9 mission veteran Rusty Schweickart – to promote international cooperation during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Western Europe was a staging ground for the group's efforts. The group held its first meeting in a chateau just outside Paris in October 1985. The French cosmonaut Jean-Loup Chrétien, who eventually flew on both Soviet and NASA vehicles, was a key figure. Jacques Cousteau, a pioneer in sea exploration, was also closely involved in the effort and gave the keynote speech. As the group put it during the meeting in Cernay in October 1985: '[We] have seen the Earth from a vantage point that transcends political differences, and are thereby in a position to inspire all of us to work together more creatively on issues of mutual concern.' The Association itself grew out of Détente and the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, 'that memorable handshake in space,' as the organizers put it. The association's members and sponsors – at a time of increasing Cold War tensions – had profound faith in 'the potential of this group of individuals to influence the consciousness of our time… perhaps unique in the history of explorers.' The selection of a French ninth-century Abbey as the location for the initiative also conveyed the participants' desire to initiate a broader transnational movement – though one with explicitly European origins. As the organizers put it, they had gathered in an Abbey, 'where crusaders once passed on their way to Jerusalem.' It was space exploration with a distinctly Western European twist, as 'meals were conducted in a leisurely European style [and] there was ample time for fishing and boating on the lake.' Especially important to the organizers was the need to go beyond Cold War visions of space and to emphasize the 'conservation of natural resources and resolving the problems of environmental pollution.'
As the organizers point out, attempts to envisage the boundlessness of outer space tend to reveal terrestrial and anthropological limitations. This duality of the limitless and the limited informs a number of British 1970s novels that engage the question after the place of mankind in the universe in order to reflect about the limitations and potential of the novel as a literary form.
In The Genesis of the Copernican World, Hans Blumenberg predicted that there would never be a classic travel narrative about the first Moon landing, and that man 'did not succeed, on this occasion [in 1969], in showing that the only reason why the Earth is not a desert is that he exists, contemplates it, and can talk about it.' The experience of outer space proved a severe challenge to traditional narratives of the relationship between mankind and cosmos. However, as Günther Anders pointed out, the photographs taken of Earth from space in 1968 also introduced an unprecedented element of cultural self-reflexivity. The paper discusses the functions assumed by this new sense of self-reflexivity in selected British novels of the 1970s.
Invocations of outer space and of the relationship between mankind and cosmos are made, I argue, to probe the limits of representation and hence, the limits of the genre. Such invocations prompt reflections about the potential, nature, and purpose of the novel in contemporary society. Authors such as Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, A. S. Byatt, John Banville, and Ian McEwan take the human desire to anthropomorphize the cosmos and to 'make it speak' about mankind as commensurate with the desire of the novelist and the novel reader to create meaningful worlds from words. In the paper, I examine their treatments of the topic as one concrete manifestation of astroculture's impact on the venerable cultural practice that is the novel.
On Christmas Eve 1979, the United States lost its two-decade, 'free world' monopoly on access to space when the European launcher Ariane performed flawlessly on its maiden flight. A decade later, thanks to Ariane's success, the Shuttle's low annual launch rate, and the Challenger accident the public/private company that exploited Ariane commercially, Arianespace, had captured about 50% of the world market for civilian satellite launches, a position it manages to maintain even today.
This breach in the US control of access to space was but one of several setbacks to the global reach of American power in the 1970s. Nor was it the only one in the domain of space science and technology. In fact Europe's determination to close the much-vaunted 'technological gap' that had dominated thinking in the late 1960s helped tilt the balance of forces between it and the United States in the 1970s. This tilt was due to the convergence of two factors. Leading policy-makers in the United States were trapped in modes of behavior that were born of their dominant position in the 1960s and were unable to adjust to the new situation that confronted them in their dealings with Europeans. That situation was one in which Europeans were no longer willing to be 'bullied' by a dominant partner, and were determined to break free of the United States if the latter did not respect their wishes. This conflict – between senior policy makers in the US who wanted to rein in European aspirations, and European policymakers that wanted to chart their own course, free of the United States if need be – came to a head in negotiations over launcher policy between 1969 and 1972.
This paper will describe these negotiations. It is widely known that the decision to embark on Ariane was never a forgone conclusion and that, even in France, deep doubts and serious opposition marked the birth of the project. It is also generally argued that NASA's demand that it would only launch Symphonie – a Franco-German telecom satellite – if it was used for experimental, not operational purposes, was the single most important factor in favor of a pro-Ariane decision in France. This paper will revisit that debate. But it will insist that it overlooks other equally significant US-European confrontations over access to space (in the definitive Intelsat agreements and in the post-Apollo program) that fuelled the determination to be independent. By highlighting these multiple simultaneous conflicts over a technology that was intimately related to the expression and implementation of American power, and by exploring the effects of the United States' hostility to European demands, we are able to chart the first signs of a crumbling hegemony that would result in the eventual marginalization of the United States as just one provider among others of space services.
There is a very significant religious quality to advocacy for human space exploration, lending it a 'higher purpose' that may disturb the faithful but helps explain much of the hold human space exploration has enjoyed within its supporting community. Religion carries several connotations, chief among them being faith and worship, the existence of a set of beliefs inspiring reverence and allegiance, trust in an alternative arrangement of human affairs that cannot be physically demonstrated, a frequent promise of immortality, an explanation of the creation, and conviction in a message of salvation. Human space exploration fits these characteristics well. It inspires faith, worship, reverence, alternative futures, and a quest for secular immortality. Being like a religion, space exploration as a belief system has saints, martyrs, and demons; sacred spaces of pilgrimage and reverence; theology and creed; worship and rituals; sacred texts; and a message of salvation with humanity insuring its future through expansion of civilization to other celestial bodies.
This paper focuses on the religion of spaceflight in the 1970s. This was a pivotal period in the aftermath of the Apollo Moon landings and expectations were broad that the dreams of spaceflight – the utopian/religious conceptions so much a part of it – were on the verge of realization. The manner in which the decade of the 1970s unfolded, however, was quite different from what had been expected. This paper will explore how and why those who embraced spaceflight as religion responded to the developments of the 1970s, setting in train a succession of major efforts around the world designed to further the dreams of spaceflight and expressing its elements as a form of religion.
The relationship between the Space Race and the environmental sciences has changed dramatically over time. While NASA and the Soviet space agency began the 1960s using environmental sciences to explore outer space, after the first Earth Day in 1970 both increasingly turned to the same science to examine ecological changes taking place on planet Earth. Ground Control explores this scientific reorientation during the 1970s by placing it within the broader historical context of both environmentalism and détente across the developing world.
This paper integrates environmental and technological history to analyze how NASA and the Soviet space agency shared data from technologies such as earth resources satellites not only with environmentalists, who often used it to promote conservation and ecological stewardship, but also with leaders from developing countries around the world. For example, during the mid-to-late 1970s NASA lured scientists, engineers, and politicians from Brazil, Nicaragua, and Mexico in Latin America, from Zaire, Senegal, Kenya, and Botswana in Africa, and from Pakistan and Japan in Asia, to work closely with US and European governments in return for Landsat data regarding each of these country's natural resources. The Soviet Union retaliated in the early 1980s by using its Soyuz missions to conduct similar measurements of natural resources in developing communist countries that were cooperating with its Intercosmos Council, including Vietnam, Mongolia, and Cuba. Both space superpowers could, and did, halt this flow of natural resource data from space to these same developing countries if their leaders refused to act in the best interest of the US or USSR.
Ground Controlthus explores how the utopian promise of environmentalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s receded as the rising tide of détente washed across the developing world. At the very center of this historical shift were space technology on the one hand, and earthbound nature on the other.
Starting in 1969, Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill began to imagine that what he called the 'humanization of space' could provide a critical safety valve for a crowded, polluted, and energy-hungry planet. O'Neill formulated his ideas in direct response to the warnings of eco-catastrophe presented in international bestsellers like The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth. Space, as O'Neill described in his award winning 1977 book The High Frontier, could be not just a government-run program for astronaut elites but a place where wide array of citizens could live and work.
Whereas earlier visionaries offered largely descriptive speculations, O'Neill developed detailed plans for massive Earth-like habitats floating free in space far from our home planet's gravitational pull. He began with simple drawings and back-of-the-envelope estimates. In time, O'Neill's concepts matured into sophisticated designs backed by detailed calculations that he disseminated and discussed with colleagues. NASA and other professional organizations supported this work with several conferences and workshops. O'Neill meanwhile popularized his vision to interested citizens, politicians, and journalists throughout the 1970s.
We lack a suitable word to call someone who undertook such a diverse set of future-directed activities. To fill this gap, I propose visioneer. A neologism combining 'visionary' and 'engineer,' this word captures the hybridized nature of these technologists' activities. This paper presents O'Neill as a 'visioneer' – someone who imagines, designs, promotes, and sometimes even builds exploratory technologies. This paper places O'Neill's work within larger social, economic, political, and environmental concerns of the 1970s as well broader streams of technological utopianism. It also explores the challenges O'Neill faced in presenting his visionary engineering to a wider audience. Finally, this paper develops 'visioneer' as a category of historical actor that can help us understand the development and promotion of future technologies and technological utopias.
This paper discusses two missions that have been influential to many scientists' careers and often animate technical discussions. Ironically, neither of these missions – the Mars Sample Return and the Terrestrial Planet Finder – have actually flown, nor do they even have funding. Although envisioned by the planetary astronomy communities as early as the 1950s, these missions have been perpetually postponed for development in response to funding crises, and continue to be discussed and projected for development today. Despite this, we argue, they are important and powerful forces within the communities that support them. We first discuss how such missions serve a limiting function on the development of sequential missions along the way, as they become the proposed utopian vision of the ideal future mission that will resolve all of the community's pressing questions. Thus, despite never being accepted for development themselves, their constant apparition on the horizon of 'what comes next' exerts a powerful limitation on contemporary technologies in development, each of which is understood as 'technology demonstrations' towards the eventual promised mission. Further, they serve a rallying function for Mars scientists or exoplanet astronomers around which a community organizes and individuals plan their career trajectories. This is particularly important as we attempt to understand the effects of the shifts in funding structure in the 1970s that moved from mission families (such as Apollo or Pioneer) to one-off missions such as flagships that must be uniquely approved and subject to Congressional whims. Finally, much as these imagined future missions provide limits for and utopian ideals for community members, they also respond to changes in local utopian visions of the planet Earth and its relation to space exploration. The missions therefore shift in response to how Mars or exoplanets are re-imagined in different periods, such as the ecological visions of the 1970s or the Earth in peril and decline in the 1990s. Ultimately, we argue, studying these missions that never flew is as important as studying those missions that actually flew for understanding the shape and scope of planetary exploration today.
This presentation will deal with the creation of art and science in the absence of weight. The starting point will be an artistic project entitled 'Cloud-Core-Scanner,' conceived by Agnes Meyer-Brandis and conducted under the condition of weightlessness. The experiment was originally carried out during a microgravity generating flight maneuver, usually restricted to scientific investigations, and executed in collaboration with the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR). After describing her microgravity experiment, Meyer-Brandis will discuss three different methods of space travel, one of which dates back to the age of enlightenment in the seventeenth century and subsequently transformed for audiences in the twentieth century. Agnes Meyer-Brandis' research can be interpreted as poetic-scientific investigation, weaving together fact, imagination, storytelling and myth, past, present and future. Her presentation will combine sometimes weighty and sometimes weightless perambulation in search of reality within constructions.
The 1970s are routinely touted as representing the end of Britain's space program. With its abandonment of satellite launch vehicle development, the downgrading of its main sounding rocket activities and the siphoning of funds away from national satellite projects towards the European, the decade is oft interpreted as one of decline for Britain in space, as in other arenas. Was any such trend echoing a deeper cultural withdrawal from matters space? How indeed had the culture of space manifested itself in Britain during previous decades and did the 1970s represent any sort of change? Were those players actively involved in space exploration – governmental, military, academic and industrial – exploiting a broader societal consensus towards space or were the two largely separate? How were space and progress equated in Britain? Was a utopian dimension invoked by advocates of space exploration? By addressing such questions, and with particular reference to the 1970s, this paper seeks new interpretations of British space activity that challenge those promoted within the 'declinist' tradition.
There may be no better example of a utopia based on outer space in the 1970s than Gerard O'Neill's proposal for building space colonies, as presented in his book The High Frontier. At the same time O'Neill's case also exemplifies the reaction of the 'limits to growth' advocates, for their attack on his ideas was as swift as it was vehement. O'Neill drew inspiration from several space pioneers who had envisioned boundless possibilities for humankind in the exploration and colonization of the cosmos. He was particularly impressed by the work of European thinkers such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, John Bernal, Hermann Oberth, Guido von Pirquet, Hermann Noordung, Wernher von Braun, and Krafft Ehricke. His ideas for 'islands in the sky,' for example, owe much to Bernal spheres, while his emphasis on finding solutions to our energy, pollution, and scarcity problems by building solar power satellites and mining the Moon and asteroids echoed Ehricke's 'extraterrestrial imperative' to sustain the development of humanity by exploiting the resources of the solar system. His environmentalist critics believed instead that the very attempt to escape our limits by going into space was irresponsible daydreaming. Wendell Berry, for instance, claimed that closing of the earthly frontiers 'calls for an authentic series of changes in the human character,' and thus while we need a change of attitude O'Neill offers technological solutions. The morality of the space enthusiast is thus both shallow and gullible, for he offers 'a solution to moral problems that contemplates no moral change.' And Dennis Meadows urged us to solve our problems here by seeking the 'loss of the growth ethic.' Nevertheless, in spite of the bitterness of the controversy, both sides created the basis for cooperation decades later, although nothing on the grandiose scale once dreamed by O'Neill.
As unprecedented crewed mission paradigms enter the space exploration agenda today – such as prospecting Near Earth Asteroids, routine on-orbit servicing of satellites, and tackling the daunting problem of space debris – a new generation of space professionals comes to the fore. While these new professionals may differ from the profile of contemporary astronauts and cosmonauts, their fictional counterparts were depicted in 1970s science fiction films. Following earlier productions featuring astronaut protagonists on heroic missions, films from the 1970s onwards painted a bleaker picture of future space professionals and their remote habitats. This darker vision was foreshadowed by European science fiction films released during the 1960s in which human-machine interaction began to assume dystopian dimensions. In subsequent films, the era of the idealistic astronaut-scientist or pilot operating in clean, functional vehicles became less common. Instead, this image was replaced by disillusioned, even subversive protagonists in European co-productions. In these dystopic films, latent personal dilemmas and emotional needs of individual characters were reflected in disorderly, decaying or excessively customized living quarters and unfurled a more ambiguous and complex representation of the human condition. In treating production designs as case studies, this paper engages with notions of speculative futures in Western European, Eastern Bloc, and US film as expressed in the portrayal of fictional spacecraft and their inhabitants. The paper examines the role of mock-ups or sets as embodied foresight tools, both in real space research and production design in fictional films. This relationship is exemplified in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Focusing on the depiction of astronauts and their habitats in subsequent films, this paper identifies and examines key design themes of more ‘humanized’ space futures.
The 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey was the apex of Western astroculture. Written and constructed in tandem with the manned space program, it was the best-known of the many projects of the 1950s and 1960s designed to make space travel seem real. Its creators, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, took unprecedented pains to ensure that the film's portrayal of the near future appeared realistic in order that its scenario of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence should be credible. They went much further, however, offering a technology-driven vision of the course of human evolution: the film's underlying message was that in the space age homo sapiens was on the verge of a breakthrough to a new relationship with the rest of the universe, and to a new level of evolutionary potential. Its success was similarly extraordinary, attracting (and baffling) the largest movie audiences in history and continuing to do so as the first travellers left Earth orbit and travelled to the Moon in 1968-69.
Yet while Clarke and, more ambiguously, Kubrick subscribed to the grand view of space travel, the film carried its own seeds of doubt. The killer apes of the opening 'Dawn of Man' sequence, the almost-human computer that malfunctioned and attacked the astronauts, and the robotic and unaware human characters, indicated that all was not well with homo sapiens, while the scenario in which human development was assisted at key moments by alien intervention suggested that evolution alone did not guarantee progress. Meanwhile the rise of the 'limits to growth' movement, ecology and environmentalism, themselves accelerated by the first views of Earth from space, began to cast doubt upon technological progress as the engine of human salvation. In retrospect, 2001 marked not only the apex but also the turning point of western astroculture.
The transition from the 1960s to the 1970s has been quite visible in the field of international space law. Whereas the 1967 Outer Space Treaty was a product of the 1960s Cold War between East and West, the 1979 Moon Agreement was clearly a result of the 1970s New International Economic Order paradigm on the North-South coordinate axis. In the time passed between the UN-sponsored negotiation of the former and the latter legal documents, decolonization changed dramatically the geopolitical landscape, and the focus of the international discourse shifted from the security concerns of the 'First' and 'Second' worlds to the economical concerns of the 'Third' world. While the end of the Space Race may have been the end of utopia for the Cold War factions, it represented in fact the beginning of utopia for the new international actors hailing from the developing world. While in the 1960s the 'have nots' criticized the race to the Moon as a waste of money that could have found a better use as foreign aid, in the 1970s the same social category sought to benefit from the space age by declaring the Moon as the 'Common Heritage of Mankind' and by seeking a share in the yet to come untold riches from the Moon – seen as a solution to the 'Limits to Growth.'
Being diametrically opposed to the Space Race and its Cold War connotations, major visual artists have used satellites as a creative medium in order to orchestrate transnational interactive new media performances. Whereas the first initiative dates from 1966, when Douglas Davis performed his Seven Thoughts to an empty Houston Astrodome and the live signal was sent up to a satellite, it was in the 1970s that various projects were being realized: in 1977, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz worked in Goddard/NASA Space Flight Center in Maryland in order to create interaction between two dancers based in San Francisco and Maryland respectively. The same year, Liza Bear and Keith Sonnier worked closely with NASA technicians in order to create a performance project unfolding between Battery City Landfill in New York and the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View California.
During the same years, two major satellite projects, in which the most important artists of their time (Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, Douglas Davis among others) became involved, were being realized in Europe. In 1977, the opening of the major art show Documenta 6 in Kassel was marked by the first live international satellite telecast by artists. In 1984, Nam June Paik directedGood Morning Mr Orwell, a trans-Atlantic satellite production that connected the Centre Pompidou in Paris with New York.
This paper attempts to trace some basic threads of the Satellite Art history by analyzing the impact of rendering the outer space part of the art making procedure. According to what Nam June Paik describes as 'cosmic aesthetics,' new media art extends its limits seeking to transform the cultural boundaries and create new hybrid forms. The collaboration between artists and the NASA will be further analyzed in conjunction with the ideological framework of the artworks. These projects evoke the idea of transnational peaceful communication via art along with the desire to go beyond borders of space and time, but also beyond the borders of the countries and the nations. In other words, they reflected the utopian political agenda of the 1970s.
In 1972 the Club of Rome heralded the 'era of limits,' when demographic and environmental pressures would force humanity to scale back its ambitions and live with less. A decade later, in 1983, US President Ronald Reagan announced a grand plan to build a shield in space against ballistic missiles, what became known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). These seemingly separate and even contradictory historical events were, in fact, connected. This paper shows how the cultural and intellectual context of the 1970s – specifically, the idea of an impending crisis in human society – helped lead to SDI. The perceived threat to human survival galvanized a group of technological optimists to propose outer space not only as a solution to the Malthusian crisis of overpopulation, energy depletion, and environmental damage, but also to the possibility of nuclear armageddon. As counterculture sci-fi enthusiasts embraced technology amid the anti-technoscience atmosphere after the 1960s, the quest for a technological fix linked erstwhile left-liberals with libertarians and others on the political right pushing missile defense as well as space colonization. The convergence included interesting institutional and intellectual alignments as well, mingling members of the L5 Society with nuclear weapon designers and Air Force analysts, and presenting missile-defense plans alongside enlightened discussion of biofeedback and the Gaia hypothesis. These unusual intersections highlight a historiographical need to look off the beaten path for the origins of SDI – in particular, to connect Cold War political and diplomatic history with history of science and technology and popular culture.