Roger D. Launius

Chief Historian of

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC

Will speak on

Friday, March 10, 2000

3:30-5:30 pm

Baker Hall 255A

 The major contours of the American sprint to the Moon during the 1960s have been told and retold many times, notably in several books of the NASA History Series, William Burroughs, Andrew Chaiken, and Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox. With the passage of time, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the subsequent opening of archives on both sides of the space race, however, there are opportunities not present before to reconsider the importance of Project Apollo in American consciousness. "Project Apollo in American Memory and Myth" is the first public presentation of the findings from a major research effort to prepare a book on this subject. As such this presentation represents a "sneak peak" at a significant historical analysis presently underway.

The central themes being investigated in this research project, which will be presented in this paper in condensed form, speak to the continuing significance of Apollo as a part of the American psyche. There are a whole series of notions that have grown up and become a part of American culture as a result of the Moon landings and that hold sway some thirty years after the landing of Apollo 11 in July 1969. The most obvious of these is the now trite saying, "If we can put a man on the Moon, why can't we . . ." But the legacy of Apollo actually goes much deeper. Modeled on other works in history that are asking central questions about the shaping of national character in response to the myth and memory of past events, this paper will raise these following issues:

*  Visions of Reality (The quest for the Moon in history and how perceptions about it changed as a result of Apollo)

*  A Moment in Time (JFK's unique 1961 decision to go to the Moon and what misperceptions about it did to spacefaring advocates)

*  The Culture of Confidence (NASA's rise as a "can do" agency because of Apollo and that legacy)

*  The Astronaut as Icon (The astronaut as a celebrity and what that has meant in American life ranging from business and commerce and psyhological challenges)

*  Technological Virtuosity (NASA's accomplishment in successfully reaching the Moon)

*  Last Stand of the White Male Establishment (A postmodern critique of the effort)

*  Revelations (What Apollo taught humanity about itself, whole Earth, environmentalism, etc.)

This paper will rely on primary sources held at the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the NASA History Office, and in various collections of personal papers containing material on these themes.


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