I have been working on an essay, that I hope to publish someday with the following working title, “The Space Program and the Ideal of American Exceptionalism.” My definition of American exceptionalism emphasizes the perceived special national character of the U.S. as democratic republic that emphasizes unique ideals and personal liberty. I understand that not all will agree with this definition, or that the U.S. adheres to these ideals. Regardless, as I envision it now,the essay will explore the history of the space program in the context of five major themes all relating to the ideal of American exceptionalism:
- Technological verisimilitude—the space program has been viewed as an agent of change. Technology is usually viewed as synonymous with progress and therefore as the leader in the world in this arena it is also an expression of American exceptionalism.
- Economic leadership—the space program has been viewed both as emblematic of the economic position of the nation (with a growing economy the nation would be unable to engage in such an endeavor) and as an agent of economic growth (since it represents investment in high-growth activities that benefit the nation as a whole).
- Managerial sophistication—the space program spawned a widespread organizational and managerial transformation in the restructuring of large-scale technological systems.
- Political transformation—the structure of the space program brought to the fore the reconstitution of the political situation in the United States as new interest groups emerged to argue for their agenda in spaceflight.
- Imaginative landscapes—the incorporation of a fundamentally new environment into the American consciousness altered in critical manner human perspectives on a range other issues/concerns such as the new appreciation of the Earth as a fragile place.
- Scientific consequences—both intended and unintended results from scientific investigations transformed the United States through the space program. One might best consider this in the context of three major issues: (1) knowledge of the Earth itself; (2) the nature of space and the places that exist beyond Earth; and (3) the possibility of life beyond Earth.
I am interested to hear from anyone on this subject. Please let me know if I have anything here that might illuminate anything useful. All ideas are welcome.