The Commercialization and Public Face of America's Rockets.

The Commercialization and Public Face of America’s Rockets.

If World War II had taught the globe anything, it was perhaps the simple fact that there was no technological turn-back from the atomic bomb that would most impact the growth of our nation. Although the term ‘Cold War’ was coined in 1947 by American Journalist Walter Lippman[1], the conflict would see its head reached in the mid-50s, as the Arms Race swung into full effect and the Space Race began. With these arrival would come a new series of conflicts and indirect atrocities that could not be rationalized to the public in the same ways as previous wars, as there was no precedent. It was only natural then, that as American life became commercialized. Previously unattractive realities of the American experience were re-branded into more palatable concepts, imbuing a sense of patriotism that, while seeing alternative waves of rejection and acceptance by later generations, still exists today.

It is important to note the dissimilarity between the Soviet and American narratives of both consumer culture and the Space and Arms races. As surmised by Siddiqi in his 2010 article, “Competing Technologies, National(ist) Narratives, and Universal Claims: Toward a Global History of Space Exploration”: “Ask historians… from the United States to name the most important event in the history of space exploration, and they will cite the Apollo Moon landing in 1969. Pose the same question to their Russian counterparts and the y will recall the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961[2].” Meanwhile, the American concept of economic participation as a form of patriotism was as far from the Soviet doctrine of State as conceivably possible.

Indeed, if either of the home-fronts during Cold War was at all capable of contributing to the ideological warfare, it was through their participation in their country’s narrative of power and patriotism. Obviously, as noted prior, many of the differences in the American and Soviet narratives of patriotism arose from their differing perspectives on national involvement for the civilian. While the tremendous technological advances of the 1940s and 1950s were only made possible by their proximity to actual violence, there were clear utilities in non-war situations for many of them, including one of the most enduring children of the age: the rocket.

The perceived “Missile Gap,” often branded the rocket as an instrument of violence, and fear-mongering became a common parlance on the political tongue. The Soviets too had missiles, and if we were to fall significantly behind them it could only spell doom for the American people [3]. However, the government could not brand the rocket solely as a means to the end of atomic warfare and anticipate any kind of positive public response, especially as the Soviets turned their rockets skyward and initiated the Space Race. Suddenly, there was a new direction in which destiny could be manifested, upwards, and now more than ever it became clear that rockets needed a facelift in their presentation to the public, resulting in a decades long space fever, that has normalized both rocket-based warfare and the American dominance of space. As the technological climax of the atomic age has seemingly yet to be met, which each plateauing technology subsequently replaced by one of a thousand which has sprung up directly in its wake, the rocket programs have only increasingly been re-branded, particularly for the outlying civilian population, both domestic and tourist, that engages with government entities in Central Florida.

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Early American successes, such as this Bumper WAC liftoff in mid-1950, were important in setting the tone for the story to come. This launch was the first to take off from Cape Canaveral.

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Cape Canaveral quickly became the home of American space exploration, and its success stories got constant coverage such as this Daily Defender article from 1958.

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In 1959, the first Titan rocket, one of America’s longest-running rockets, was fired from Canaveral, which would be instrumental in the coming Gemini Projects[7].

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Other, earlier victories included the launch of Explorer 1, the first American satellite, which was well received by the public.

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Even before these successes, ad men quickly learned that they could profit off the rocket craze, leading to ads like this one that ran in Life in 1950.

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Toy-makers played an especially active role in the reshaping of the rocket into an object of normalcy, as toy rockets like this popped up across the nation.

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This ‘harmless’ Atomic Bomb set circa 1950 is part of a permanent collection at the renowned Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

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Today, at the Kennedy Space Center’s gift shop, similar toys can be spotted for sale, such as this hydro-rocket.

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In neighboring Alafaya and in stores across the nation, space and war seem inextricably linked, as exemplified by these warring spacemen toys.

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Although Canaveral had already secured its spot in American history as the site of so many famous launches, in the early 1970s the Kennedy Visitor Center began to draw in international tourists.

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To this day, the Visitor Center draws in international crowds, American tourists, and proud locals on a regular basis.

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An early predecessor to the Kennedy Visitor Center was the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which housed Miss Baker, America’s first space-faring animal. She was a delight to the public.

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Of course, most of the narrative would be entirely re-framed for Americans with the success of our lunar landing. Displays on this event draw crowds to the Kennedy Center.

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With shirts like these being marketed today towards literal infants, it is clear that there is still a national narrative of pride and success linked to our space programs.

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Events such as this recent unmanned satellite launch still draw in massive amounts of tourists for the areas surrounding Cape Canaveral, with entire parks and eateries devoted simply to providing a view of liftoff.

As argued by Jessica Wood, during the Cold War, “…several factors helped create a market for products possessing these dual qualities of fanciness and accessibility [20].” Indeed, there was a clear public desire for both the shiny future that was potentially promised with the invitation of nuclear armaments, and therefore rockets, into our daily lives, and for a return to the pre-war normal, which could not allow for such technological terror. Even today, as relations with the USSR/Russia have since waxed and waned and waxed in their negativity, and new threats have risen on the international sphere, we still struggle to make sense of these weapons, and a large part of this normalizing dialogue is found in the Kennedy Center, and exhibits like it, which link these potentially war-inducing acts from the past instead to progress.

Other voices in this discussion include toy manufactures, media outlets, and advertisers, to name a few.  In fact, the capabilities of rockets have been so normalized that it is a common community event in parts of Central Florida to attend launches at Cape Canaveral, with the family and picnic in tow. These events are echoes of such exercises futility and normalcy as the duck-and-cover exercise. With new leaders in the United States who seem to disregard any previous considerations towards disarmament, and international leaders claiming nuclear capabilities and repeating slogans of hate towards our country eerily similar to those of the Soviets, the anxieties which were meant to be calmed by the normalizing of rockets have sprung up again for many Americans. In the next few years, both American and international leaders will need to reassess their arms and space programs, and the narrative of normal will likely change to reflect whatever the outcome of their decisions may be. However, for now, as we sit in a period of uncertainty very similar to that at the beginning of the arms and space races, it is clear that the commercialization of these races which began in the 1950s can be a continued pacifier to the public.

[1] Pacella, Daniel. “Cold War.” In Global Perspectives on the United States edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen, 38-40. Great Barrington: Berkshire Publishing Group LLC, 2007.

[2] Siddiqi, Asif A. “Competing Technologies, National(ist) Narratives, and Universal Claims: Toward a Global History of Space Exploration.” Technology and Culture 51, no. 2 (2010): 425-43. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40647107.

[3] Hutchison, Daniel. “Missile Gap.” In Postwar America edited by James Ciment, 869. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2007.

[4] NASA. Early Rockets. July 24, 1950. NASA Image and Video Library, NASA, images-assets.nasa.gov/image/0100059/0100059~orig.jpg.

[5] “ZOOM! UP GOES NEW SATELLITE.” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), March 06, 1958. http://ezproxy.rollins.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/493658457?accountid=13584.

[6] By The, Associated Press. “First Titan Fired; Called Successful Over Short Range.” New York Times (1923-Current File), February 07, 1959. http://ezproxy.rollins.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/114690344?accountid=13584.

[7] Hamblin, Terry R.. “Gemini Project.” In Postwar America edited by James Ciment, 869. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2007.

[8] NASA. Ksc-68p-1. January 02, 1958. NASA Image and Video Library, NASA, images- images-assets.nasa.gov/image/ksc-68p-1/ksc-68p-1~orig.jpg

[9] clotho98. 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Advertisement. August 21, 2009. Advertisement from Life Magazine, Richmond Virginia.

[10] Haupt, Joe. Vintage Alpha-1 Toy Rocket Launcher, “Ballistic Missle and Launcher”, Designed by Missile Engineers, Scientific Products Company, Richmond, Virginia, Made in the U.S.A., Circa 1958. January 6,2014. Vintage Toys, Model Kits and Games Collection.

[11] Red Rocket Photography. Giant Atomic Bomb toy. 2011. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis.

[12] Lasman, Luc. Hydro Rocket. November 19, 2016. Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

[13] Lasman, Luc. War Toys. November 20, 2016. Alafaya Heights, Florida.

[14] Margaret Cook from England in the “Rocket garden” at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island near Titusville. 1972. Color photoprint, 5 x 4 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/263902.

[15] Lasman, Luc. View of Atlantis Center. November 19, 2016. Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

[16] NASA. Early Rockets. June 24, 1959. NASA Image and Video Library, NASA, images-assets.nasa.gov/image/0301420/0301420~orig.jpg

[17] Lasman, Luc. Manned Missions. November 20, 2016. Alafaya Heights, Florida.

[18] Last, First M. Photograph Title. Month Date, Year Created. Collection, Museum/Institution, Location.

[19] Lasman, Luc. GOES-R Launch. November 19, 2016. Spaceview Park, Florida.

[20] Wood, Jessica L. “Historical Authenticity Meets DIY: The Mass-Market Harpsichord in the Cold War United States.” American Music 30, no. 2 (2012): 228-53. doi:10.5406/americanmusic.30.2.0228.

[21] Halberstan, David. “Forty-Five.” In The Fifties, 699-712. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1993.