The Influence of the Space Race on Pop Culture

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Sputnik 1 was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit in 1957 by the Soviet Union. The first man in space, whose spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth in 1961, was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. The space race was on, but America’s culture of militarism and uniformity (which had been a necessary way of life in wartime) also had its critics, from the rebels of the 1950s to the conscientious objectors of The Vietnam War. We can see how some of these themes have played out in popular culture.

The Faculty is an example of a movie containing the same underlying motif as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. An alien parasite (which is really part of a greater organism) comes to earth and needs a host to replicate. In theory, the master (or queen) alien is killed, they’re all killed. The alien life form offers a utopia which is depicted as a fool’s paradise since the peace and stability which an alien takeover represents demands absolute conformity at the cost of genuine human emotion and individuality. Plan 9 from Outer Space, a pair of aliens set up shop in a cemetery and animate an army of the dead to march on the capitals of the world in an effort to stop humanity from creating Solaranite (a sort of sun-driven bomb). Some deem it the worst film ever made, a real miss.

Nevertheless, we can appreciate its underlying theme. US foreign policy in the strategic arms race at the time was still one of nuclear deterrence to resist the threat of Soviet expansion, officially known as containment policy, which met with some opposition. Widespread public opinion about the morality of nuclear weapons use was mounting amidst fear that American resources would be depleted in trying to resist communism wherever it might appear.

The late John Glenn (b. 1921 – d. 2016) was best known for being the first American john-glenn-with-lbj-in-car-thumbs-upto orbit the earth. He completed three orbits on his 1962 flight in the single-seat Mercury spacecraft. For Colonel Glenn, the “City of Light” (Perth, Australia) was a memorable sight to behold. It’s nowhere near Sydney where the mysterious signal was detected back in 2008. (Click here for details).

Against the backdrop of the heyday of America’s cultural revolution of the 1960s were some notable developments. Mariner 4, which returned the first pictures of the Martian surface, was launched in 1964.

Intelsat I, nicknamed Early Bird, was placed in geosynchronous orbit in 1965. Three American astronauts made history on July 21, 1969 when they successfully landed on the moon, fulfilling JFK’s 1961 mission statement to land “a” man safely on the moon by the end of the 1960’s and return him safely to earth.

Beyond the verifiable explanations for the extraterrestrial mystery (from ball-lightning to deliberate hoaxes) are cases which have escaped the grasp of complete comprehension by science. Keith suggests the strange possibility that there are at least some instances which are actual “supernatural” occurrences.

“Evidence suggests that some experiences of the MIBs challenge tightly formulated definitions of reality, and may even point up the deficiencies in those definitions. MIBs and many other paranormal events happily cross these lines of demarcation, defying the definitions, and the manner in which they do so incidentally provides clues to something else entirely: the actual nature of reality.”
(Keith, 1997)[11]

It’s been a source of consternation for serious researchers.

Page published October 1, 2013 (Updated 2 Mar 2017)

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