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“To Peace, Because the Awful Alternative is the End of All Life”: Build Bomb–Explore Space(s)–Save World! (Part 2)

This two-part post is a collaborative authorship between Taylor R. Genovese and Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. For more on Martin’s work see his blog Deus Ex Atomica and his personal Twitter account @NuclearAnthro.

In Part 1, we analyzed nuclear weapon and defense industry advertisements from 1950-1964 to demonstrate the fundamentally, and publically imagined, imbrications of spaces exploration and U.S. military supremacy. In Part 2 we continue with a deeper theoretical examination of technoutopian spaces imaginaries. Although in this post we make use of colloquialisms like “Space Race,” “Ocean Race,” and “Earth Race,” we do not accept the real-world separations they imply. We argue, as per our discussion in Part 1, that these spaces explorations were fundamentally aspects of the same underlying colonial and militarist processes.

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“To Peace, Because the Awful Alternative is the End of All Life”: Build Bomb–Explore Space(s)–Save World! (Part 1)

This two-part post is a collaborative authorship between Taylor R. Genovese and Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. For more on Martin’s work see his blog Deus Ex Atomica and his personal Twitter account @NuclearAnthro.

Introduction

Beginning in 1966, millions of people around the world (including the authors) have settled in front of the warm glow of a television or movie screen to watch an intrepid crew of space explorers venture through the cosmos—not for reasons of invasion or extraction, but for the more virtuous purpose of simply going where no human has ever been. We are of course talking about watching Star Trek. As we grew up and learned more about human “space exploration,” our understandings remained consistent with the dramatic imaginary of Star Trek: that adventuring into the cosmos is an inherently noble goal, pursued by good people, for inherently noble reasons. Space was the “final frontier” and humanity strode out into that glittering darkness as a matter of destiny, not conquest. Formal education during our college years initially added little nuance to our opinions about human space exploration. Sure, the space race was part of the Cold War “competition” with the Soviet Union, but “space exploration” remained pure and good in our minds.

Graduate school, that Eater of Dreams, began to change our conceptualizations as we dug deeper into these subjects. As part of Martin’s coursework at UNM, he has engaged in ethnographic and archival research including collecting nuclear weapon laboratory and defense advertising from Physics Today and Scientific American between the years of 1950-1964. Meanwhile, Taylor spent his MA years ethnographically investigating humanity’s changing perceptions of the cosmos, particularly in how the rapid commercialization of space affairs was shifting our cosmic goals from exploration to exploitation. As we brought our separate research endeavors into conversation with each other, we began to realize the imbricated natures of U.S. projects and discourses of nuclear weapons and space development.

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