Guiding visions of the space age: how imaginative expectations directed an industry

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


This essay presents a unique historical perspective on the roots of the burgeoning private space industry's fixation with Mars as an inevitable frontier for human settlement. While changing legislation, new innovations and discoveries, and the flux of geopolitics influenced the private space industry, a set of underlying visions - inspired at times by millenarian anticipations as well as techno-utopian expectations and popularized by both science fiction as well as media sensationalism - operated as the subsurface dynamos pushing the space industry into the future. Although a broadly shared ideology of technology steeped in both apocalyptic and transcendent visions for the future emerged over many centuries, this ideology's collision with the Space Age produced a discourse that has influenced the space industry's development in important ways. Comprised of countless science fiction texts, media sensationalism, and futuristic visions put forth by public intellectuals throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, apocalyptic fears and techno-utopian hopes have consistently defined much of this discourse since its conception. In fundamental ways it has directed the long-term goals of NASA as well as more recent private space companies. In particular, Mars as an assumed next-step destination in the progress of humanity's spread into the cosmos grew out of this discourse. This essay shows how this discourse significantly influenced the development of the private space industry and argues that the contemporary private space industry can generate enormous public enthusiasm by making real or appearing to make real the public's dreams of eventually accessing space with ease and colonizing Mars.




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