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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Selling the Space Age: NASA and Earth's Environment, 1958-1990

Kim McQuaid

Environment and History 12(2006): 127-163

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 to develop America's non-military space effort. But the early leaders of a self-consciously elite science and technology agency rarely saw Earth as a part of 'space' or solar system exploration. This is clear when examining NASA's relations with earthly applications in the late 1950s and 1960s and with fast-emergent environmentalism in the 1970s and 1980s. NASA consistently misread the importance of the most popular science-based political movement of the late twentieth century. NASA was advised from 1959 onwards that earthly concerns - and practical worldly benefits - were necessary to create broad and enduring support for space explorations. Despite this, NASA leaders consistently underestimated, ignored or spun-off Earth 'applications' in the formative period of America's civilian space programme. Power and prestige-focused human spaceflight, Moon and Mars missions, and human settlement of the solar system, became NASA's enduring 'human spaceflight culture'.

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