The recent 50th anniversaries of the first human spaceflights by the Soviet Union and the United States, and the 30th anniversary of the launching of the first U.S. Space Shuttle mission, have again brought to mind the pioneering accomplishments of the first quarter century of humans in space. Historians, political scientists and others have extensively examined the technical, programmatic and political history of human spaceflight from the 1960s to the 1980s, but work is only beginning on the social and cultural history of the pioneering era. One rapidly developing area of recent scholarship is the examination of the images of spacefarers in the media, government propaganda and popular culture. How was space travel imagined in the visual media on the cusp of human spaceflights? How were astronauts and cosmonauts represented in official and quasi-official media portraits? And how were those images reproduced and transformed by in the imagination of film-makers, movie producers, popular writers, and novelists?
Spacefarers addresses these questions with nine contributions from scholars in the field of aerospace history, Russian and American history, and English literature. These essays are preceded by an introduction by the editor, who discusses their place in the historiography of spaceflight and social and cultural history. The book will have potential appeal to a wide variety of scholars in history, literature and the social sciences and will include a number of striking visual images.
This volume is based on a scholarly conference held at NASA headquarters in 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight. An emerging theme was the image of astronauts and cosmonauts in popular culture and the media in the US and Russia/Soviet Union. The book begins with a fine editorial introduction by Neufeld (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum). Next, nine scholars from the social sciences and the humanities address this broad topic. The first three chapters consider the images of American astronauts over time, from the early "heroic era" to the space shuttle period. The following three chapters take a comparative look at the American astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts, including an excellent chapter focusing on Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, in Russian and Soviet myth. The cult of Gagarin took on religious-like relevance in Soviet times, and continues to provide nostalgic and nationalistic comfort in rural Russia today. The final three chapters address astronauts exclusively in the space shuttle era, including a revealing analysis of the sexism the first six female astronauts chosen by NASA in 1978 faced. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic, professional, and general history of science/space exploration collections. --J. Z. Kiss, University of Mississippi