This Monday’s New York Times ran an amusing article by Dennis Overbye, cheekily titled,”Reaching for the Stars When Space Was a Thrill.” And space was thrilling during (when else?) the years of the Cold War/Space Race that began when Russia put Sputnik in orbit and the world was overcome with a strange mix of emotion that was one part awe and one part paranoia. A perfect recipe in the eyes of advertisers. What could possibly be better than the opportunity to prey on the consumer’s excitement and fear–at the same time!
The article discusses a fascinating new book by Megan Prelinger called, Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962. The book is a collection of entertaining and odd advertisements that employ hokey images of space exploration to sell anything from insurance to cash registers to missile components. They even anticipate the consumer’s needs for the day when we would all abandon terra firma. An ad from The Marquardt Corporation shows an anatomical diagram of a human floating through space in a man-sized bell jar, since, of course, humans will need to construct their own protected ecosystem in the less-than-hospitable environment of space.
But does contemporary media’s lack of these wildly quirky images really point to our deflated enthusiasm for the Cosmos? Sure, there’s an undeniable thrill that accompanies the prospect of the unknown. And sure, we know leagues more about our Universe now than we did when we watched the speck that was Sputnik move across the sky. But a craze is just that. It’s a cultural fad that speaks of something other than our natural fascination with the stars, which, as the contributors of Glimpse‘s Cosmos issue assure us, was always and will always continue to be part of our human experience.
It was there for many centuries within Maya communities where, as Susan Milbrath explains, the brilliant stars were believed to be the very souls of the dead. It’s there for today’s armchair astronomers who navigate the surface of the Moon and Mars, thanks to Ross Beyer and others who expanded the possibilities of Google Earth™. It’s there for Kimberly A. Jameson and Jon Lomberg who speculate about consciousnesses beyond Earth, and suggest methods for visual communication with what/whoever may be out there.
Our wonderment and curiosity about the cosmos does still manifest in the pages of glossy publications, but it’s tempered with what we’ve learned, and grounded by our not-so-fantastical ambitions for what may come next. And the notion of what may come next, as the authors of the newly released Cosmos issue know, is a truly thrilling one.