chapter  Chapter 15
13 Pages

Imagined Frontiers: Westward Expansion and the Future of the Space Program

WithPatricia Nelson Limerick

The space program needed a metaphor that would keep people alert, regularly examining their own behavior and their own thinking, and instead they got a metaphor with exactly the opposite properties — a metaphor that makes its believers complacent, even smug, and inattentive to their own operating assumptions. The word "frontier" is used in promotional statements, but another word, also full of historical associations, is absolutely central to the whole space culture. Space aliens are usually not very sympathetic characters in novels or movies, but this particular reference to frontier history makes one feel definite twinges of compassion for them, regardless of how many eyes, arms, or antennae they prove to have. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics sprang to life, leapt into action, raced to the moon — and it is pretty tough to hit a phase of institutional life where all this springing and leaping and racing no longer works.