SPACE TRAVEL AT 1G: SPACE TOURISM IN COLD WAR AMERICA
Margolis, Emily Ann
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Although tourism in space is a 21st-century phenomenon, spaceflight has been a part of American leisure culture since the late 1950s. The space age dawned in the golden age of the family road trip. Americans ventured from home in pursuit of pleasure in greater numbers in the postwar period than at any previous time in the nation’s history. Some of these vacationing motorists made unprompted detours to field centers of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), specifically those engaged in preparations for the nation’s human spaceflight program. In response to the spontaneous appearance of space tourists, NASA centers developed ad-hoc visitor programs and enterprising business people in the surrounding communities seized on space as the central theme for their existing tourism promotion efforts. The result was a proliferation of space-themed tourist attractions and amenities—museums, halls of fame, heritage trails, theme parks, and motels—across the American South in the 1950s and 60s. This dissertation project explores the production and patronage of space attractions in the first decade of human spaceflight. I argue that these sites represent the efforts of individuals and institutions to render spaceflight relevant to their lives. Mass tourism to space attractions offers a new opportunity to examine the role of spaceflight in American society. The most active form of public engagement with space, space tourism has been all but neglected by cultural scholars of the space age. Over the past decade a rich body of research has emerged from the academy and museum world, which approaches questions of popular attitudes towards spaceflight using evidence of passive engagement such as public opinion surveys, consumer goods, and film and television. The story of space tourism reveals how observers of the space program created and consumed space content in an attempt to make meaning of the nation’s activities in space.