Monday, April 25, 2016

Culture on the Moon: bodies in time and space

This is an excerpt from my just-published paper Culture on the Moon: Bodies in Time and Space (Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 12(1):110-128

This was very much an arena where masculinity was defined for the future of space. Automation and lack of control were equated with femininity. US experts cited Valentina Tereshkova’s successful orbit in 1963 to mean that the heavily automated Vostok vehicle did not require a skilled operator. Margaret Weitekamp argues that ‘‘Demonstrating that a woman could perform those tasks would diminish their prestige’’ (2004:3). So strong was this ideology that the USA did not send a female astronaut into space until Sally Ride became a crew member of the space shuttle Challenger for STS-7 in 1983. 

By contrast, cosmonauts were the epitome of the ‘‘new Soviet man’’ (Gerovitch 2007), the ‘cog in the machine’ celebrated in Bolshevik political and poetic imagination. Sergei Korolev, the leader of the Soviet space program, was opposed to any active role for the cosmonauts, but as they, like the astronauts, were drawn from a test pilot background, the battle to preserve the aviation role of pilot was similarly played out. The unknowns and technological constraints of creating a successful lunar mission led to the development of similar human–machine interfaces and similar levels of autonomy in both programs (Gerovitch 2007). At this level, at least, evidence suggests that a hypothetical USSR lunar landing site might reflect many similarities to the US series. 

The Apollo 11 surface mission was highly choreographed and scripted (NASA 1969), but at that point no person of Earth knew exactly what the experience of being on the lunar surface would be like. In the gaps between the script and the actual actions of the astronauts, there is a window where minds and bodies express their individual and cultural differences. Where there was choice, what did the astronauts choose to do? What determined those choices?
(Gorman 2016:122)

Gerovitch, S. 2007. ‘New Soviet Man’ Inside the Machine: Human Engineering, Spacecraft, Design, and the Construction of Communism. Osiris 22:135–157.

NASA Lunar Surface Operations Office Mission Operations Branch Flight Crew Support Division 1969. Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Operations Plan. Houston: Manned Spaceflight Centre June 27, FINAL version of document.

Weitekamp, M. 2004. Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America’s First Women in Space Program. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

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