Paying attention to the historical narrative of space is essential in solving for our impacts
Siddiqi 10 (Asif A. Siddiqi assistant professor of history at Fordham University and member of advisory board at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. wrote Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974 is widely considered to be the best English-language history of the Soviet space program in print and was identified by the Wall Street Journal as "one of the five best books" on space exploration. This book was later published in paperback in two separate volumes, Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo. Competing Technologies, National(ist) Narratives, and Universal Claims: Toward a Global History of Space Exploration, Technology and Culture, Volume 51, Number 2, April 2010, pg 425-426, DA:6/21/11, CP)
My hope isthat by deemphasizing ownership and national borders, the invisible connections and transitions of technology transfer and knowledge production will be become clear in an abundantly new way. Such an approach would inform a project encompassing the entire history of modern rocketry and space exploration, from the late nineteenth century to the present, focusing on Europe, America, Russia, and Asia. Most important, a global history of rocketry and space exploration would avoid the pitfalls of the “discursive battles” between nation-centered histories and open up the possibility to revisit older debates in the historiography of space exploration in entirely new ways. Taking a global history approach, one that favors decentering the conventional narrative, would allow historians to redirect their attentions in three ways: we can shift our gaze from nations to communities, from“identification” to identities, and from moments to processes.Thesethree strategies, in one way or another,are inspired by the problems posed by historicizing the ambitions and achievements of emerging space powers, which operate in a postcolonial context where categories such as indigenous, modern, and national are problematic. I offer some brief examples of each below. In the space imagination, nations typically represent airtight constituencies despite evidence to the contrary that communities cutting across borders and cultures—national, institutional, and disciplinary—represent important actors and actions. The most obvious example here, of course, is the German engineers who formed the core of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in the United States in the 1950s and who later directed the development of the Saturn V rocket that put Americans on the surface of the Moon. Wernher von Braun’s team represented a unique mix of Germans and Americans who worked together with several different communities, from Boeing, North American Aviation (including its separate Space and Rocketdyne divisions), Douglas Aircraft Company, and International Business Machines. These communities represented scientists and engineers, the government and private industry, and customers and contractors. In the rush to draw up airtight national narratives, we inevitably tend to gloss over the ambiguities and flows among each of these communities. By highlighting communities, we can also avoid the reductive problems of essentialization(another way of talking about “national styles” of science and technology)that aspire to explain everything but fail to elucidate much at all.36 Instead, one might think in terms of fluid identities of scientists and engineers engaged in particular projects, identities which are not only tied to national identification but also regional, professional, cultural, religious, and educational markers, to name only a few categories.Using the perspective of mutable identity—different in different circumstances—wemight be able to understand more clearly the ways in which space exploration has not only been a project of national consideration but also the result of communities (or individuals) who identify with a whole host of other markers that are not connected to national claims. In other words,it is a way to problematize the notion that space exploration represents national aspirations. Finally, space historians have tended to focus on moments in history that define the story. For example, we use the notion of “achieving a capability” (the space equivalent of “going nuclear”) as shorthand for encompassing a variety of complex processes. Whether it be the first indigenous launch of a satellite or the first test of a liquid hydrogen rocket engine, these moments become historical signposts, turning points, bereft of the messiness inherent in the process of innovation. As a result, space history slips into the comfort mode of “what and when” instead of the more illuminating path of “how and why.” The focus on process would highlight the ambiguities instead of the binary poles (success, failure) inherent in isolated moments, thus encompassing both the material event and how the event becomes constructed as a historical moment.All of these approaches also reinforce and foster the kind of social history that has become fundamental to most histories of technology but is largely absent in the literature on spaceflight, a lacuna explicable by the fetish for nation-centered cold-war geopolitics as the central organizing framework for most histories of space exploration.Barring a few notable examples, space historians have avoided in-depth inquiries into the lived experiences of large demographics such as engineers, servicemen and -women, military and intelligence personnel, launch crews, staff workers, and spouses and families of engineers. Likewise, little work has been done on public enthusiasm for the space program,mass campaigns in support of space exploration, and popular participation in programs usually identified with state-centered institutions.37 Finally,using analytical categories such as communities, identities, and processes would direct our attention to the problem of “consumption” in the history of space technology.Despite a recent surge of scholarship on the role of consumers in shaping technology and technological systems, we have traditionally focused on production rather than consumption in chronicling the history of spaceflight.38 Who has “consumed” the space program? How do we ascribe identities to them as “consumers”? How and where do producers and consumers of the space program interact? Exploring these questions would open up new areas of investigation and enrich our understanding of the cold-war space race.