"Space Became Their Highway" : the L-5 society and the closing of the final frontier
L-5 society and the closing of the final frontier
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
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Introduction: In the 1970s in America, outer space became the locus for many imaginings of the future, from Gene Roddenberry's Final Frontier, to George Lucas's Galaxy Far Far Away, to NASA's own predictions for the future of manned space travel. Outer space has long held a sort of mystical sway over the human imagination. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, it has been the realm of science fiction and futurist imaginings alike- almost as if we want to fill the void with fantastical technologies and speculative civilizations. But in the Apollo Era especially, space took on a particularly vivid role in the popular consciousness - a vast new frontier just at the edge of humanity's reach. The question of what was out there, or what could be out there, was a compelling one for many Americans - whether they seriously believed in the possibility of space colonization or not.The 70s vision of the future of space travel was a fraught site for many social conflicts, ranging from large geopolitical ones - would the future of space be American or Soviet? - to more local cultural ones - would space colonization and space flight support the values of the mainstream culture, or the counterculture, in America? In this paper, I explore 1970s hopes, fears, and imaginings for space through the lens of a particularly dedicated group of 1970s space enthusiasts: the L-5 Society, and their vision for a self-sufficient space station, located at earth's 5th Lagrangian point. In Dreamscapes of Modernity, Sheila Jasanoff calls for historians of science to study not only the history of actual technologies, but also what she refers to as "sociotechnical imaginaries" - historical imaginations of technologies which didn't quite exist yet.By Jasanoff's definition, a sociotechnical imaginary is a sort of imagined landscape which a society constructs in order to explore the implications of current or future technologies. Sociotechnical imaginaries may be placed in the future, or in far away unexplored places; only, like Thomas More's utopia, or "no place", they must be somewhere we can't go - at least not yet.4 In her analysis, Jasanoff argues that sociotechnical imaginaries are rarely constructed by lone visionary authors. Instead, they are collaborative works of worldbuilding which members of a society all contribute to shaping. While core texts like works of science fiction, utopian novels, and economic or sociological predictions of the future can have a major role in shaping sociotechnical imaginaries, individual's beliefs about technology and the future help shape how these texts are read.And these individual's reactions to and interpretations of these texts are what transform them from isolated pieces of writing into a landscape in the collective imagination. Furthermore, Jasanoff argues, the collaborative nature of sociotechnical imaginaries makes them a useful tool for historians. Because sociotechnical imaginaries are constructed collectively, they are often sites of negotiation, sandboxes where cultural conflicts over beliefs about, and hopes and fears for, new technology can be fought out, explored, and potentially reconciled. For these reasons, sociotechnical imaginaries often reveal contemporary cultural fissures and conflicts in a society that manifested in concerns about technology and the future. Though sociotechnical imaginaries may be entirely fictional, they are still worth taking seriously because they are constructed by real people, and reflect real conflicts in the real society that created them ...
Thesis: S.B., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2019Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 64-67).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.