1. TITLE AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INFO: The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins, 1985.

2. AUTHOR: Walter McDougall               3. AUTHOR’S BACKGROUND: Professor of History and IR at the

                                                            Univ of Pennsylvania, received 1986 Pulitzer Prize for History for this

                                                            book, Vietnam Veteran

4. CONTEXT: McDougall seeks to provide an accurate postwar history. The Space Age includes discussion of both international management of non-territorial regions, and the interplay of international rivalry and technical change.

·       “We have a duty to think historically about the recent past and can be encouraged by the fact that change is taking place on a more compressed scale in our time” (xx)

5. SCOPE: Political history of the Space Age, 3 periods covered: time from the original rocket experiments prior to WWII, USSR “firsts” in space, US success.  American, Soviet and European space programs

·       Scientific and technological development

·       Political pressures

·       Economic pressures

·       National defense

    EVIDENCE: American and Soviet sources that are declassified, European archives, published material, interviews, macroeconomic statistics


·       “The unending race to keep up with foreign military and economic competition threatens to erode the very values that make one’s society worth defending in the first place” (13)

o   “Somehow, rather, we must try to compete for power without making power an end in itself, pursue knowledge without mistaking knowledge for truth, cultivate our subcreation yet know its fruits as only part of reality, and remember fore everything we gain there is something lost” (461)

·       The Soviet Union was first into space because it employed the first “technocracy”

o   The Soviet Union was especially suited to open the age of spaceflight, due to its ideology (63)

§  Planned economy, abolition of exploitation of many by man, the absence of racial discrimination, free labor, released creative energies of the people (245)

o   The United States moved toward technocracy

§  Even though, as Ike suggested, the American system was not set up for central planning, nor did its values condone it (444).

o   America transitioned from an era of private initiative in technology, to an age characterized by the “institutionalization of technological change for state purposes”→Technocracy (5)

o   Technocracy nearly inevitable as private sector could no longer be depended on for technological advancement

o   Speed required meant the Space Race required sponsorship of the state

§  Command economies are ideal for the sprint races, not the marathons

o   “By 1964, most Americans had opted for technocracy” (389)

§  The debate revolved around the purposes to which the technocratic tool ought to be put, not the political or moral costs of brandishing the tool in the first place (403)

§  Sputnik, because it symbolized Soviet parity in strategic weapons, and Khrushchevian peaceful coexistence, because it pushed Cold War rivalry into every arena of national achievement, surely helped to trigger the rapid political change of 1957-1964. (404)

·       Should missile and space technology be civilian or military in nature?

·       “Prestige and perceptions were as important as actual military force” (178)



·       “Strategy is a form of economy, a function of scarcity: unlimited resources render strategy unnecessary” (177)

·       McDougall examines through the evolutionary history of the space programs, “how an increasing technological base generated circumstances and conditions that resulted in a massive infusion of technological capability into contemporary society” (JSTOR book review)

o   4 great breakthroughs of the years during and just after WWII, illustrating possibilities for planned change implicit in Command Research and Development (6):

o   1. British development of radar

o   2. American atomic bomb

o   3. German ballistic missile

o   4. American electronic computer

·       “Ours is an age of perpetual technological revolution” (4)

o   “Competition was the engine of spaceflight” (188)

·       Transition from Eisenhower era to Kennedy: public transitioned from fearing the growing “military industrial complex” to increasingly desiring centralized response due to fear of the prospect of nuclear competition with the Soviet Union (fear spurred by Sputnik and the perception that the US was behind in the Space Race)

o   American’s saw themselves as leaders and protectors of Europe and hence felt it was irresponsible to see the Soviets lead (7)

§  America was better and mightier than the Soviets

§  Sputnik suggested to the ill-informed American public that “reliance on the marketplace and the dis-coordinated efforts of the private sector (corrupted by consumerism) was anachronistic in an age of explosive technological advance.” (7).

·       Hence, the move toward technocracy

§  “Sputnik challenged the assumptions of American military and fiscal policy and thus seemed to have scary implications for American security and prosperity” (142)

o   McDougall argues Eisenhower was more of a forceful character than given credit for

§  Ike failed to accept that the missile and Space Age necessarily meant an age of technocracy. This went against his beliefs regarding American values.

o   US was well ahead of the Soviet effort although the public believed otherwise

§  Soviets exploited the misperception, employing the “missile bluff”

·       Interestingly, the Space Race came to influence a number of other segments of society.

o   Success of large projects using system analysis as the management tool, became embedded in the body politic.  The public began to see potential to use the same procedures to solve poverty, racism, and education

o   “Failure to master Space means being second best in every aspect, in the crucial arena of our Cold War world” (Johnson, 8)

·       Why the US was not first into space: (73)

o   Presidential efforts to keep a lid on spending

o   Efforts to keep open the option of a negotiated arms freeze

o   Efforts to preserve US as a symbol of free inquiry and int’l cooperation (legality concerns)

o   Ike was trying to cope with a secret, single-minded technocratic adversary w/out giving in to paranoia

§  In the end, led to exactly what they did not want…the need to transform American government

·       NASA was Eisenhower’s response to the need to provide a stark contrast to the Soviet situation.  The US space program needed to appear open and cooperative in contrast to the secret, “rocket-rattling Soviets” (227).


·       Space race as a metaphor for man’s attempt to control his environment? (comps prep wiki)

·       Space posed two of the overarching international problems of the 20th century (177)

o   1. How to contain expensive arms races despite bitter competition and distrust

o   2. How to manage the use of non-territorial regions like the sea, air, Antarctica, or outer space, within the system of sovereign, territorial states?

o   The answers to the questions seemed to lie in arms control and int’l law, but appeared to be extensions of existing issues

·       Soviet bluffing came with a price

o   It’s hard to keep up a lie

o   “In time it became clear that Khrushchev had not the wit, nor the USSR the resources, to fulfill the hopes, given the many demerits of militarized social management.” (295)



Questions posed for 2nd part of reading assignment:

·       Did Eisenhower make the decision to be 2nd in space?

o   He had an aversion to technocracy, was concerned about the budget, and was unwilling to take funds from existing military programs

§  Wanted to keep the economy healthy (138)

§  Administration was blind to the symbolic power of a revolutionary technology. (148)

§  He was shocked that the American people were so psychologically vulnerable (Sputnik)

o   “Being first was not the only consideration.  The tragedy is that Eisenhower, or perhaps just his DoD advisers, failed to imagine the use that would be made of a Soviet “surprise” by those who yearned to overthrow his policies, his party, and his philosophy of government” (134).  He forgot to consider the domestic politics

·       Why the missile gap? What conditions or context enabled mass hysteria?

o   Opportunistic individuals (Johnson, Webb, McNamara) and institutions (USAF) took advantage of the perceived gap to further their own interests (312)

o   After Sputnik, technocratic ideology captured the country when a new willingness to view state management as a social good and not a necessary evil turned a quantitative change into a qualitative one (436)


·       It is in the very structure of international politics in our age that states must, in their own ways, fashion national technocracies, the better to compete, adjusting inherited institutions and values as required.” (435)

o   Technology is subordinate to political choice

o   McDougall “chronicles the struggles over the choices made on each side; it is important to understand the debates of generation ago because today’s debates cover nearly the same ground” (Codevilla review)

o   The pressure of events of our time, sometimes forces high officials to take on responsibilities they would rather not have exercised (Codevilla review)

·       JFK administration focused on ends vs means. “Space program as a catalyst for technological revolution.” (322)

o   Prestige as important as power

o   Far greater role for government in planning and executing social change

o   Each major figure in space policy saw ways in which an accelerated space program could help them solve problems in their own shop or serve their own interests (323)

o   Technological anticommunism: doing good by doing well. Preaching freedom and democracy that was translated in terms of technology (344)

o   “Benign Hypocrisy”: choosing to approach space diplomacy as a open-altruistic-able way to spread brotherhood and prosperity to a world tempted by communism (360)

§  Agreements w/ the Soviets in areas where the US had a safe dominance

§  Advocacy for laissez-faire in areas where there was still a race

§  “The American crusade on behalf of “space for the benefit of all mankind” cloaked diplomacy that was self-interested and perhaps necessarily so.” (359)

§  Inconsistency=lay in treating the US space program, comsats in particular, as a glorious advertisement of American virtues…”the only customers for the unrealistic rhetoric, the only ones who may have believed in it, were the American people themselves” (360)

·       Von Braun: “The question of space superiority is just as important today as the concept of air superiority was ten years ago.” (336)

·       LBJ:

o   The space program was a model of the role government should play in society, and the role technology should play in government=an expression as well of new and apparently limitless power (406)

o   Those who value the social changes of the 60’s should be thankful for Sputnik…before it, we did not have such a focus on education for all or a public desire to alter the course of civil rights (407)

·       “The Space Age would neither abolish nor magnify human conflict, but only extend politics-as-usual to a new realm…space technology might, through its institutional offspring, alter societies and economies, but it could never change its parents: the international system of states and the curious, aspiring human spirit.” (414)

o   But does that mean we don’t try?

o   So how do we learn from this lesson? Or is this simply the benefit of hindsight?

·       What did the Space Race buy us?

o   Government spending did not necessarily yield growth, it only padded GNP numbers (437)

o   Government R&D from Sputnik to the moon landing= $146 billion