Reviews and Previews: The Unstoppables

Cloudy skies, freezing rain, and mechanical trouble couldn’t keep a pair of British fliers from crossing the Atlantic in an open-cockpit biplane.

John Alcock and Arthur Brown survived a not-so-pretty landing in an Irish bog. (NASM (SI Neg. #97-15205~pm))
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Phil Scott wrote Hemingway's Hurricane (McGraw Hill, 2006).


Heavenly Ambitions: America’s Quest to Dominate Space.

By Joan Johnson-Freese. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. 192 pp., $29.95.

Joan Johnson-Freese’s Heavenly Ambitions invites us into a shadowed but vitally significant corner of American technological and political life: the national security uses of space. Since the earliest years of the cold war, space and its military exploitation have been inseparable in national thinking.

This is the background for Heavenly Ambitions. Johnson-Freese lays out the history of decisions, contending factions, and ideologies that have shaped national security policy in space, particularly since the beginning of the Reagan administration.

At the center of her account is a familiar conclusion: that the rise of a conservative ideology has sharpened the divide between two visions of how space might be used to serve American interests. The conservative stance argues that space is essential terrain (think of the vital role that satellites of all kinds play in daily life) and that the nation should actively maintain control of this asset. The countervailing view is that in a global world, in which many other nations also have made space central to their ambitions, such a position is untenable and counterproductive. American interests would be better served by strategies of cooperation and collaboration. Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College, argues for the latter position. Especially for those steeped in NASA history, this short volume is worth reading, if only as a reminder of the centrality of national security in U.S. space activities and the political passions it has excited.

Martin Collins is a curator at the National Air and Space Museum.


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