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A New Frontier - or just a 240,000 mile cul de sac?

Mark Shanahan (Brunel University)

Fifty years on from President Kennedy’s inauguration, a myth persists that the USA’s triumph in landing a man on the moon expanded the nation’s frontiers into the heavens – and that this expansion owes its success to the policy-making of Kennedy. This article takes an evidential approach in debunking the myth by presenting Kennedy as the master of political expediency, and re-evaluating Eisenhower’s role in developing effective space policy that was not limited by a race to the moon. The article shows how Eisenhower set in track a process that enabled the creation of an agency that could deliver a space programme that, step-by-step, would open space in its widest sense to the American spirit of exploration. Furthermore, it demonstrates that far from stretching America’s frontier to the heavens, Kennedy’s space policy was little more than an expedient reaction to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the first earth orbit of Yuri Gagarin and shows that Kennedy hijacked Eisenhower and NASA’s systematic and logical plan for space exploration, replacing it with a single-focus event: high on symbolic achievement, but entirely limiting in terms of truly extending America’s frontier into space.
       By comparing and contrasting the space policy decision making of these two presidents, this article re-evaluates Eisenhower’s contribution to the United States’ journey into space and, in so doing, places Kennedy’s rhetoric and policy making in true perspective: not as the champion of Apollo, but as the limiting factor that caused America to lose its way as it sought to push its frontier to the heavens.

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ISSN 1753-5794