A March to Mars? The Function of Outer Space within US Nationalism in Historical Perspective
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Outer space has become more popular in recent years due to a growth in spacefaring nations, the increasing importance of space-enabled capabilities such as GPS and espionage, and the entrance of private companies seeking touristic spaceflight and colonization of planets, amongst others. The US government under the presidency of Donald Trump has publicly voiced a necessity for new policies, mostly concerning the role of the US in the future of outer space activities and has even committed itself to engage in unilateral space missions. This development is an evident change from past policies, as US political narratives surrounding outer space during the ISS era predominantly encouraged international cooperation. Therefore, in this thesis I analyze the relationship between US nationalism and outer space, answering the question why there have been fluctuations in the prominence of outer space as an arena for US nationalism between the 1960s and 2019. In order to answer the question, I make a comparative analysis of three periods since the development and growth of spacefaring capabilities and strategies in the 1960s, specifically the Cold War space race, the International Space Station era, and recent space exploration and narratives under the Trump administration. Using concepts of nationalism such as Eric Hobsbawm’s Invented Traditions, the frontier theory, manifest destiny, and the link between technology and national identity, I argue that there is a correlation between the current conflict with China and the resurgence of US nationalism surrounding outer space, similar to the Cold War space race. I conclude that space is used as a symbolic arena during times of symmetrical conflict, used as a means to show and gain national power. As such, spectacular technologies are used to portray a spectacular nation in the face of an equal ‘challenger’.