Blaffer Art Museum presents Creation of the American Astronaut
Scott Magelssen, associate professor and director of the Center for Performance Studies at the University of Washington, is presenting a talk on the visual and aesthetic creation of the American astronaut at the University of Houston.
Magelssen considers the creation of the American Astronaut, a kind of profession that did not exist until roughly 1959. Since the only spacemen that existed in Americans’ consciousness came from science fiction, and the U.S. needed to hurry to catch up with the Soviets with the launching of the first Sputnik satellite, the American Astronaut needed to be a swiftly but carefully constructed figure.
Part cold warrior, part fighter pilot and all clean-cut American hero, the NASA leadership and governing officials looked to performance, costuming and media to produce and circulate this image of the American Astronaut in order to justify the enormous labor and expense that would be required for human spaceflight.
This presentation is part of a larger project about “performing flight,” from the earliest aviators to the creation of the commercial airline pilot, to space tourism. The astronaut was a work of performance, from the Yeager-style drawl (also heard on commercial airlines from the flight deck) to the fighter pilot-cut of the pressure-suit. This presentation also argues, however, that we can situate the astronaut in a larger trajectory of performances perceived by American audiences as appropriate for Cold War muscling for military might and control of the final frontier.