The Space Shuttle is a metaphor for America

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Have you ever thought about this? That the Space Shuttle symbolizes America? Think about it. For me, the U.S. space program was always about America’s idea of itself as benevolent leader of the world. As the story goes, we have the best technology and always use it for good. This is, of course, a complete illusion — the best technology can also rear its ugly head in the form of a nuclear bomb. But the Space Shuttle, like so many other American icons, has come to symbolize the myth of America, saviour of nations.

And for this I loved it and continue to love it. I remember when the Challenger exploded. It sucked. We were watching the liftoff in my school’s musiteria (the cafeteria and auditorium were combined) when it happened. Coming at the end of the Cold War, it was like the hopes and aspirations of a better, freer world came crashing down with it. It’s amazing how devasted a nation can be about the deaths of six or so people — especially now, given what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan — but it’s because they were symbolic deaths.

And what does the Discovery symbolize? In a time when so many Americans are apathetic — willfully, I think — about our country’s ability to effect positive change in the world, the Shuttle represents that Spielbergian need to believe in a fantasy of goodwill, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary. So as we all (or at least as Nicole and I) watched the Shuttle leave its orbit and makes its way back home, we held our breath not only because we worried about the Shuttle and its crew not making it, but also because we worried about what the destruction of such a symbol would mean to this country. What illusion would the country turn to?

Thankfully, no disaster occurred, so until the next symbol is destroyed we can all continue to tell ourselves that we’re fighting the good fight in Iraq, that the “war on terror” is being won, and that America is ultimately a force for good in the world.

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0 thoughts on “The Space Shuttle is a metaphor for America

  1. I really haven’t visited this place that much this summer. You’ve been doing a lot.

    Thank you for this bit about the shuttle. I’ve always had the feeling that the space missions were about something more than just big budget spending, but haven’t been able to articulate it as clearly as you just did. All I’ve been able to say is “We WENT to the MOON!!!”

    If space missions are indeed metaphorical for America, perhaps it is telling that this one faltered as well, and threw into question the whole future enterprise of space exploration.

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