Stunned by the news of Sputnik in 1957, the American public were to be treated over the next dozen years to the spectacle of an all-out national crusade: the race to beat the Russians to the moon. What few understood at the time - and what has largely been obscured in popular representations of this episode in movies and bestsellers - was the key economic and technical role played by manned space exploration in post-war US capitalist expansion. From Potsdam to Cape Canaveral, the yellow brick road twisted and turned, but its ultimate goal remained clear: the Oz of global American economic and political domination.
Taking off from that masterpiece of American fiction, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Dale Carter tells the lurid tale of the postwar boom, through the history of the manned space program. Salvaged from the ashes of Nazi Germany (Pynchon's 'Oven State'), as US officials rounded up the Third Reich's leading V-2 scientists, the American Rocket State embarked on an upward path that would culminate in the epochal voyage of Apollo XI in 1969. Following this path, Carter gives an innovative, brilliant account of American culture and society during the Cold War. He charts the ideological and political significance of a range of phenomena, from films like High Society, Destination Moon and When Worlds Collide to John F. Kennedy's rise to power, from the emergence of a new high-tech economy fueled by the NASA-led transformation of the aerospace industry to the last flight of the space shuttle Challenger. His highly original account of the star-spangled space age sets a new standard for the study of American culture.