Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

The American space program has been tarred as the home of white scientists who didn’t care for anyone who wasn’t white and male. Certainly there were problems in that regard, as there were in American society generally at the time. You had Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon calling the space program a theft from African Americans. This is a strain that has continued; Scott-Heron’s poem was used in the 2018 film First Man, about Neil Armstrong and the Moon landing.

Enter Hidden Figures, the 2016 film about the African American “computers” (as it was a person’s job in those days) Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Overlooked and forgotten by popular history, this film shines a spotlight on the women who did the math that took John Glenn to space.

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The Greening of Mars

The Greening of Mars

Mars has called to generations of space enthusiasts, a crimson fleece for would-be astronauts. Visions of how we might or might have gone there have become a staple of speculative fiction, especially in the post-Apollo era, as things such as Stephen Baxter’s Voyage can attest. But in 1984, Gia hypothesis creator James Lovelock and science writer Michael Allaby presented The Greening of Mars, a Martian shape of things to come which arrived almost a decade before Kim Stanley Robinson offered his vision of the red planet transformed.

As a work of future history overtaken by reality, it is also alternate history. For what Lovelock and Allaby’s slim book (the edition I read in 2019 ran a mere 166 pages) does is present a brief history of Martian colonization that began in the 1980s and runs someway into the future. Its driving force is Sir Travers Foxe, someone not unlike an Elon Musk for the Boomer generation, an entrepreneur who, using former nuclear missiles and CFC carrying machinery, starts the process of change on Mars.

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For All Mankind

For All Mankind

The first time I gave For All Mankind a try was not long after I’d seen Altered Carbon, and another ten episodes of Joel Kinnaman’s pent-up anger was more than I could bear.

I still find it off-putting, and his character in For All Mankind shows almost no growth over two seasons. But the rest of the series makes up for it.

It starts with the Soviet Union beating the Americans to the Moon and shows the Space Race continuing into the 1980s. Along the way, the Soviets land the first woman on the Moon, convincing the United States to train its own female astronauts; both superpowers built lunar colonies; and East-West tensions come to a head in a Panama Canal Crisis, which in this timeline is aggravated by Ronald Reagan winning the presidency four years earlier and refusing to relinquish American control of the canal to Panama’s pro-Soviet government.

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Countdown

Countdown

The 1960s Space Race saw the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an ever-evolving game of oneupmanship. One that saw them leaping from first satellite to the first man to the first woman and first multi-person crew to, thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration before Congress, to putting someone on the Moon first. That goal was reached in July 1969, when Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Module Eagle onto the lunar surface.

In a different world, it might have been another astronaut taking that one giant leap using modified Gemini hardware with such a scenario depicted in Robert Altman’s 1968 movie Countdown.

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The Soviet Union in Space

For a while, the Soviet Union was ahead in the Space Race. It launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space in 1961. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space two years later.

These early victories spurred the United States into action. President John F. Kennedy set a goal of putting an American on the Moon before 1970. NASA, created by his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, received massive funding. The Apollo program succeeded while the Soviet space program languished. Following the 1969 Moon landing, both sides returned their attention to Earth.

What if they hadn’t? What if the American program had failed and the Soviet Union had continued its exploration of — and expansion into — space?

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