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  • A curious absence: The effects of space flight on literature

    Paper ID



    • J.M. Shuttleworth


    Department of English, U.S.A.F Academy






    Despite our long-standing interest in space flight—its origins in western literature and imagination date at least from A.D.160—the actual achievement of travel in space has had little discernible effect on either the public imagination or the literature that results from the private imagination. I recognize the heretical nature of this statement for this audience; I will try to make clear my reasons for such a disappointing assertion. Although almost all of us remember the emotional responses to space efforts—public astonishment, even dismay, following the launch of Sputnik I; the excitement of succeeding space shots; the jubilation at the moon landing in 1969; the emotional drama of Challenger and other shuttle missions; the curious spectacle of the far-distant satellite missions to Mars and Saturn—space travel paradoxically has only lightly touched either popular, public, or serious literature or art. One cannot be certain about the causes of such a seeming disparity between the transient international popular interest in the events themselves and the relative absence of their effect in world literature, literature which normally reflects the reality of life. This paper, nevertheless, suggests that the ultimate disappointment may be more apparent than real, presents some possible reasons for the difficulty in making space travel a part of the literary imagination, and concludes with some brief suggestions of what we might expect in the next decades.