Enter the Way-Back Machine: Space Day 1977


Once upon a time, writer-activist Stewart Brand, a long-time space exploration fan, sent the comic-book artist and well known curmudgeon R. Crumb to a “Space Day” symposium in southern California.

At that time – 1977 – Brand* was editor of CoEvolution Quarterly, a future-looking magazine he’d founded in 1974.** He assigned Crumb to cover the symposium for the magazine. Crumb, of course, reported on it in a comic strip, “R. Crumb on assignment for the CoEvolution Quarterly goes to the…Space Day Symposium (or whatever the hell it was called…).”

You can read the whole thing here (pp. 48-51) thanks to the Whole Earth Catalog folks, dedicated, as always, to providing “access to tools and ideas.” (Stay tuned for my next post if you want to know more about Whole Earth and CoEv…. Full disclosure: I am a big R. Crumb fan.)

In his Space Day report, Crumb offered “before,” during,” and “after” takes on the event.

Crumb before going: “Hey, sounds like fun, Stewart, I’d love to go!”

Crumb at the event: listening to a talk about how “exploring this limitless frontier means benefits for people in many ways, including the creation of employment opportunities, establishment of new businesses, benefits from applications of space technology, and visions of planetary realism etc. etc.,” Crumb thinks, “Ho hum, man, what a bore!!”

Crumb after the event: “what a smug bunch of hypocrites!! Now when I think about it, I just get mad!”

The symposium, a public event, took place August 11, 1977, at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles – now called the California Science Center and home to the retired NASA space shuttle orbiter Endeavour. We can read between the lines that this symposium was what the late historian Daniel Boorstin called a pseudoevent, a carefully planned and tightly orchestrated media opportunity.*** Crumb reported, “Films were shown, speeches were made and lectures given by politicians” (including Governor Jerry Brown), “scientists” (including Carl Sagan), “astronauts” (including Rusty Schweickart, now on the board of the B612 Foundation – see my recent posts on “asteroid dreams”), and “promoters and big shots from the aerospace industry.”

The “climax” of the symposium took place August 12 in the Mohave Desert, Crumb reported, “where the new ‘space shuttle’ made its first free flight landing.”

Before the Space Day symposium, Crumb explored the museum and noticed that the place was “a showroom for aerospace corporations, each with its own elaborate displays and sales pitch.” During the symposium, he heard one aerospace corporate executive assert, “…The dangers of the misuse of rockets and satellites is the responsibility of the government, not the aerospace industry…our job is to deliver the goods for whoever buys our products…our responsibility is to our stockholders….”

After the event, Crumb wondered, “What was the purpose of all this talk about our destiny…the thrust into space?…. To drum up business for the aerospace corporations, obviously!!”

“But what’s wrong with space exploration, you may ask? Isn’t it true,” Crumb wrote, “that it’s an exciting new frontier and that it will raise the consciousness of humanity?”  He concluded, “Don’t be duped by foolish Buck Rogers dreams of glorious adventures among the planets! Let’s wait until we’ve learned to get along with each other before we go barging into the cosmos! Whataya say??”

I say, “Yer right, Crumb.” Whatta you say?

* If you’ve read my recent posts about asteroid plans, you may be interested to know that Stewart Brand is now a “strategic advisor” to the B612 Foundation.

** Brand was also founder and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog (1968) and cofounder of the early online community The WELL (1985) (“Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link”).

*** In his book The Image: A Guide to Pseudoevents in America (1961), Boorstin described a pseudoevent:  “The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported.”

(Thanks to Beej Weir’s Tumbler for the image of R. “Buck Rogers” Crumb!)


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