Without Having Seen: Faith, the Future, and the Final American Frontier

Catherine L. Newell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The popularization of the science of space exploration in America after World War II has its roots in the nineteenth century. Mid-twentieth-century calls to “conquer” space were reanimations of nineteenth-century exhortations to “conquer” the American West in the name of God and to fulfill America’s manifest destiny. Magazine articles, television specials, and films such as Destination Moon (1950) explicitly connected the ephemeral space frontier to the historical Western frontier. In each medium, “space proselytizers,” like artist Chesley Bonestell, engineer Wernher von Braun, and writer Willy Ley, made clear connections between the American frontiersman of the previous century and the twentieth century’s space pioneer. This link is especially apparent in a series of articles on the emerging science of space exploration that ran in Collier’s magazine from 1952 until 1954. Space is viewed as “our new frontier,” and is championed through Bonestell’s paintings and von Braun’s invocation of the material frontier. Von Braun even closes his article by explaining that Americans are ready for a journey to “man’s oldest and last frontier: the heavens themselves.” Thus, the science of space exploration—in the Collier’s articles and elsewhere—was carefully framed as an endeavor analogous to the conquering of the American West. By situating space as humankind’s “last frontier,” the effort required to build a space program could become a moral endeavor and the fulfillment of America’s new manifest destiny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-166
Number of pages19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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