The Final Frontier

Dale Carter. The Final Frontier: Rise and Fall of the American Rocket State. Verso, 1988.

The basic hypothesis of this book is that the dream of space flight quickly turned into nightmare. It begins with a detailed analysis of the ideas contained in Thomas Pynchon's massive fiction work, Gravity's Rainbow. This is extremely tedious and riddled with academic jargon but once Carter moves on to examine the postwar factors in America that brought about the Apollo moon landing missions his views become far clearer and more significant.

Vested interests used the space missions to line their own pockets, ease political and social tensions and intimidate foreign enemies. The utopia of the new frontier really hid the totalitarian ideology of the Nazi regime which had helped make spaceflight and missile technology practical - but this time the pill was sugared with the promise of consumer affluence for those who worked hard and believed in the white middle-class values of the USA.

The same trend can be seen in the development of other modern technologies. The dreams of hobbyists who built primitive radio sets or experimented with television systems soon found them shattered when military and industrial interests took over their patents.

There are several problems with Carter's ideas. One is that he is far too general and sweeping in his comments about America. Everything seems to lead to a great inevitable, unstoppable, inflexible, military industrial conspiracy, and no recognition of contrary forces or ideas is made. Despite these faults, the book does offer an excellent overview of American society in the post war years and it provides a great analysis of the space programme and the many factors that contributed to its success in the 1960's. This book might not seem like an obvious choice for ufologists, but it does provide the context for belief in space exploration and life on other planets. the eagerness of the American imagination for space missions can tell us why and how the contactee movement took root.

The failure of the Apollo missions to maintain social cohesion and understanding can be seen as part of the factors that have lead to the fearful stories of the abductees. In fact, Gravity's Rainbow itself contains many examples of characters being seduced and controlled by illusions which are similar to abductee experiences. In the light of recent American cases the interaction between literature, technology, ideology and UFO beliefs is worth considering. -- Nigel Watson, from Magonia 30, August 1988.

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