The anti-war movement and space race
History professor, environmental historian and author Neil Maher will lead the second installment of this year’s Yankee Innovators: Steamships to Silicon Chips scholarly series, presented by Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society, on Sunday, Feb. 11, at Wilton Library.
During his talk on Shooting the Moon: Space Technology, Earthbound Nature, and the New Left During the Vietnam War, Maher will discuss a chapter from his latest book, Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, which explores the intertwined history of the space race to the moon and the social and political movements of the 1960s.
“There are five chapters in the book — one about the civil rights movement, one is about the anti-war movement [and the others are about] environmentalism, feminism, and hippie counterculture and the conservative culture,” he said, “and they each look at how those movements and the space race sort of affected each other.”
Maher — a history professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University’s campus in Newark, N.J. — said his scholarly series lecture will focus on the anti-Vietnam War chapter of his book and how the movement and space race influenced and affected one another.
“In the mid-1960s, NASA was secretly working with the military to help them develop weapons for the war in Vietnam,” said Maher.
“When students on college campuses found out about this, they protested … NASA’s involvement in that war effort.”
As a result, he said, NASA canceled some of the military programs it was working on and “turned around and actually tried to change and engage the protesters.”
“NASA started developing other technologies that could help developing countries like Vietnam, [like] satellites that could help them assess their natural resources,” said Maher.
“NASA went from creating technologies to seek and destroy during the war, like missles, to technologies that help countries assess and restore their natural resources.”
Maher said his goal is to illustrate how the grassroots social movements of the 1960s “grounded” the space race, and how the space race “helped to sort of nurture those grassroots movements.”
The anti-war movement may not have halted the space race, said Maher, but it did bring it — and a lot of the technology — “back down to Earth.”
“It forced NASA to take those rockets and satellites that were being used to explore just outer space and turned them back around to explore Earth,” he said.
The movements of the 1960s, said Maher, “sort of had a common target, politically, that they could all point to and say, ‘Look at all this money being wasted on going to space when it could be used to better civil rights or the women’s cause or ending the war in Vietnam.’”
Although it will be his first in Wilton, Maher is no stranger to leading lectures and public discussions.
“I’m an academic, so I do this all the time,” said Maher, who has been delivering public lectures on his research as a New York Council for the Humanities Public Scholar since 2015.
“I love getting out into local communities and talking about my research with people and getting their feedback and trying to connect with them,” he said.
“It’s one of the most enjoyable things about my job.”
Maher said his scholarly series lecture will include a PowerPoint presentation and some film footage.
“I hope to make it really interactive,” he said. “I’ll also ask questions so people can get involved.”
Maher said he will also bring copies of his book for people to purchase, at a discounted price, and get signed.
This year’s scholarly series will run through March, with each lecture taking place from 4 to 5:30. The next installments are:
- Leading the Helicopter Industry into the 21st Century, with Andrew Driver at the Wilton Historical Society on Feb. 25.
- Faster, Smaller, Greener: How Semiconductor Lithography Enables Innovations All Around Us, with Chip Mason at the Wilton Historical Society on March 18.
Receptions will follow each talk. There is no charge, but donations are welcomed. Registration for each lecture is strongly encouraged.