Dialogue: A Political History of NASA

Jul 6, 2016

President John F. Kennedy outlines plans to send Americans to the Moon in a speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962.

Five years ago this month, the final space shuttle mission ended, and with it, America's only homegrown route to manned space flight. NASA's present and future are defined by uncertainty. But it's almost always been that way. Even during the glory days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, NASA's existence and purpose were tied to overtly political goals. On this edition of Dialogue, an exploration of NASA and politics.

John Logsdon is a historian who focuses on the policy and political aspects of NASA and its programs. He literally wrote the book on the Kennedy administration’s views on the space program, first in 1970 with The Decision to Go to the Moon, and again in 2010’s JFK and the Race to the Moon. He is also the author of After Apollo, detailing Nixon Administration space policy, and is at work on a third about Reagan and space policy.

Margaret Lazarus Dean is an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee. One of her specialties is writing about spaceflight; her 2007 novel The Time It Takes to Fall, is about the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Her latest book, Leaving Orbit, chronicles the end of the shuttle program.

Dean and Logsdon join host Brandon Hollingsworth for a discussion about how presidents and policymakers have viewed NASA, and how the agency has been lifted, and beached, by shifting political tides.