Final part in a series.
How appropriate that a publication whose launch was dominated by photography of the technological wonder of the day should end its run with an equally impressive tribute to mankindâ€™s latest technological accomplishment. As noted earlier, LIFEâ€™s final issue was released a scant three weeks after Apollo 17, NASAâ€™s last trip to the moon, and in the magazineâ€™s concluding essays it found a fitting kinship with that mission.
Both LIFE and the Apollo program remained physically strong to the last â€“ many regard Apollo 17 as the most successful of all the moon landings (12/29/72), and while LIFE was awash in red ink, its failures arguably related more to mismanagement than to substantive textual issues (in 1969 the magazine had reached an all-time circulation high of 8.5 million) (van Zuilen). Both were, in the end, overcome by financial difficulties and a lack of institutional will to carry on. Read more
Part five in a series.
LIFEâ€™s portrayal of the space race represented, in most respects, a logical extension of its war coverage. Many of the space programâ€™s early goals were military in nature, and as in World War II, technology was once again both demon and messiah, depending on whether it was theirs or ours.
. . .Sputnik proved that there were great military, as well as scientific, advances in the U.S.S.R. Getting their heavy satellite up meant that Russia had developed a more powerful rocket than any the U.S. had yet fired and substantial Soviet claims of success with an intercontinental missile. Putting Sputnik into a precise orbit meant Russia had solved important problems of guidance necessary to aim its missiles at U.S. targets. The satellite could also be the forerunner of a system of observation posts which would watch the U.S. unhindered and with deadly accuracy (10/21/57, 24). Read more
Part four in a series.
The terrible specter of nuclear annihilation was now clear in the American mind, a condition that LIFE acknowledged and addressed. But in the months that followed V-J Day an odd thing happened, as military testing of the new weaponry provided an opportunity for bomb-watchers to indulge their awe without having to confront the frightful context of war. In the estimation of President Truman, America was not only the most powerful nation on the planet, it was likely the most powerful nation in history (8/20/45, 32). If the bomb did possess apocalyptic potential, at least it could now be addressed within the relative calm that attends triumph, peace, and unchallenged superiority. Read more
Part three in a series.
In an age and a culture dominated by scientism, the word â€œsampleâ€ tends to invoke the adjectival â€œrepresentative,â€ and I cannot begin to imagine culling a meaningful representative sample from LIFEâ€™s 400-plus issues. Still, it seems important to devote a few pages to what happened with LIFE and technology between the Fort Peck Dam and Apollo 17. I will center this discussion on innovations and events that, from our perspective here at the end of the century, appear to have left significant marks on history.
The Medical Morality Play
LIFEâ€™s coverage of medical technology began early and covered, through the decades, the research, development, and application of treatments for a variety of diseases and disorders afflicting humanity. Read more
Part two in a series.
As I suggested in Part One, the messianic/utopian view of science and technology attributed to LIFE Magazine is consistent with an ideological bent that traces its lineage to the dawn of the Enlightenment in Europe.
Francis Baconâ€™s highly influential New Atlantis, first published in 1626, recounts the narratorâ€™s fictional shipwreck on the shores of Bensalem, a lost utopia, and offers one of the earliest testaments to the potential of applied science (Outhwaite & Bottomore 1994). In an extended ceremony, Bacon is given to know the seemingly limitless bounty of Bensalemâ€™s scientific expertise. Bensalem is well versed in all manner of advanced technology: refrigeration and preservation, mining, agriculture, astronomy, meteorology, genetics, animal husbandry, desalination, medicine, musicology, mechanics, air flight, and mathematics are literally only a few of the society’s advanced technological arts. Read more
Part one in a series.
During its 36-year run, LIFE Magazine traversed a period of technological innovation and peril unsurpassed in the recorded history of humanity. As the first issue was released in November of 1936, a resurgent Germany was constructing the most awesome war machine the world had yet seen, a development that literally threatened the very future of the hemisphere. LIFEâ€™s final issue went to press at the end of 1972, roughly three weeks after NASAâ€™s last manned mission to the moon, Apollo 17, closed the books on a program that proved — theoretically, at least — that humanity was not inevitably bound to this planet.
The technological distance between these two moments is mind-boggling. Read more