When designing exhibits, I try to be as balanced as possible. Space exploration has always been an international effort. Americans weren't the first to space. We weren't the first to orbit the Earth or walk in space or launch a permanent space station. So, I was somewhat startled to realize that my latest project "To Boldly Go...", about the motivations and feelings of astronauts, didn't include a single picture of Soviet achievement. It finally hit me - there basically are no good pictures of the early space program. Take a look at this:
Would you believe that the first Soviet spacewalk (on the left) took place just three months prior to the first American one (on the right)? These images look like they come from two different eras, not two different months. No wonder you've probably never seen the Soviet picture. The American one, on the other hand, is one of the most famous pictures of the twentieth century. Here's three more you've almost surely seen:
What do all these images have in common? For one, they are exceptionally crisp. They're also brilliantly saturated: with the exception of Buzz Aldrin (in the middle image), all of these images are anchored by the intense blue of the Earth. NASA recognized that, no matter how extraordinary the achievement in theory, the public needed to be wowed. Astonishing the eyes is far easier than astonishing the brain.
This insight, struck upon at the dawn of the space age, may well be the factor we can most credit with NASA's continuing survival. Think about the Large Hadron Collider or the Human Genome Project or the Trieste. What comes to mind? Probably not much. Now think about the Moon landing or the International Space Station or the Mars rovers. Vivid images leap to mind and that's the magic: NASA has placed us in the boots of the astronauts time and again. That's something that you don't easily forget. That's something you're willing to pay for. That's something that inspires.