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How Space Became a Cold War Battleground

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, June 23, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0099
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Jeff Shesol (Photo: Rebecca Epstein)

At the height of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy saw outer space exploration as a race for survival—and one that America was losing. The Soviets seemed unstoppable in space. They had sent the first satellite into orbit, the first animal into orbit, and then, in 1961, the first man. The military implications were clear: The United States needed to catch up.

When John Glenn blasted off aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, he carried America’s hopes into orbit—and into a new and perilous Cold War battleground. He was perfectly suited to his mission. Though other astronauts called him “the Boy Scout,” they saw his ambition, his drive, and his fierceness of purpose. Glenn’s historic flight did not in itself win the space race, but it did shift the momentum by putting the United States on the path to the moon. Drawing on his new book, Mercury Rising, author Jeff Shesol examines how the astronaut’s heroics lifted the nation’s hopes in what Kennedy called the “hour of maximum danger.”

Shesol is the author of Supreme Power and Mutual Contempt, both selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He is a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and a founding partner of West Wing Writers.

His book Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War (WW Norton and Company) is available for purchase.

Book Sale Information

  • Purchase your copy of Mercury Rising by Jeff Shesol here.
  • SPECIAL NOTE: Politics and Prose is offering a 10% discount to Smithsonian Associates ticket-holders. To claim your discount, enter the code SPECIAL10 (no space between letters and numbers) in the “Coupon discount” section on Politics and Prose's check-out page.

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