During the twentieth century, global wars transformed the perception of science and technology. As a result, many countries recognized the need for organizing science on a unified and national front in addition to integrating scientific research with war agendas. In “The Death of Certainty”, co-authors Andrew Ede and Lesley B. Cormack refer to this phenomena as the rise of “Big Science”1.  Most scientific breakthroughs during the twentieth century came from “Big Science” or research funded by major research institutions and federal government as opposed to the contributions of individual scientists. Apart from the global wars, science became part of mainstream popular culture with the race to space. The launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union was one of the many events that led to the popularization of science.1 Although there were deadly consequences of “Big Science” in global wars, the perception of science shifted and was popularized in the race to space.

As opposed to the development of warfare that often shrouded in secrecy, the race to space was a very public and a less esoteric demonstration of the power of science. In “The Death of Certainty”, Ede and Cormack examine the application of science in weapon versus space research:

“Development of nuclear weapons was in many ways a more complex integration of research and the demands for a ‘useful’ final product….and was presented as so advanced…that it was accessible only to geniuses. The rocket race was, in contrast, a very public demonstration of scientific prowess”.1

In the interest of national security, it is logical for nuclear weapons research to be kept secret and understood by a select few “geniuses”.1 An example of nuclear power prowess is the United States using an atomic bomb to end WWII. In “Science in the Origins of the Cold War”, Naomi Oreskes describes the consequences of this nuclear warfare: “The world would find itself in a permanent state of ‘cold war’” and “not a way of life at all in any true sense”. 2 On the other hand, the “rocket race”1 between the Soviet Union and United States led NASA to become the world’s biggest supporter of scientific research. NASA programs helped change the image of science from a destructive entity to an “adventurous and glamorous”1 field. Science was also made accessible to the general public by television news announcer Walter Cronkite who served as NASA’s voice and image.

As opposed to being a purely lethal entity, the race to space improved the reputation of science. In the context of space exploration, science was seen as a more glamorous and adventurous field. This new perception of science was fueled by NASA programming and Sputnik, which was launched by the Soviet Union. Although scientific interests within the Soviet Union, United States, and other countries during the twentieth century aligned strongly with their warfare needs, the pursuit of space exploration was perceived as a less destructive and exciting application of science.

“The Death of Certainty” and “1957: The Year the World Became a Planet,” in Andrew Ede and Lesley B. Cormack, A History of Science in Society: From Philosophy to Utility, Second Edition(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), pp. 295–348.

Naomi Oreskes, “Science in the Origins of the Cold War” in Naomi Oreskes and John Krige (eds.), Science and Technology in the Global Cold War(Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2014), 11–30.