Southbound on the Freeway Historical Context

May Swenson

Historical Context

“Southbound on the Freeway” was written during a time in America when the country was reaffirming its love affair with moving machines. From the automobile to spaceships, technology was taking mobility to new heights in the early 1960s. Two of the most significant developments in this era were space exploration with both manned and unmanned crafts and the construction of an interstate highway system linking cities and towns across America in a manner never seen before. While both developments provided tremendous new opportunities for millions of people, not everyone was supportive of the efforts.

NASA’s space programs using manned spaceships and unmanned satellites got underway simultaneously in the late 1950s and early 1960s. With the launching of the Echo 1 satellite in 1960 and the more sophisticated Telstar 1 and Relay 1 in 1962, scientists could bounce radio wave messages off the satellites and redirect them to desired locations, as well as pick up signals that were sent back to Earth. Telstar 1 provided the first satellite television broadcasts in 1962. Antimissile satellites were also launched in the early 1960s, and the military used satellites with high-resolution cameras to fly over nations and take pictures of facilities that were of interest to the American government. Enemy countries, however, were not the only targets of space exploration, for there were brand new worlds to discover as well. In 1960 Pioneer 5 was launched on a journey to the Sun; Mariner 1 and Mariner 2 left for Venus in 1962; and another pair of Mariners headed for Mars in 1964.

While some Americans grumbled about the expense of the unmanned satellite probes, many others questioned the cost, danger, and effectiveness of sending astronauts into space. The first man in space was actually a Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who orbited Earth in 1961. But the Americans were not far behind, sending John Glenn into orbit to circle the planet three times in his 1962 mission. Glenn was part of the Mercury space program that saw other launches in the early 1960s, followed by the Gemini program in the mid-1960s, during which American astronauts made their first space walks.

In the latter part of the decade, the Apollo program became the...

(The entire section is 939 words.)