Singing Cowboys on the Moon: Science Fiction Re-Opens the Western Frontier

David Fenimore


When I was six, my great-grandmother, a devout and practical woman who had nurtured three generations of engineers, gave me The Big Book of Space. I was so utterly absorbed by this colorful encyclopedia of “space ships, space station, rockets, equipment” and “star maps” (Hurst) that she followed up by giving me another illustrated children’s book, You Will Go To the Moon. Published in 1959 in the immediate wake of the International Geophysical Year and the launch of Sputnik I, this simply written and earnestly didactic story promoted the friendliness, familiarity, and safety of space travel to impressionable and daydreamy Anglo-American boys such as myself. In it, a little brown-haired, blue-eyed boy – dead ringer for six-year-old me – gazes through a telescope at a full moon over the rolling fields of Midwestern farm country. On the next page, his well-dressed parents are escorting our young hero to the launch facility, which spreads out across a laser-flat plain between dry rocky desert ridges. Arriving on the moon, he encounters a similar landscape, described as "different from earth – no water, no lakes, no trees (…) just deep gray dust" (Freeman 50). He climbs a hill in his space suit and looks out over the moon colony, a cluster of shiny metallic pods and domes spreading across the lunar plain under an outer-space sky. Inside, the off-duty "rocket men" are shown relaxing by watching a Western film, the scene on the screen – a frame within a frame – being a mounted cowboy galloping past a desert mesa, his six-guns blazing (52). A cowboy! Spaceships! The moon! I was hooked. 

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