Technology and Consciousness in the Brumidi Corridor of the United States Capitol


By John Dyer

The New Frontier, Using Old Technology

We have discussed distance many times in our consideration of technology and the inventor in the Brumidi corridor. The First Landing on the Moon,1969, painted by Allyn Cox in 1975, helps clarify this theme. Here, the separation between man and nature takes a new turn, one that starkly exhibits the themes considered in earlier lunettes.

Here the two astronauts are distanced from the environment to which there bodies are most suited. Hence, they need suits that are the symbols of man's interaction with nature, similar to analogous images in the first three inventors' lunettes, like Franklin's magnifying glass, for example. The lunar lander that allows them to live outside their normal environment is similar to the laboratories and airplanes depicted previously, as well.

The collectivizing character of the image is more explicit than earlier iterations. The Earth is hanging in blackness, like the two airplanes, and therefore is, like them, a representation of an idea. The airplane and lunar lander are worlds unto themselves in the air, and the Earth is a world unto itself in outer space.

The two astronauts place Old Glory on the moon, as if that was the primary purpose for their trip--the lunette portrays them as extensions of the nation. The rocket taking off at the bottom of the image tells us the technically corporate nature of the project, one with literally so many stages no one, not even countless amounts of people, could orchestrate the launch: computers made the space program possible.

To a greater degree than Lindbergh could have ever conceived, the astronauts had very little contribution to their craft's design. After all, animals like monkeys were the first space travelers. The dependence of the astronauts on their spaceship in light of their ignorance of its internal functioning is a marked reduction in the knowledge of the individual, but not of the society, in comparison to, say, the intimacy Fitch enjoyed with his steamboat.

The juxtaposition of the Earth against the rocket continues the magnification of the earlier lunette's themes. As Fulton's steamboat lessened the majesty of the palisades, this lunette leaves us not quite sure which spectacle--the big blue marble or the smoke trailing missile--is more breathtaking. This indecision is ominous given its scale.

The implied future of the moon landing is also quite startling. The astronauts stand on something. Comparing the Earth in the background to the moon, we realize the latter must also be similarly hanging in the ether, that there must be more planets to explore outside the image.

We have therefore regressed somewhat to Franklin's conception of the world and invention, where man catalogs and observes nature before tampering with it. Humanity has managed to atomize the whole Earth; in the image it appears as a cell under a microscope. Concurrently, the astronauts appear to share Fulton's experience as well. They are completely isolated from their immediate object of study, the moon, while paradoxically reaching it more closely than ever before.

The next lunette of the Space Shuttle Challenger finishes this exploration into the corridor.