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PWR 1ABA: "Beyond!" The Rhetoric of Space Exploration

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PWR 1ABA: The Rhetoric of Space Exploration

"To infinity and beyond!" This call to adventure and discovery has been repeated by millions of children since it was first uttered, ironically, by an earthbound plastic space crusader in the animated film Toy Story. While we may smile at its childish naivete, this phrase, and the character Buzz Lightyear, reflect crucial, longstanding facets of our human reach for the stars. Despite centuries of turning our gaze toward space, are we inescapably bound to the fate of our own planet? Is our view of astronauts just as stereotypical as this toy?

In this course we will critically consider our role in the universe: Does space exploration enact a type of global manifest destiny? How does NASA inspire the support of its missions, and how do domestic concerns pull us back to Earth? What does the exploration of the cosmos allow us to learn about ourselves? You will learn to identify rhetorical strategies used to advance the agendas of stakeholders in space exploration and gain the tools of writing and research to create your own rhetorical arguments.

Students in this class will enter into rhetorical conversations with scholarly and public-facing texts in a variety of modes--from presidential speeches (such as by John F. Kennedy) and popular science to space photography, films (such as Apollo 13 or Hidden Figures), and literary texts (such as The Right Stuff and The Martian). The thematic approach encourages student projects across many disciplines and interests such as medicine, philosophy, engineering, history, political science, literature, international law, and visual art. Possible projects include: the effect of space imagery on environmentalism; how space research has contributed to our knowledge of our own bodies; the roles of race and gender in astronaut recruitment or astronomy careers; or how fictional depictions of space exploration have shaped our ideas about innovation and resilience.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis (1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages): For this assignment, you will analyze a short public-facing text of your choosing that communicates something about space to a broad audience, such as popular science articles, videos, or podcasts. You'll learn to adjust your tools of analysis to the medium of your text; for example, what rhetorical strategies are best employed in textual, visual, aural, or cinematic modes? You will then develop an argument about their purpose and effect.

Texts in Conversation (1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): This assignment asks you to begin to explore multiple voices and texts for your research-based argument. You will choose a topic that excites you, pose a research question, and explore what scholars and other experts have written to create a sense of the "conversation" surrounding your research interest. For example, you could ask: How could commercial space travel impact socio-economic divides? Does the creation of tangible consumer products justify the expense of space research?

Research-Based Argument (3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages): In this final assignment, you will channel the research you explored in the TiC into your own rhetorically effective argument. You will add your voice to the conversation by developing an argument for your position using rhetorical tools and evidence from a variety of sources. For example, you could argue for the value of the International Space Station as a vehicle for international diplomacy or explore effective methods for integrating space topics into primary education.