By Charlie AdamsI love museums and attend as often as I can, especially during the colder months when vintage events are limited; the indoor activity of learning more about history to see the influences or outcomes of my favourite decades greatly appeals. Wanting to go somewhere new, I visited the Leicester Space Centre, the result of which made me ponder how different modern life would be if the Atomic Age had not happened.
The atomic era started with the detonation of the first nuclear atomic bomb in 1945; this scientific achievement is given the credit of ending WWII, however global peace was not granted, countries were still competing with one another wanting to prove their dominance over ideology and technology. The Cold War soon began; although no battles took place, the threat of global nuclear destruction was real, with both the US and Soviet Union making grand military technological breakthroughs. However, these advancements also opened the door for many new possibilities, making the dream of the exploration of space possible. This was seen as a benefit to mankind, capturing the imaginations of all across the world showing that farfetched dreams could in fact turn into realities, although the military benefit of the space race was the global announcement of how far each country could, in essence, send a nuclear missile.  In the public domain this was turned to national pride as a distraction from the cold war and global recession. In 1955 both countries declared they would be launching a satellite into space, thus the Space Race began. In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first satellite Sputnik 1 to orbit the planet; in the following years each side celebrated many victories, the most famous of which being the US 1969 Apollo 11 mission that saw the first men on the moon. 
So I asked myself, how did this change the lives of everyday men and women? When I asked Dan Kendall, the curator at The Leicester Space Centre, he told me: “It’s a general assumption that a huge amount of money is spent on space exploration – and whilst this is true, it doesn’t reflect all of the good that has come about as a result of cutting edge space technology, much of which impacts on our day-to-day lives.
“Many of us use satnavs in our cars or Google Maps, without giving much consideration to the network of satellites orbiting the Earth above. Space technology impacts our lives in many other – often less obvious – ways too, ranging from memory foam mattresses or digital image sensors in our smart phone cameras, to shock absorption systems used to protect buildings against earthquakes and improved food safety standards. They all owe their origins to space technology, and are only a few of the many things that have had a far reaching benefit to modern life.”
However there were more than just technological advances: fashion, furniture, entertainment and architecture were all influenced.
Designers had a new theme for inspiration, characterising the new Space Age designs by the use of symbolic imagery of motion, such as flying saucers, boomerangs and atomic motifs and starbursts (which has now become the classic 50s look). Googie architecture was born, with key features of upswept roofs, geometric shapes and the bold use of neon, glass and steel. Based in California but having global influence, this was most popular with coffee houses, motels and gas stations. Bringing the future to the masses and making it part of their everyday lives (even today’s new build fast food restaurants have a clear Googie aspect to them).
Not only did buildings change but also what was inside them: clocks with satellite design, atomic shaped lights, pod chairs, Keraclonic television, kidney shaped tables and space age symbols used in upholstery and kitchen wear became the fashion for interior design, all looking in place in a space ship or home alike.
The 1956 Ideal Home Exhibition in London saw the ‘House of the Future’ designed by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson. The house was a cross between an atomic bunker and a spacecraft, being full of futuristic designs and labour-saving devices. 
Cars also developed a space age look about them, with radio antennas similar to Sputnik’s, the wide use of chrome and the add-on of car tailfins giving the aspherical look of rockets – the like of Cadillacs and Lincoln Futuras looked like they really could take off – to the later 1960s designs of bubble and pod look vehicles like moon buggies.
The Space Race influenced many young fashion designers, with André Courrèges being the forerunner, releasing his space-age collection in 1964. This was a radical change from the style of the 50s, consisting of angular mini dresses, trouser suits accessories with goggles, flat boots and helmets, being made of heavy materials in whites and silver, these clearly showed that astronauts had landed on the catwalk. His skirts got shorter and there is much debate whether it was Courrèges and not Mary Quant who invented the mini skirt. One of the most famous examples of his range is the white hat and dress ensemble worn by Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million. The ‘Moon Girl’ look is a classic style of the 60s, without which films like Barbarella would not be the same.
The Space Race gave new direction for film production, capturing the topical ideas of what lies in wait among the stars and the future of humanity; new set designs, futuristic technology and alien monsters gave writers an endless amount of possibilities for new story lines but it also related true fears of society, as seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey – would robots/technology outgrow mankind? The question of what it is to be human highlighted social, ideological and environmental issues. People were seeing themselves from a whole new angle, from outer space – from a new perspective. The role of women in the future was questioned; while previously a small amount of films had female leads, these were more often than not weak characters that needed a man’s help to survive, however with the increase of science fiction productions women were given more leading roles, representing strong, empowering positions .
Also in 1957 the first colour cartoon was made for TV, this was Colonel Bleep; he was a futuristic alien from the planet Futura, who with the help of his sidekicks protected the planet Earth.  For me it is hard to think of films or TV programmes from the 50-70s that were not influenced by the space race. Films: Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Planet of the Apes. TV: Lost in Space, Dr Who, The Jetsons. Science fiction gained in popularity and was no longer just a genre but a possibility.
The Space Race also had social economic influences. In Nathalia Holt’s book Rise of the Rocket Girls she tells the true stories of the women at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose work during the 40/50s changed the course of history. Some of these women advanced to hold important key roles in NASA.  A few of these women were Afro-American. President Franklin Roosevelt was the first to open Federal war jobs to the black community; their story is to be released in the film Hidden Figures this month. WWII may have opened the doors for women and Afro-Americans into the workplace, but in NASA they were there to stay. It was a group of mixed race women that made ‘one small step for man’ possible. It led the way to influence future generations of women to enter mathematical and scientific fields.
The future as predicted by the likes of Buck Rogers was not reached by the 21st century. But with space travel available for all, the first steps on Mars and the possibility of communities in space still a dream; the effects of the atomic age are still very much with us.
 Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Race
 Googie Architecture Online http://www.spaceagecity.com/googie/
 V&A http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-space-race/
 V&A http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/andre-courreges/
 Sean Buckley – The Impact of the Space Age on Film