The Fertile Crescent:
The South's Role in the National Space Program
LOYD S. SWENSON, JR.*
N THE PAST HALF-DECADE JAMES HENRY BREASTED'S CONCEPT OF
a "Fertile Crescent," to describe a connected zone of development
for intensive new forms of civilization, has been transplanted from
prehistoric Nile and Mesopotamian river valleys to the Gulf coastline
of the United States. Speculating on the earthly effects of space
technology and exploration, journalists and speakers have adopted the
term "crescent," modified by "fertile," "southern," or "space," to call
attention to the geography of the southeastern quarter of the United
States and to the role of this section of the country in harboring the
staging area and much of the engineering activity for the American
attempt to shoot men to the moon within this decade.
Project Apollo, being directed by the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA), grew out of a set of conditions that
had few relations with the agrarian culture and relatively static society
of the stereotypical "South" of yesteryear. About 1920 or 1940 or 1960,
however, depending upon one's temporal and technological perspec-
tive, the fallow soil of the traditional South, from Florida to Virginia,
across the Tennessee Valley, and curving down through Texas, became
impregnated with airborne seeds and produced some new varieties of
plants that promised a harvest illimitable. In July, 1964, a business
news magazine featured an article which commented on the new
plants, populations, and payrolls pouring into the South: "Whether it
is wasteful or not, or whether it is wise or not to rush to the moon,
this country is moving into high gear for the adventure-and it is the
South that stands to gain the most.""
*Mr. Swenson is associate professor of history at the University of Houston and
coauthor of a recent NASA publication, This New Ocean: A History of Project
Mercury. The article which follows, with minor differences, was presented at the Southern
Historical Association annual meeting, Richmond, Virginia, November 19, 1965.
'An article entitled "Scrutinizing Space" in The National Observer, May 6, 1963,
called attention to the "Southern Accent" brought to NASA by its second Administrator,
James E. Webb, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Senator Robert S. Kerr of
Oklahoma, who "gave the big space program a Southern overlay to its California accent.
He [Webb] put together NASA's fertile 'space crescent.'"
2" 'Space' Billions-Now a Boom?" U.S. News 6& World Report, LVII (July so, 1964),
64-69. This article also tabulated final cost and employment estimates for the five NASA
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 71, July 1967 - April, 1968. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117145/. Accessed March 10, 2014.