Mason History PhD Jennifer Levasseur publishes book on space history, “Through Astronaut Eyes”

Mason History PhD Jennifer Levasseur publishes book on space history, “Through Astronaut Eyes”

Jennifer K. Levasseur, who received her PhD in History at George Mason University in 2014, recently published a book with Purdue University Press: Through Astronaut Eyes: Photographing Early Human Spaceflight (2020). Based on her dissertation, this book explores the story of how human daring along with technological ingenuity allowed people to see the Earth and stars as they never had before.

Description of Through Astronaut Eyes from the publisher’s website:

“Photographs from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs tell powerful and compelling stories that continue to have cultural resonance to this day, not just for what they revealed about the spaceflight experience, but also as products of a larger visual rhetoric of exploration. The photographs tell us as much about space and the astronauts who took them as their reception within an American culture undergoing radical change throughout the turbulent 1960s.

“This book explores the origins and impact of astronaut still photography from 1962 to 1972, the period when human spaceflight first captured the imagination of people around the world. Photographs taken during those three historic programs are much admired and reprinted, but rarely seriously studied. This book suggests astronaut photography is particularly relevant to American culture based on how easily the images were shared through reproduction and circulation in a very visually oriented society. Space photography’s impact at the crossroads of cultural studies, the history of exploration and technology, and public memory illuminates its continuing importance to American identity.”

Dr. Levasseur is a museum curator in the Department of Space History at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, a job she held while working on her doctorate. During her PhD candidacy, she was responsible for the Museum’s astronaut camera collection and eventually took over all of the pre-space shuttle small astronaut equipment as well. In 2014, she assumed exhibition management for the “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit. Since then, she has overseen regular work inside the exhibition including the upgrade of media interactives, ongoing programming content, and the addition and changes to artifacts within the exhibit.

Since 2018, the Museum has been transforming its exhibitions alongside renovations to the downtown Museum building. By 2025, “Moving Beyond Earth” will become “At Home in Space,” an exhibit that examines human lives in space, focusing on what we have learned in the last 20 years of living on the International Space Station. It also hopes to feature the Artemis 1 spacecraft and other artifacts of the current work in space.