Abstract: The Space Age at the Grass Roots: NASA in Cleveland, 1958–1990

Kim McQuaid


This essay provides a rare glimpse of the Space Age at the grass roots of American politics and society, in the then ninth- largest city in America in which NASA's third-oldest research center is located. It expands recent discussion of NASA's "organizational culture" into the wider social, economic, and political environments in which NASA necessarily operated. Using local archives, it finds that NASA was a technologically innovative organization that was socially detached, and also unable to market itself effectively to local opinion leaders on political, economic, or social lines. NASA's attitude toward grassroots community support closely resembled the "town and gown" separation and socio-political distance customary in many university and college towns and cities. Not until the bells also tolled for NASA's center did its leaders realize that it could not prosper while the larger community around it declined.