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Innovations scientifiques et Responsabilité: The Space Race

  • Term G6

The Lewis and Clark Expedition

The difficulties the explorers had to face

– They must /may have suffered from extreme temperatures.

– The expedition must have been brought to a halt by bad weather and snow in the mountains.

– It must have been hazardous (= dangerous) to cross and navigate rivers.

– They definitely suffered from illnesses (=diseases) like / such as the flu (= la grippe), pneumonia (/njuːˈməʊniə/), small pox (= variole), which was a lethal (/ˈliːθəl/) ( or fatal (/ˈfeɪtəl/)) disease, cholera etc.

– They must / may have had arguments (= quarrels) regarding (= concerning) work, the itinerary …

– They had to fight the native tribes they came across (= to encounter)

– They had to endure (= surmonter) lack of sleep and exhaustion ((/ɪgˈzɔːstʃən/) = épuisement)

– They could easily get lost and be attacked by wild animals such as / like grizzly bears (/ˈbɛərz/) or wolves (a wolf= loup). They must / may have got(ten) lost.

Map: Pushing back the frontiers

Push factors

Pull factors

What caused or forced homesteaders (/ˈhəʊmˌstɛdəz/) to leave the east coast

What led or attracted settlers (= colons) to the west coast

– overcrowding

– need for jobs

– ethnic / religious repression

– refuge for outlaws (= hors-la-loi)

– land (cheap and plentiful)

– riches (gold in California in 1848 : the gold rush, silver and oil)

– freedom of religion (the Mormons, attacked by mobs, set up Salt Lake City, « the promised land »

– family connections

– jobs and new opportunities

– adventure

The Space Race: vocabulary

Why is winning the space race so important ?

William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not.(1) (…)

We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond. (…) Our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, (2) to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men. (…)

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all (3) Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind.(4) (…)

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade (5) and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that (…) challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.(6) (…)


1) Listen to / read the speech and say what President Kennedy is trying to do ?

He is trying to convince the American people about the necessity of going to the moon and supporting the Apollo program.

2) Search information about the historical context of 1962 : why is winning the space race so important ? (focus on the political and technological events)

This speech marked the beginning of a bold new era for humanity; an era of exploration and innovation in outer space.

It was delivered near the height of the Cold War and at the beginning of the “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet satellite “Sputnik” had been launched 4 years before and Yuri Gagarin had become the first human being in history to enter space. The United States was rapidly losing the race into space, as well as technological supremacy and prestige, to its Cold War adversary. The American public was on the verge of panic over the implications of a “Red Moon.”  

3) Paragraph one : Who is William Bradford (and the Plymouth Bay Colony) and why does JFK mention him ?

Paragraph one compares the space race and all its difficulties with the very beginning of the American nation with its first settlement (« plymouth colony in Massachussetts ; the first settlers did not give up , neither will the American people in the space race)

4) Explain the sentences in bold.

(1) « The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not. » : Space exploration is an inevitability. The other nations and more specifically the USSR will

(2) « Our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort » : Americans considered that their freedom and liberty was being threatened by the Soviet Union. That was both an ideological and a technological struggle

(3) « Its hazards are hostile to us all » : he wants to address potential criticisms : Space exploration is hard and costly.

(4) « Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind. » : that’s a challenge to reinforce American leadership as an innovative power : this is the American spirit

(5) « We choose to go to the moon in this decade » : Kennedy needed to forge a  new direction for the United States, one that would excite and energize the American public and reestablish American eminence in global affairs.

(6) « and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that (…) challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win. » : an invitation to set asides rivalries towards achieving a common goal.

Ther evolution of the space conquest

Speech: President Obama on space exploration in the 21st C

John F. Kennedy Space Center, April 2010

To what extent have the objectives of space exploration evolved for president Obama ?

The story of NASA started a little more than half a century ago, far from the Space Coast, in a remote and desolate region of what is now called Kazakhstan. Because it was from there that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.(…) Americans were dumbfounded. The Soviets, it was perceived, had taken the lead in a race for which we were not yet fully prepared.
But we caught up very quick. President Eisenhower signed legislation to create NASA and to invest in science and math education, from grade school to graduate school. In 1961, President Kennedy boldly declared before a joint session of Congress that the United States would send a man to the Moon and return him safely to the Earth within the decade. And as a nation, we set about meeting that goal. (…)
In the years that have followed, the space race inspired a generation of scientists and innovators, and contributed to immeasurable technological advances that have improved our health and well-being, from satellite navigation to water purification, from aerospace manufacturing to medical imaging. (…)
And leading the world to space helped America achieve new heights of prosperity here on Earth, while demonstrating the power of a free and open society to harness the ingenuity of its people.

(…) Today, I’d like to talk about the next chapter in this story. The challenges facing our space program are different, and our imperatives for this program are different, than in decades past. We’re no longer racing against an adversary. We’re no longer competing to achieve a singular goal like reaching the Moon. In fact, what was once a global competition has long since become a global collaboration. But while the measure of our achievements has changed a great deal over the past 50 years, what we do — or fail to do — in seeking new frontiers is no less consequential for our future in space and here on Earth.


Gattaca , an analysis of the film

Film category 

The film starts with the following two quotes:“Consider God’s handiwork, who can strengthen what he hath made crooked?” Ecclesiastes /“I not only think that we will tamper with Nature, I think Mother Nature wants us to.” Willard Gaylin… What is the significance of these quotes for the film and the audience?

Traces of DNA in the film : Find 5 different elements

Period of time 


What kind of society presented 

Message of the film 


Issue tackled


Vincent vs Anton : Compare both characters

Jerome’s place of work

Evolution of his career / why

Reason for this evolution



An ambitious young man cons his way into the Gattaca space agency despite strict genetic rules. Is he a hero … or a selfish sociopath?

This question dogs this story: who is the real Jerome Morrow? Yet we know Jerome doesn’t exist except as a mishmash of half-identities. The more pressing question is: who is the real Vincent?

You can read the film as a celebration of persistence over adversity, common to much science fiction. As one motto puts it, “Per ardua ad astra”: through adversity to the stars. This mirrors the film’s entire plot, by the way. Vincent battles adversity to lead the mission to Titan.

In these terms, Vincent is the plucky outsider held back by discrimination, and who finds a way to succeed nonetheless. It would be heart-warming, except that well, Vincent is somewhat sociopathic.

He follows his dream so hard that he discards everything else as worthless. He walks out on his family and jettisons Irene without a second glance. And he doesn’t dawdle when saying goodbye to Eugene – the man who literally gives him his life.

Vincent doesn’t think twice about assaulting a policeman who stops him leaving a nightclub. And later, he seems more than capable of killing his brother for the same reasons: to evade detection and avoid losing his dream.

The luck of the lonely man

On the surface, Gattaca is about a lone hero fighting the machinery of discrimination. And yet far from being alone, Vincent has help from collaborators and co-conspirators.

Most obviously that means Eugene. There’s also the broker who helps Vincent transition to his new identity.

Irene lies to Anton to buy Vincent time, and goes along with Eugene’s improvised patter. And then there’s Dr Lamar, the twist hiding in plain sight. Lamar knows Vincent is a fraud right from the start. Each time he mentions his son it’s an oblique clue that he sees through the charade.

So why does he look the other way at the end of the film? Lamar’s son is an in-valid. Letting Vincent beat the system means his son might have a normal life, too.

This makes no small irony of Vincent’s many deceptions, though. Presumably Lamar could have pressed the button to validate the phoney identity at any time.

Gattaca’s science of discrimination

Science fiction may look to the future, but the problems it finds there are almost always reflections of the present. So it is with Gattaca’s dystopian world.

Vincent tells us:

I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the colour of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.”

The gene record turns destiny into a straitjacket, social engineering that can never be shrugged off.

Vincent’s destiny is to clean other people’s trash: it’s written in his bones. Those with better blood can be law enforcement officers, but only the purest can join the Gattaca space programme.

This is eugenics, “an immoral and pseudoscientific theory that claims it is possible to perfect people and groups through genetics and the scientific laws of inheritance”. The concept first appeared in 1883, to devastating effect.

It was key to Nazi philosophy in WWII, but some US states similarly used sterilization laws until the 1980s to weed out criminals, promiscuous women and idiots.

Genetic manipulation has been science fact for decades. The 1990s saw several notable breakthroughs including Dolly, the world’s first cloned animal just one year before Gattaca’s release.

Gene therapy can end disease. And, if the benefits of science are available to all, it could be transformative. In the film, however, it’s only available to those who pay for it.

It can also be co-opted by eugenics to remove freedom of choice and the respect for life. And in the end, if we don’t have flaws, are we still human?