Visions of space exploration: a qualitative study of perspectives from the “private” sector



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Kansas State University


Space commentators and government officials draw on a variety of themes that shape how the public perceives space efforts. By constructing particular visions of outer space and the future of humanity, political leaders have inspired children to become astronauts and consoled the nation after a major tragedy. The future of space exploration and development will likely occur as an extension of existing paradigms that shape the material development of space transportation, space stations, and eventually living in space. Through qualitative interviews, this study illuminates the paradigms of persons working to advance the cause of space exploration and development. In particular, the study analyzes perspectives from individuals in the private sector. It seeks to highlight themes, such as leadership and possible material benefits, so that researchers may begin to construct theories about the specific conditions under which the future of space exploration and development may be shaped or evolve. This enhances our understanding of how themes operate to sustain or alter existing paradigms. In turn, a thematic analysis will generate new understandings of how envisioning seemingly impossible futures and social realities can transform those realities by drawing on conceptions of the past to inform the present and potential futures. To this end, this study employs imagination studies as a theoretical lens to understand how interviewees describe these future social realities.
Specifically, the study discusses Engen’s (2002) theory of communicative imagination and seeks to refine it to encompass a process-based approach and flexibility. The presence of communicative imagination is explored in transcripts from qualitative interviews with persons employed in private businesses involved in the research and production of materials and services for space exploration and development. Results from the study reveal five dominant themes: leadership, inspiration and support, core motives, material benefits, and potential futures. Understanding how these themes interact in the process of communicative imagination illuminates the role communication plays in shaping social realities in a variety of circumstances.



Space exploration, Social reality, Communicative imagination, National aeronautics, Private sector, Space administration

Graduation Month



Master of Arts


Department of Communication Studies

Major Professor

Charles J. Griffin