When the space shuttle Discovery lifted‐off from Cape Canaveral in December 2006, Christer Fuglesang became the first Swede in space after what has been described as a fourteen year long wait. Presented in the media as both a moment of personal and national triumph, the launch of Fuglesang into space has also relaunched science and technology into Swedish public life.

This paper discusses the construction of Christer Fuglesang as an iconic and emblematic figure for the popularisation of science in Sweden. By focusing on mediated public appearances, and media coverage of Fuglesang’s experiences in space, underlying aspects of his iconic status will be analysed. The history of Fuglesang’s public image is a chequered one, moving from a figure of public mockery during the 1990s, to the genuinely celebrated figure he is today. Actual experience of space travel has been indispensable in the making of Fuglesang as a public science hero and the paper discusses the significance of this, as well as the flexible interpretation of the personal qualities defining a successful astronaut. While Fuglesang’s heroic status may appear assured today, chinks in his public armour can still be found. For this reason he will be presented as remaining a hybrid figure of technoscientific achievement, popular satire, banal nationalism, and establishment virtue.

The public image of Fuglesang is married to representations of continuing progress and achievement within Swedish science and technology. He is portrayed as laying down the ultimate inspirational career path for budding young science and engineering students to follow. Thus, through a focus on the making of Fuglesang as a public science hero, the cultural setting of popularised science and science communication in Sweden is opened up for analysis.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Christer Fuglesang as the first Swede in space – the making of a public science hero

Andreas Gunnarsson   Science and Technology Studies / GC+

When the space shuttle Discovery lifted‐off from Cape Canaveral in December 2006, Christer Fuglesang became the first Swede in space after what has been described as a fourteen year long wait. Presented in the media as both a moment of personal and national triumph, the launch of Fuglesang into space has also relaunched science and technology into Swedish public life.

This paper discusses the construction of Christer Fuglesang as an iconic and emblematic figure for the popularisation of science in Sweden. By focusing on mediated public appearances, and media coverage of Fuglesang’s experiences in space, underlying aspects of his iconic status will be analysed. The history of Fuglesang’s public image is a chequered one, moving from a figure of public mockery during the 1990s, to the genuinely celebrated figure he is today. Actual experience of space travel has been indispensable in the making of Fuglesang as a public science hero and the paper discusses the significance of this, as well as the flexible interpretation of the personal qualities defining a successful astronaut. While Fuglesang’s heroic status may appear assured today, chinks in his public armour can still be found. For this reason he will be presented as remaining a hybrid figure of technoscientific achievement, popular satire, banal nationalism, and establishment virtue.

The public image of Fuglesang is married to representations of continuing progress and achievement within Swedish science and technology. He is portrayed as laying down the ultimate inspirational career path for budding young science and engineering students to follow. Thus, through a focus on the making of Fuglesang as a public science hero, the cultural setting of popularised science and science communication in Sweden is opened up for analysis.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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