Project (2023-2024)

Space for the Third World: Development and Women in Science in the Mexican Space Disciplines during the Global Cold War

This project addresses the question of how ideals of Third-world development and women’s participation in science shaped the institutionalization of space disciplines in Cold War Mexico. It will show how the global burgeoning of space science and technology during the Cold War sparked claims in Third World countries—such as Mexico—for a locally oriented set of space disciplines that would bolster economic and cultural development while expanding the role of women in areas like Geophysics.

To establish the links between outer space, third-worldism, and women in science, the project analyzes the academic archive of the Polish-born Mexican physicist Ruth Gall (1920–2003), dubbed ‘Madame Cosmic Rays’ by her colleagues and students. Her works offer a local viewpoint that addresses global concerns about how the Third World might use outer space for development and how women could play a role in this process. As the founder of the Department of Outer Space at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), Ruth Gall offers through her archive an unrivaled vantage point into the institutionalization of space disciplines in a Latin American Third World country. Her writings—which include academic articles, reports, conferences, university paperwork, syllabi, and correspondence with students, diplomats, and colleagues—allow us to analyze the emergence of an outer space academic community in Mexico.