A sort of reversal is always at work in the motel sign — its glaring neon belies the humble structure it announces — but there are certain cases in which the outlandishness factor verges on the otherworldly. Such is the peculiar preoccupation with space that can be spotted on the North American roadside.
Rocket ships, satellites, and flying saucers all grace motel signage (not to mention diners across the continent). This iconography is not the remainder of patriotic pride in the space race of the 1960s, at least not entirely.
You must shoot for the stars in the hopes of reaching your mark on the earth. One recalls the archer’s paradox: as much as you might want the sign to point at its target, to draw the traveler off the highway and into the parking lot, it must also point away from it in some capacity. The driver is not meant to look at the motel itself, but to be transfixed by the promise of the sign.
These markers thus quickly became figures of post-war American ambition, and there was nothing more ambitious than conquering space. Folded around the broad theme of travel, the space motel draws together many familiar registers: movement, exploration, colonization, and the fierce will to be free of obligation, shuttling as it were towards the outer atmosphere.