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In the late 1970s American television viewers were captivated by a weekly drama called The Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors as secret agent Steve Austin. Austin was a cyborg, a flesh-and-blood man brought back from near death and bioengineered to be superhuman in strength, speed and vision. During the series’s five-year run, Austin entered the popular idiom as “the bionic man.”
An era of technological optimism had been gathering momentum since the 1960s, in large part following the stunning successes of the space program. There was a growing confidence that American scientific ingenuity could engineer almost anything—including the human body. Indeed, at the same time that astronauts started flying into space, the government also set its sights on the gold ring of bioengineering: a permanent mechanical replacement for the human heart.
This article was originally published with the title Not Just a Pump.