Over the past few days I have been watching an American television series that ran from 1959 to 1960. It was a series that I had never heard of and accidentally found it when watching the 1929 Fritz Lang film “Frau Im Mond” (The Woman on the Moon).
During my search on YouTube (other video and audio search engines are available) I noticed several mentions of “Men Into Space”, and I then noticed it was a series and thought it might be worth watching. And I was right. It was worth watching. Each episode is approximately 30 minutes long and was shot in black and white, but that in my opinion adds to its appeal.
The series has a very optimistic view of the United States Air Force Programme (1945 – 1956, although they still had missions into the 1960s). You may notice I say U.S. Air Force Programme and not that of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA (1958 to the present day) or even its forerunner the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics - NACA (1915 to 1958). The United States at that time had no combined space programme, and each branch of the armed forces worked on their own trying to achieve space flight. It has to be said that not all of the research was of a scientific nature; after all if you can build a rocket to travel to the moon, you can fit an explosive payload to it and aim it at Moscow or Beijing.
The United States Air Force Space Programme ran from 1946 until 1958, and is now incorporated into the United States Air Force Space Command.
So what kind of view of space travel did “Men into Space” provide?
A very stoic one, from the 10 episodes that I have watched so far nobody seems to panic no matter what the situation. In the first 10 episodes, the crews of the various spaceflights fly to the moon, begin building a space station, encounter and land on a comet. It’s interesting as well to see that not all the astronauts return from the missions, and I’m sure it came as a bit of a surprise to those watching back in the 1960s, to see that even “All American Heroes” could die in space. I see these men as the Star Trek “red shirts” of their day. But the man who always came back (well for the first 10 episodes that I’ve seen so far) is Colonel Edward McCauley.
The series is shot in a documentary style, with an occasional voiceover explaining why the crews wear magnetic boots, or why they need to re-enter earth atmosphere at a certain angle, or why Colonel McCauley can jump a crevice on the moon to look for a lost companion. What I like about it is the fact (so far) they haven’t gone for “little green men” and scary moon monsters: let’s face it travelling into a seriously hostile environment where your blood can boil, freeze, where your lungs can explode and where you could travel millions of miles before encountering any kind of orbital body isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It has to be said that they do have their fair share of issues, probably more issues than any astronaut/cosmonaut would ever encounter in a life time of orbital or lunar flights. I’m sure that even space flight simulator supervisor at NASA who come up with life threatening scenarios to test the physical and mental prowess of the astronauts would watch this and think “Wow! Why haven’t we done that one yet? Quickly get me a notebook and pen!”
If you liked the 1990s Tom Hanks and Ron Howard cinema version of the events that occurred during the Apollo 13 mission and then the Tom Hanks and Ron Howard television series From the Earth to the Moon, I would seriously recommend Men Into Space.
Right, now that’s the first 10 episodes out of the way, I’ve another 28 to catch up on. Buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride.
10…9…8…7…6…5…4…go for main engine start. 3…2…1…we have lift-off!