Imagining Human Space Exploration During the Early Space Age

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There once was a time when it was just assumed that by the early 21st century humans would be well on the way in space exploration. Of course, a trip to the moon was always considered the first stop – or ‘start’.

On 20 July 1969, Americans were glued to their television sets as they watched images of Apollo 11 touch down on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility – the words, The Eagle has landed, went into the history books. Four more manned space flights to the Earth’s only natural satellite would occur between 1969 and 1972 but none were as exciting or interesting to the public as the first.

When people of the Earth saw the barren landscape – and no little green men to welcome the Earthlings – they lost interest in the thought of man on the moon. In the decades that followed there was more interest in conspiracy literature regarding the moon landing as a fraud – with many people believing that it never happened at all. The bulk of this argument focuses on the first expedition to the Moon, and rarely if ever, do the following four missions appear in that regard. The bottom line of the entire Moon missions experience is that nothing much came out of it, except a huge cottage industry of books, films, videos, and conventions all designed around a kind of myth-making.

Needless to say, it’s now the 21st century and humans are no closer to galactic space exploration than they were in 1969. Yes, there are companies working really hard at making this a reality – some day. Still, with this in the works, very few possess the wonder of space exploration that the world did before and during the original Space Age. Perhaps it’s because the entire science fiction genre has turned out so many dark, violent, and foreboding works that there is less wonder and more fear of what is ‘out there’. Or, perhaps the world has become so consumed with the terrors of this world that when it comes to other worlds, ‘we ain’t got time for that.’

Be that as it may, let’s focus just a bit on the wonder and the magic that once was.

Werner Büdeler was one of the earliest writer/journalists in the space-pop tradition. His works helped spread an interest in, and an understanding of, modern scientific principles in everything from the atom, to astronomy, to aerospace – the last two were his specialty.

From among his earliest works one book stands out for its classic imaginative qualities – Flug zum Mond (Flight to the Moon), 1960. Originally published in 1954 with the title, Junge, das ist Tempo (Boy, that’s Speed), it’s a gem for the illustrations alone.

Flug Zum Mond - Cover

Artist Erik Theodor Lössig took the basic conceptual ideas of engineers like Wernher von Braun, H. E. Ross, and R. A. Smith, and created some wonderful works in black and white. They capture the visionary ideas of the early Space Age perfectly.

The idea of getting to the moon involved first building an outer space station which would then be used to build the modules that would launch to the moon – the idea being that launching from space itself decreased the amount of energy which would otherwise be used just to get out of the Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational pull. This allowed for the conservation of fuel that would be needed for the trek to the moon – and someday beyond.

As you can see from these concepts, the journey to the Moon wasn’t thought to be a step-on-step-off experiment – these imagineers saw the Moon as a new frontier for settlement as a base, and potentially a launching site for further space exploration.

A Staging Concept

A two-stage large-scale rocket designed to transport materials.

A Multi-stage Rocket

A Multi-stage Rocket designed to transport technicians and construction workers.

Another Staging Concept

Separation of the personnel transport top stage.

The Space Pilot

The Space Pilot

Weightless in Zero Gravity

The Central Station – weightless in zero gravity

The Space Station Construction Site

The Space Station Construction Site

The Space Taxi

Mounting the Mirror – The mirror would utilize solar energy and act as a reflective shield, the ‘Space Taxi’ would transport materials and technicians.

The outer station revolves around the Earth.

The outer station revolves around the Earth.

Assembly of the Lunar ships

Assembly of the Lunar ships.

Moon Landing

Moon Landing

The First Step

The First Step

The Moon Base

The Moon Base

As we now know, this wasn’t the way things were done with the Apollo program – the US was in too much of a rush to beat the USSR in the ‘space race’ to take the time for such an intelligent endeavor. Perhaps, someday, these still viable ideas will be considered when human space exploration once again captures the world’s imagination.

A special thanks to Retro-Futurismus for the beautiful scans – they are much better than the images that my well-used copy could have produced.

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A Chance to Grab A Real Hot Collectable at Hake’s – The GILBERT NUCLEAR PHYSICS NO. U-238 ATOMIC ENERGY LAB” BOXED 1952 SET

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It’s been a bit since the last post in this little corner of the World-Wide-Web – life can be quite the journey here in time and space – but some time must be taken to share this bit of interesting info. Nothing Earth shattering, but quite worthy of note for those who hold a curiosity for that which we have all come to know as the Atomic Age.

Hake’s Americana & Collectables is in the final days of bidding for their Auction #221 and do they have a classic up for grabs – Item 1066. It’s the GILBERT NUCLEAR PHYSICS NO. U-238 ATOMIC ENERGY LAB” BOXED 1952 SET in pristine condition. Folks have shown a bit of interest in this item at the Atomic Flash Tumblr site since it was first posted in September 2016.

Today it could be yours – for a pretty fancy price. We give the floor to Hake’s:

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab cover Graphics

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab cover Graphics

16.5×25.25×4.75″ deep textured paper-covered case contains A.C. Gilbert Co. set No. U-238 (a clever reference to Uranium-238, the most common isotope of uranium found in nature). This infamous lab’s intention was to allow children to create and watch chemical reactions using radioactive material.

GILBERT NUCLEAR PHYSICS NO. U-238 ATOMIC ENERGY LAB" BOXED 1952 SET

GILBERT NUCLEAR PHYSICS NO. U-238 ATOMIC ENERGY LAB” BOXED 1952 SET

The lab contains a cloud chamber that allowed the viewer to watch alpha particles travel at 12,500 miles per second, a spinthariscope (a device for observing individual nuclear disintegrations caused by the interaction of ionizing radiation w/a phosphor or scintillator) that showed the results of radioactive disintegration on a fluorescent screen and an electroscope that measured the radioactivity of different substances included in the set. Looked upon as being dangerous because of the radioactive material in the set, Gilbert claimed that none of the materials could conceivably prove dangerous.

The lab contains a cloud chamber, a spinthariscope, and an electroscope.

The lab contains a cloud chamber, a spinthariscope, and an electroscope.

In addition to items mentioned above, lab also includes – Geiger-Mueller Counter, nuclear spheres, Alpha, Beta and Gamma radioactive sources, radioactive ores, three illustrated books – “Prospecting For Uranium, How Dagwood Splits The Atom” and “Gilbert Atomic Energy Instruction Book” – Deionizer, three cardboard encased Winchester batteries. Underside of lid features great illustration of boy using lab w/atomic imagery and content listing as well as promotional text including US Government’s $10,000 reward for anyone finding uranium ore deposits.

The Gilbert Atomic Energy Instruction Book and Prospecting for Uranium.

The Gilbert Atomic Energy Manual and Prospecting for Uranium. The later was published by the United States Atomic Energy Commission and the United States Geological Survey – it was sold to those citizens who had an interest in hitting it rich in the Atomic Age ‘gold rush’ for Uranium ore.

The cover of Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom

The cover of Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom – it’s all very scientific, you know. (The image is not on the item page but this book is also available with the set.)

Case shows little to no wear and displays Exc. Contents are complete and unused w/original packing material and show some scattered aging/dust soiling and are VF overall. Books/manuals show more moderate aging w/some pinch creases to spines. Fine overall. Unlike other chemistry sets released by Gilbert, the U-238 Atomic Energy Lab never gained popularity and the toy was taken off shelves, selling only from 1950 through 1952. Old store stock, choice condition example of this later 1952 version, as nice as they come. Special shipping required due to contents. This is the second example from this collection, the previous example selling for $8,696 w/o Dagwood books and added Prospecting book. Barry Lutsky Collection.

So there ya’ have it!

A set in this condition is extremely hard to find. The current bid is $4,500 – if you’re a serious collector you have a shot at getting this on a real deal. Go for it now if you’ve ever wanted a marvelous piece of Atomic Age Americana.

Paul László: The Quintessential Atomic Age Architectural Designer

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Paul László was a Hungarian-born modern architect and interior designer whose work spanned eight decades and many countries. László built his reputation while designing interiors for houses, but in the 1960s, largely shifted his focus to the design of retail and commercial interiors. – wikipedia

László was the quintessential Atomic Age mid-century designer. In 1952 TIME magazine called him ‘The Rich Man’s Architect’. He did it all – he ‘design[ed] his houses down to the last ashtray or built-in Kleenex holder.’ He also designed a rather mod US Air Force bomb shelter:

Laszlo US Airforce Air Force Bomb Shelter Design

Laszlo US Air Force Bomb Shelter Design (image via orhan ayyuce)

Below are some super articles covering Paul Laszlo’s Atomic Age masterpieces. Super thanks to MidCentArc on flickr. (Click on the images for a larger view)

Atomville 1950

Atomville 1950

Atomville - At Home, 2004 A.D. - 1954 (Page 1 of 3)

Atomville – At Home, 2004 A.D. – 1954 (Page 1 of 3) – Architect: Paul Laszlo (Popular Mechanics Magazine)

Atomville - At Home, 2004 A.D. - 1954 (Page 2 of 3)

Atomville – At Home, 2004 A.D. – 1954 (Page 2 of 3)

Atomville - At Home, 2004 A.D. - 1954 (Page 3 of 3)

Atomville – At Home, 2004 A.D. – 1954 (Page 3 of 3)

The Paul Laszlo Residence, Beverly Hills, CA (1 of 2)

The Paul Laszlo Residence, Beverly Hills, CA (1 of 2)

The Paul Laszlo Residence, Beverly Hills, CA (2 of 2)

The Paul Laszlo Residence, Beverly Hills, CA (2 of 2)

Paul Laszlo was truly a Mid-Century visionary – if you could afford him.

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF ATOMIC ENERGY

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Special Thanks To: Todd Franklin

Hey kids! Pull up your bobby socks and get ready to duck and cover ’cause we’re visiting the American Museum of Atomic Energy! I’m sure you’ve heard about that little project during WWII called the Manhattan Project, right? You know, atomic bombs and such. The souvenir beanie above is telling the truth when it says, “Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the home of the atomic bomb. This “secret city” sprouted up during the war years and in its factories the atomic bomb was built. After the war, the town shifted to civilian control.

In 1949, Oak Ridge also became the home of the American Museum of Atomic Energy! This was the place to learn about the benefits of the all powerful atom. More importantly, it was the place where you could get a radioactive dime to take home as a souvenir!

In the brochure pictured above, it looks like those teenagers are having fun feeding the machine dimes. Boy, that sure beats getting a wooden nickel for a souvenir!

Unfortunately, the dime didn’t glow like my exaggerated example, but that’s how I like to imagine it when it came out of the machine. In reality, the radiation faded away quickly and the dime was supposedly safe to stick in your pocket. (Click here for more info on irradiated dimes and here for another photo.)

The museum was much more than radioactive dimes according to these excerpts from the brochure.

The Dagwood Splits the Atom exhibit looks like fun! Science is always better when explained by comic characters. Apparently this exhibit made the rounds to various fairs and museums. Click here and here to view the official comic.

Here you get to see a schematic model of plants that helped build the atomic bomb.

The first gas diffusion separation is on display. (You know, I really don’t know what any of this means, but it sure does sound interesting!

The Theatre of the Atom. I think this is where an audience member would get their hair zapped. Click here to see this gal get a new atomic hairdo!

The American Museum of Atomic Energy moved to a new location in 1975 and in 1978 the name was changed to American Museum of Science and Energy. Even though they don’t have a dime irradiator machine the place still looks like a fun family outing.

I leave with you this very cool photo of a vintage bowling shirt from Oak Ridge. I snapped this pic at the Bowling Hall of Fame back when it was located in St. Louis, Missouri.

via Neato Coolville: AMERICAN MUSEUM OF ATOMIC ENERGY

If an A-Bomb Falls… Will You Know What to Do?

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If An A-Bomb Falls was an 8-page Instructional comic published in 1951 (see comic pages below). It is in the public domain and can also be viewed on-line at various sites like Archive.org. Summary from My Comic Shop: “If an A Bomb Falls… Will You Know What to Do? (1951), published by Commercial Comics. 8 pages, full color, standard comic book dimensions, all newsprint, no cover price. This promotional educational giveaway comic book describes what to do in the event of an atomic blast. Includes: 1) How important it is to know the signals of an impending atomic attack; 2) The meaning of the different tones of air raid sirens; 3) What to do if you are attacked without warning ; 4) How to react to the brilliant flash of an atomic explosion; 5) How to find the safest place in your home; 6) The equipment you need for a home safety and emergency kit; 7) How to store a good supply of canned goods and water for extended sheltering; 8) How to prepare for an attack if you have advance warning How to seek protection from an impending attack; 9) Remembering to keep calm to stifle panic during an attack ; 10) How people caught outdoors will suffer the greatest casualties; 11) What to do if you are on a car, bus, or train during an attack; 12) How the worst danger from atomic attack is radiation in the air and water; and 13) How to decontaminate yourself if you think you have been exposed to radioactive dust or mist. The back cover features a chart showing the number of deaths and the number of injured people that can be projected if an A-bomb explodes in a populated area.” Additional pages below from Ethan Persoff.

The H-Bomb and You was an educational 16-page comic published by the government in 1954. Page #1 reproduced below from Ethan Persoff. We’ll take a closer look at what these educational comics tell us about the era in the future.

via SpyVibe: COMICS WEEK: COLD WAR MATERIALS

Behold…the Kuba Entertainment Center

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The German made and designed Kuba models were offered for sale from 1957 to 1961.

Kuba - Music and Television

Kuba Comet

A 1961 ‘Komet’ was sold in Köln, Germany on June 9, 2001 for DM16824.14 (about $7300 USD). These sets are exceedingly rare.

Television-Broadcast-Phono-Combination

Technical Data:

TV 53 cm (21 inch) television with radio receiver and record player (phonograph).
Combined TV and radio chassis GRAETZ F 44K Record player: 4-drive record changer Telefunken TW 561
installation of a tape recorder is possible.

8 speakers total, with 2 front-facing horn speakers.
Special Feature: Upper portion with screen can swivel.
Cabinet: Palm and maple woods with polyester high-gloss finish

191 x 167 x 60 cm (75 inches x 66 inches x 24 inches)

Komet recommended price: DM 2.785,-. (Approximately $1,250.00 US, which at that time, represented more than a month’s wages for an average worker)