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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Everything Is Beautiful – Even Computer Components

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The Computer Age (Cover)

The Computer Age is an informational brochure providing a short, but concise, story of the evolution of IBM computers from 1951 to 1976 (the year of publication). The entire booklet is available in PDF format from the Computer History Museum and can be found here. While it is an interesting introduction on how we got from there to here – from the huge and incredibly expensive vacuum tube mini-minds, to the less expensive, smaller, faster, and smarter personal computers of the time – there is something else that stands out.

The ‘special-effects’ photography of Mitchell Funk is fab. Below are three of his images from the booklet. IBM must have been immensely pleased by Funk’s ability to show their computer components as wonderful works of art.

Glistening Array Of Vacuum Tubes

A glistening array of IBM vacuum tubes.

Transister Rainbow

A row of transistors appear to be marching in front of rainbow-ed wiring.

The Ghosts In The Machine

This curious and haunting image suggesting the ‘ghosts in the machine’.

Pretty good stuffs.

 

A h/t to Luis Cesar at Facebook for the inspiration.

‘Future Fantasy’ In 1930 Germany

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German Engineering.

Those words have traditionally conjured up thoughts of quality and creativity. During the period of the Third Reich, physicists, scientists, and engineers were encouraged to stretch their imaginations and develop things that had previously been only dreamed of in science fiction.

While most people are familiar with the works carried out at the The Peenemünde Army Research Center – the birthplace of modern rocketry and spaceflight – very few people are aware of other areas of technological research that had been in progress during that time. A very hushed bit of technological history is the part where the United States and the Soviet Union obtained a wealth of information and designs while pillaging after the fall of the Third Reich. Much of that technological information was incomplete as the scientists and engineers attempted to either hide or destroy it in order to keep it from the victors’ hands.

Because the U.S. required German know-how in order to further develop these technologies the government instituted the now well known Operation Paperclip in which more than 1,500 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were brought to the United States from Nazi Germany and other countries for employment in the aftermath of World War II. The celebrated rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, was one alumni from this class. A number of researchers contend that the big UFO phenomenon in the late 1940s and particularly in the 1950s was the result of projects originating at a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base within the Nevada Test and Training Range officially referred to as Restricted Area 4808 North (R-4808N) – popularly known as ‘Area 51’ aka ‘Groom Lake’. It was here that U.S. and Operation Paperclip members worked on the research and development of the German technologies discovered post conflict – including ‘flying disc’ engineering designs. A few of the recognized aircraft developed at Groom Lake are the A-12 OXCART, SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117A Nighthawk – aircraft so advanced that CIA documents acknowledge that they account for dozens of UFO sightings over the years.

One last point relevant to the following pictorial presentation is that while the incredible research and inventions of the great scientist Nikola Tesla were marginalized and ignored in the U.S. due to moneyed interests, the Germans were very much interested in his advanced and forward thinking works. Tesla was passionate about wireless communications and ‘free energy’ – while theoretical physicists obsessed over Newtonian science, Tesla took an electric field and plasma (aether) energy approach. German tech developers seemed to take this approach to heart. One of the most storied and controversial projects of the Third Reich – one that Adolf Hitler counted on until the end – was ‘the secret weapon’ known as ‘Die Glocke’ (‘The Bell’). Some skeptics say that this bizarre anti-gravity device never existed, but there is increasing evidence that it had indeed been at an advanced stage of development previous to the fall of the Third Reich. From the schematics it appears to be very much a Tesla inspired technology.

Now to the fun part of this post. In 1930, a company known as True Wagner Margarine produced the third of a series of books designed as a display for a collection of stickers made available separately. In this book is a section called Future Fantasy. No artist or author is credited. The illustrations are beautiful, the technology is actually quite brilliant and not so far fetched. The book is called, Echte Wagner Margarine Album Nr. 3″, Serien 12 und 13 (Genuine Wagner Margarine Album Nr. 3″, series 12 and 13). It was published by Elmshorn in Holstein, Germany. With what is now known about the developments in German technology during this period, one could imagine that a lot of the designs and ideas presented might have been considered a bit more seriously than ‘fantasy’.

Echte Wagner Album Nr. 3 - Cover Image

Echte Wagner Margarine Album Nr. 3 – Cover Image

The Artificial Island

The Artificial Island – Since there is no island located on the shortest route to America which could serve the aircraft as a port of refuge, a good idea is to anchor an artificial landing place on the ocean. Of course, located on the island are hotels, spas, restaurants and a movie theater, so that the passengers have their convenience if a storm detains for several days on the island.

The Rocket Plane

The Rocket Plane – The aircraft of the future powered by rockets. The rockets are fitted at the stern of the vessel, which propel the aircraft forward through the recoil of the escaping gases. The aircraft shown here is just going to skim past the Nankoupaß and the ancient Great Wall Of China with 10000 kilograms of mail on the way from Berlin to Tokyo. Since it has an hourly rate of 1,000 km, it takes nearly 8 hours for the Berlin-Tokyo route. A steamer today needs about 50 days!

The Rocket Airships

The Rocket Airships – The rocket planes have assumed huge proportions and consist only of a pair of wings in the shape of a parabola. The lavishly decorated cabins are built into the wings and take 400 passengers. Because there is no hull, the control fins are located at the ends of the wings. The driver’s cab, from which the missiles are made to fire, is located in the middle of the air cruiser deck.

Private Aircraft With Nuclear Propulsion

Private Aircraft With Nuclear Propulsion – Here we have the opportunity to meet a plane nearby. Yes, where is the propeller? That was once! The aircraft rises vertically and settles down vertically. The motor is a small capsule, in which the atom fragmentation takes place. On the right is an aircraft and an aircraft parking garage.

A New Driving Force

A New Driving Force – To move loads forwards, one exploits the tremendous power that is released during the disintegration of atoms. All cars drive with only a tiny motor which is driven by nuclear power. The speed of cars has grown accordingly. In the divided road, take 200 to 300 kilometers through the city, on the major highways the speed of 1000 km speed per hour is not uncommon!

Wireless Home Phone and Television

Wireless Home Phone and Television – Each person now has their own transmitter and receiver and can converse on a certain wave with acquaintances and relatives. But the television technology has become so perfected that one can look the friends in the face at the same time. Transmitter and receiver are no longer bound to the location, but is carried in a box the size of a photo apparatus.

Landing Of A Spaceship On The Moon

Landing Of A Spaceship On The Moon – Is this not wrong? Shouldn’t the rockets ignite at the stern of the vessel and spew their fire back? No, it’s for accuracy! The ship is landing, and therefore it has brought the Retropackage to deploy and quickly reduce the frenzied speed. Now you can easily make the landing on the Moon.

Spaceship Post

Spaceship Post – Because there are rare minerals on the Moon, capital was formed in America with $20 billion by the MoMA-A.G. (Moon minerals yield A.G.), which maintains a busy space ship traffic. At the stopover, the ships renew their rocket fuel on the ports floating freely in space.

The images above are via Retro-Futurismus – to see more click here.

‘Fiction’ – The French Sci-Fi Mag With A Little Something Different In The 50s

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Fiction N° 1, October 1953

Fiction  N° 1, October 1953

Fiction was a French sci-fi magazine published by popular literature enthusiast Maurice Renault through OPTA publishing. Beginning in 1953, the magazine was initially linked to the American, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This connection ended in 1958 after Alain Dorémieux took the reins as editor for Fiction. Fiction became one of the longest running French sci-fi magazines of the 20th century – published monthly, a total of 412 issues were released before the end in 1990.

One of the things that stood out in the earlier years of Fiction’s publication were the cover images. Quite often, rather than using original artist illustrations, photo-montages were used instead. The first such cover appeared in issue No. 3, February 1954:

Fiction N° 3, February 1954

Fiction N° 3, February 1954

This made for some interesting cover art throughout the late 50s. After Dorémieux took over as editor the cover art changed to the traditional drawing and paint illustration. And a lot of it wasn’t that great, actually. But for a while, Fiction had something really unique. Below are some of the best photo-montage covers from the 1950s.

Fiction N° 7, June 1954

Fiction N° 7, June 1954

Fiction N° 12, November 1954

Fiction N° 12, November 1954

Fiction N° 19, June1955

Fiction N° 19, June1955

Fiction N° 26, January 1956

Fiction N° 26, January 1956

Fiction N° 27, February 1956

Fiction N° 27, February 1956

Friction N° 30, May 1956

Fiction N° 30, May 1956

Fiction N° 31, June 1956

Fiction N° 31, June 1956

Fiction N° 32, July 1956

Fiction N° 32, July 1956

Fiction N° 37, December 1956

Fiction N° 37, December 1956

Fiction N° 39, February 1957

Fiction N° 39, February 1957

Fiction N° 40, March 1957

Fiction N° 40, March 1957

Fiction N° 47, October 1957

Fiction N° 47, October 1957

Personal opinion: It wouldn’t be until 1972 that Fiction’s cover art would stand out again. The issue below was perhaps the start on the road to recovery.

Fiction N° 221, May 1972

Fiction N° 221, May 1972

(Sources: nooSFere, BDFI Forums, and Kerro Panille on Facebook)

The Marriage Of Movement And Music And Their First Child Named, Gumbasia

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When Art Clokey was a boy he would spend his summers on his grandfather’s farm in Michigan. He had a good pal who lived on a neighboring farm and, as boys liked to do in those days, Clokey and his pal often played with toy soldiers. Sometimes, when the battles were particularly fierce, they would need more troops. Clokey would raise them up by fashioning them out of a mixture of soil and water known as ‘gumbo’ – clay.

Some years later Art Clokey would create a children’s television icon – a kind of strange little character made of clay named Gumby.

Gumby - he's known to skate on one foot rather than walk.

Gumby – he’s known to skate on one foot rather than walk.

Before Art Clokey created Gumby he was an early claymation pioneer. It was his 1953 experimental claymation short, Gumbasia, that excited 20th Century Fox producer Sam Engel into giving Clokey his big break. ‘Art, that is the most exciting film I have ever seen in my life,’ Engel said. Engel envisioned a children’s television show using the idea of little claymation figures in various storylines. Giving free reign to Clokey he financed the Gumby pilot, introduced it to Tom Sarnoff at NBC Hollywood, and the rest is history.

Art Clokey’s Gumbasia was a fascinating project. Inspired by his mentor in film making, Slavko Vorkapich, Clokey wanted to work with the idea of ‘kinesthetic film principles’ which enabled him to show film forces through moving objects.

The movements exert a force on your nervous system. They pinch on your nervous system through your eye cells. When you organize the images in the movement from cut to cut, it stimulates the autonomic nervous system. It gives you added excitement and it can start a feeling of movement.

Combining the kinesthetic film principles with Vorkapich’s philosophy of film as poetry and music, Clokey created a short film unique for its time. Music wasn’t used just as a cover – it was an intrinsic part of the experience. The transformation of the objects along with their movements blend with the lyric and the pulse of the jazz. It’s a visual sound experience. It’s also the concept for what would become music video. Gumbasia might properly be considered a prototype for music videos into the future.