Imagining Human Space Exploration During the Early Space Age


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.

Italy Won Expo 61

Italia 61 - This installation sculpture was featured in the ‘Transport’ section of the Italian exhibition, handled by Fiat. Architect, Erberto Carboni; designers Erberto Carboni and Giovanni Ferrabini. From Graphis 99, 1962.

Expo 61 aka the International Exhibition of Labour – Turin 1961. This installation sculpture was featured in the ‘Transport’ section of the Italian exhibition, handled by Fiat. Architect, Erberto Carboni; designers Erberto Carboni and Giovanni Ferrabini. From Graphis 99, 1962.

A flying disc spirals away from Earth – fab sculpt. The Italians won Expo 61.

Iron Crystal Magnified – The Atomium

Construction of the Atomium

Construction of the Atomium, the Belgian pavilion for the World Expo 58 in Brussels, Belgium, 1957. Photo by Dolf Kruger.

Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak, it stands 102 m (335 ft) tall. Its nine 18 m (59 ft) diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.  –

(via Dequalized)

Vanity Fair’s Bifurcated Girls – ‘Gay Girls In Trousers,’ 1903


Bifurcated Girls - Vanity Fair 1903Vanity Fair special issue from 1903 dedicated to “bifurcated girls”, i.e. women in trousers. Note this isn’t the same Vanity Fair of current fame, but an earlier magazine with the same name, more of a Victorian version of FHM.   – The Public Domain Review

The Bifurcated Girls Rough House

The Bifurcated Girls Rough House (Click to enlarge)

To read more check out the post at The Public Domain Review here.

When Darling Gertie The Dinosaur Ushered In The Character Cartoon Age


Gertie the Dinosaur is a 1914 American animated short film by Winsor McCay. Although not the first animated film, as is sometimes thought, it was the first cartoon to feature a character with an appealing personality. The appearance of a true character distinguished it from earlier animated “trick films”, such as those of Blackton and Cohl, and makes it the predecessor to later popular cartoons such as those by Walt Disney. The film was also the first to be created using keyframe animation. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, and was named #6 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time in a 1994 survey of animators and cartoon historians by Jerry Beck.

The Public Domain Review

The 1964 Visual Telephone System From Bell Labs

60s Skype - the world’s very first “PICTUREPHONE set” unveiled at the World’s Fair, 1964. (From the Bell Telephone Magazine, 1964, via Prelinger Archive)

60s Skype – the world’s very first “PICTUREPHONE set” unveiled at the World’s Fair, 1964. (From the Bell Telephone Magazine, 1964, via Prelinger Archive)

One wonders why such a huge time lag in developing this technology for everyday use.

Salvador Dali – The Dream Designer (Spellbound, 1945)


Who better to design a dream sequence for a 1945 Hitchcock psycho-thriller than Salvador Dali? Eyes, curtains, scissors, playing cards (some of them blank), a man with no face, a man falling off of a building, a man hiding behind a chimney and dropping a wheel, and wings – psychoanalytic cues all and fab fodder for Dali’s surrealistic vision.

Still From the Dali Dream Sequence - Spellbound, 1945

Still From the Dali Dream Sequence – Spellbound, 1945 (via Unkee E. on flickr)

Below is a video of the scene featuring Gregory Peck as Dr. Anthony Edwardes/John Ballantyne, Ingrid Bergman as Dr. Constance Peterson, and Michael Chekhov as Dr. Brulov. Dr. Peterson and Dr. Brulov are attempting to assist Ballantyne in recovering his lost memory by interpreting a dream that haunts him.

Spellbound is a film that could well be termed an endorsement on the healing virtues of psychoanalysis. While some aspects of the methods seem outdated for today, Hitchcock’s use of this makes for an abosrbing story. If you would like to watch the film in its entirety you can find it on YouTube here.

In Which A Changeling Dinosaur Saves The Day – Rare 1928 Short Animation


The Land of Wooden Soldiers (1928) Kinex Studios
Distributed by: Kodak Cinegraph
Cartoon Characters: Chip the Wooden Man, Two Dinosaurs, Soldiers.
Directed By John Burton.
Animated By John Burton.
Originally Released c. 1928

h/t Nora Falchero

‘Now I Am Become Death…’ – 69 Years Ago Today, The Dawn Of The Atomic Age


The test site, named the White Sands Proving Ground, was built in the Jornada del Muerto (route of the dead man) desert. The good news for today is — we haven’t blown ourselves to kingdom-come just yet.

The Trinity Test, July 16, 1945:

At 05:29:21 (plus or minus 2 seconds) local time (Mountain War Time), the device exploded with an energy equivalent to around 20 kilotons of TNT (84 TJ). It left a crater of radioactive glass in the desert 10 feet (3.0 m) deep and 1,100 feet (340 m) wide. At the time of detonation, the surrounding mountains were illuminated “brighter than daytime” for one to two seconds, and the heat was reported as “being as hot as an oven” at the base camp. The observed colors of the illumination ranged from purple to green and eventually to white. The roar of the shock wave took 40 seconds to reach the observers. The shock wave was felt over 100 miles (160 km) away, and the mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles (12.1 km) in height. After the initial euphoria of witnessing the explosion had passed, test director Kenneth Bainbridge commented to Los Alamos director J. Robert Oppenheimer, Now we are all sons of bitches. Oppenheimer later stated that, while watching the test, he was reminded of a line from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.  — wikipedia

To Look A Demon In The Eye: Nuclear Tests and Rapatronic Imaging


For the early nuclear weapons scientists, being able to observe the rapidly changing matter in nuclear explosions was vital to their understanding of the phenomena and the effects. Several aspects of the blast (e.g. the blinding light, the speed of the nuclear reaction in the bomb, and the need to be miles away from the detonation) made it very difficult to capture the initial stages on film.

In 1947 the Atomic Energy Commission contracted innovative photographic engineer Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton and two colleagues, Kenneth Germeshausen and Herbert Grier – their mission, improve imaging results.

By 1950 EG&G, Inc. had invented a device capable of capturing images from the fleeting instant directly following a nuclear explosion. Enter the rapatronic (for Rapid Action Electronic) shutter – a shutter with no moving parts that could be opened and closed by turning a magnetic field on and off.

Magneto-optic shutter, for micro-second photography (e.g. Rapatronic camera); 1952

Magneto-optic shutter, for micro-second photography (i.e. Rapatronic camera), 1952 – Photograph via Edgerton Digital Collections (cc)

The single-use rapatronic cameras were able to snap a photo one millisecond after detonation – at times even less – from about seven miles away. The duration of the exposure was as little as two microseconds.

The resulting images were eerie and fascinating.

This is an image of a 'shot cab' - the housing at the top of the tower that contains the explosive device.

This is an image of a ‘shot cab’ – the housing at the top of the tower that contains the explosive device. (Photo via Edgerton Digital Collections)

This is a rapatronic image of a at the moment of atomic bomb explosion. The cab appears to be fluorescing with X-Ray energy making it transparent. (Taken at Eniwetok, ca. 1952)

This is a rapatronic image of a ‘shot cab’ at the moment of an atomic bomb explosion. The cab appears to be fluorescing with X-Ray energy making it transparent. Blogger James Vaughn at ATOMIC-ANNIHILATION made this comment: …the most prominent feature is in the middle-upper (left) which looks like a giant friggin’ eye! Is that the ‘device’ caught in some weird moment of percolating itself into and out of existence before it becomes an … atomic explosion?  (Photo via Edgerton Digital Collections, taken at Eniwetok, c. 1952)

The explosion of  Boltzmann (30 K) during Operation Plumbbomb.

The detonation of Boltzmann (12 kt)) during Operation Plumbbob – 28 May 1957. In this rapatronic image the spikes below the fireball are the shot tower support cables vaporizing as they absorb thermal radiation – known as the ‘rope trick’ effect. (Photo via sonicbomb)

Operation Plumbbomb's Priscilla Detonation Image

The detonation of Priscilla (37 kt) during Operation Plumbbob – 24 June 1957. Instead of being housed in a shot cab, the Priscilla device was held 700 feet aloft by a balloon with steel cable mooring. This rapatronic image captures the burst of explosive and thermal energy equivalent to 37.000 tons of TNT. The ‘rope trick’ spikes are prominent and dramatic. The spots are fragments of the bomb casing ‘splashing’ against the inside of the expanding shock front. (Photo via sonicbomb)

The detonation of How (14kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper - 5 June 1952.

The detonation of How (14 kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper – 5 June 1952. This rapatronic image captures the expanding plasma ball in all its monstrous majesty. The heat generated through the ‘rope trick’ effect caused the desert floor to turn to glass. (Photo via sonicbomb)

The detonation of How (14kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper - 5 June 1952. In another millionth of a second after the previous rapatronic image, a planet of fire exists,  silhouetting and dwarfing the Joshua Trees.

The detonation of How (14 kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper – 5 June 1952. A millisecond after the previous image, another rapatronic captures a different picture of the detonation. A globe of fire emerges. The Joshua trees silhouetted at the base of the rapidly expanding explosion will quickly be engulfed by the shock and heat waves and incinerated. (Photo via sonicbomb)

The detonation of Mohawk (360 kt) during Operation Redwing - 3 July 1956.

The detonation of Mohawk (360 kt) during Operation Redwing – 3 July 1956. The thermonuclear Mohawk was a more powerful device than the above three combined. This rapatronic image captures the burst of explosive and thermal energy equivalent to 360.000 tons of TNT. The cloud rose to 65,000ft/~20km. The plasma colossus resembles some sort of strange living organism. (Photo via AtomCentral)

The Mohawk detonation heavily contaminated the island (of Eberiru /Ruby) and strong radiation was detected on the north end of the (Enewetak) atoll, strong enough to fog the film of photographs taken by aircraft in the area. Recovery operations were delayed for several days as a result of the high radiation levels.  – sonicbomb

With the assistance of EG&G’s rapatronic shutter the scientists studying the Mohawk blast were able to clearly see the embryonic demon that was unleashed that day. The experiments continued on with the discharge of devices even more powerful. The scientists had become like wizards, charmed by their own sorcery.