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.

Frank Tinsley: Concept Artist With An Eye On The Future


Frank Tinsley (1899-1965) was a concept artist during a time when the imagination was the only limit. During the late 1940s and through much of the 1950s, Tinsley found a home at Mechanix Illustrated magazine. He wrote and illustrated numerous articles that mused about the future of technology, transportation, strategic military weapons and equipment, and space exploration. Tinsley was a man with a lot of ideas.

When America Bosch Arma Corporation decided to run an advertising campaign to promote their inertial and military guidance systems and space technology, they turned to Frank Tinsley to illustrate their concepts. Below are some his works for the Steps In The Race To Outer Space campaign, with descriptions from the adverts.

Lunar Unicycle - Illustration: Frank Tinsley, 1958

This 30-foot high Unicycle is designed for preliminary exploration of the moon, once a base camp has been established. It’s entirely constructed of inflated, rubberized fabric, with the exception of strengthening members, hatches and a few other items of equipment. Gyros stabilize and steer the vehicle: electric motors furnish the driving power. – Illustration: Frank Tinsley, 1958.

Assembling A Station In Space - Frank Tinsley, November 1958

This imaginative but technically accurate illustration shows a permanent satellite (center) being constructed in orbit around the Earth. It generates its own heat and electricity from solar rays. Basic vegetation (such as algae) for oxygen as well as protein-rich foods are grown in hydroponic tubes in upper level ‘greenhouses.’ – Illustration: Frank Tinsley, November 1958.

Mars Snooper - Frank Tinsley, January 1959

This nuclear-fueled reconnaissance craft is preparing to land on Mars’ outermost satellite, Deimos – 12,000 miles away from the ‘red planet’ (center) and 35 million miles away from Earth. – Illustration: Frank Tinsley, January 1959.

Cosmic Butterfly - Frank Tinsley, March 1959

Spreading its wings to absorb the eternal flow of solar energy is the Cosmic Butterfly, a space vehicle of a type first conceived by Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger of Redstone Arsenal. – Illustration Frank Tinsley, March 1959.

Escape In Space - Illustration: Frank Tinsley, March 1960

The space-assembled super satellites of the future will periodically encounter disaster – collision, mechanical failure, military attack, or the long chance of being hit by a meteorite. When this happens, ‘lifeboats’ like the one shown here will bring the crews safely back to Earth. – Illustration: Frank Tinsley, March 1960.

Breaking A Space Traffic Jam, Frank Tinsley, May 1960

By 1970 our solar system will be filled with expended satellites – whirling aimlessly in space with dead batteries and electronic equipment, their missions long since completed.
As space traffic increases, these derelicts will have to be captured and put out of orbit to keep flight paths clear. For this task, special towboats will be designed and crews trained. – Illustration: Frank Tinsley, May 1960.

(adverts via

A Trip Into Space With Ace Brave!

Into Space With Ace Brave - Pop-Up book cover illustration by Ron Turner. 1953

Into Space With Ace Brave – Pop-Up book cover illustration by Ron Turner, 1953

Control deck of space ship 'Asteroid'

Control deck of space ship Asteroid

This is the command deck of space ship ‘Asteroid‘ – and YOU are the captain, seated in the center there in front of your impressive array of instruments. I am speaking to you over your personal contact tele-viewer, and you can see my ship ‘The Starider‘ on your forward tele-view. We are midway between Earth and the Moon and we are bound for Mars where we are to meet the deep-space ship, ‘The Aspirant.’

On our journey I’ll share some adventures I’ve had and some things we’ve met, but first let’s review some of the equipment we use in space. Let’s go!

An important piece of equipment we use in space - The Space Suit

An important piece of equipment we use in space – The Space Suit

The Weapons Of Space

The Weapons Of Space

A. The Hydramatic Mark 4 Flame Gun which uses a light hydro-ammonal compound – its lethal range in space is 2000 yards.

B. The Atomatic which fires .20-caliber atomic bullets – the burst from these atomic guns produce spectacular results.

C. The Radiumatic which works on the controlled-fission principle produces a concentrated radiation beam. The Radiumatic is proportionality more effective than weapons A and B and can be converted into an ideal weapon for ground use.

Peril in the Venusian jungle - A rescue operation results in the disintegration of a Terrathon and a safe return of fellow traveler, Professor Devonport.

Peril in the Venusian jungle – A rescue operation results in the disintegration of a Terrathon and a safe return of fellow traveler, Professor Devonport.

Life On Mercury

Life On Mercury

Humans and the Mercurians have become firm friends since the first meeting nine years ago. The Mercurians are referred to as ‘The Iron Men‘ as the outer skin of these strange chaps is a thick tissue with a metallic base, protection against the intense heat.

The canopy and cape worn by the Mercurian on the right are used by them when Mercury makes its nearest approach to the sun, when even they need some extra protection.



The Venusians are an advanced lot. As the ship descended to the planet it was frozen into immobility. A grating metallic voice came over the intercom, ‘Hello men of Earth. Follow me and no harm will come to you. Do as I command!’

Guided to the domed city of Metharon, a meeting was arranged with the elected overlord of Venus, The Imperator. The Imperator disclosed that the Venusians knew all about Earth, had in fact visited in the past, and now monitored Earth’s broadcasts. ‘Go Back to Earth,’ he said, ‘and tell them that whenever they come in peace we shall welcome them but, at the first sign of hostility they will be destroyed, utterly!’

Since then, the Venusians have been treated with the respect they merit.

Crash Landing - Accidents happen. This particular emergency landing occurred on Mars. The rescue team that rushed to the crash site came from the take-off point bringing with them a pressurized hospital tank that saved a life.

Crash Landing – Accidents happen. This particular emergency landing occurred on Mars. The rescue team that rushed to the crash site came from the take-off point bringing with them a pressurized hospital tank that saved a life.

Mars is inhabited by these formidable creatures. They communicate telepathically. The first meeting with them was tense but they are now good friends. They refer to their planet as Alkmenos.

Mission Accomplished

And there is The Aspirant. She’s surrounded by space-suited men and two transport ships are bringing in last-minute supplies. The Aspirant will be the ship used for ‘Operation Deep Space’ – an exploration of the outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

Much of the credit for the design of The Aspirant should go to the Venusians and Martians. They provided important component designs that helped make the ship into what it is.

Now that the supplies from The Asteroid have been loaded into The Aspirant it’s time to return to Earth. In twenty-four hours The Aspirant will blast off into deep space. One day we’ll be back to tell you — what lies beyond!



Passing the moon on the return to Earth a sinister shape is seen streaking toward the ship – a space pirate! A message is radioed to the moon-based Space Patrol. Furious activity and almost at once, the ships are blasting off the launching ramps. The Asteroid holds the pirates off long enough – here come the Space Patrol!

The End...?

The End…?

Images via The Ron Turner Collection

‘The Story Of America’s Man-In-Space Programs’ – General Dynamics’ 1964 Super Space Cards Deck

General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards - Joker: Sun, Moon, Planetary Symbols, and Superman!

General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards – Joker: Sun, Moon, Planetary Symbols, and Superman!

These space cards tell a story – the story of America’s man-in-space programs. The hearts deal with the human element, the clubs portray the sciences, the spades show products and the diamonds depict modern aerospace management without which the other three elements could not be successful.

General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards
Manufacturer: National Periodical Publications, Inc.
Date: 1964

Click on images to enlarge.

Ace of Hearts - Vitruvian Man

Ace of Hearts – Vitruvian Man

Two of Hearts - Buck Rogers (As a salute to human imagination and sci-fi)

Two of Hearts – Buck Rogers

Two cards from the suit of Hearts representing the human element: Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Buck Rogers – human physical being and human imagination. With the Two of Hearts, General Dynamics recognizes the important influence of the science fiction genre as inspiration for developments in modern space exploration.

The Ace of Clubs - The Sciences

Ace of Clubs – The Sciences

Two of Clubs - Leonardo da Vinci and a few samples of his flying machines

Two of Clubs – Leonardo da Vinci

Two cards from the suit of Clubs representing the sciences: The Ace of Clubs features an illustration reminiscent of those referred to in the 19th century pseudoscience of phrenology – rather than assigning various functions to different parts of the brain, this card highlights various fields of science relevant to space travel. The Two of Clubs features an image of Leonardo da Vinci with a few of his familiar flying machine designs.

The Ace Of Spades - Rocket Launch

Ace Of Spades – Rocket Launch

The Two Of Spades - Hot Air Balloon

Two Of Spades – Hot Air Balloon

Two Cards from the suit of Spades representing products – The Ace of Spades features a rocket launch reminiscent of NASA’s Project Mercury and the lift off of Friendship 7 carrying John Glenn, the first United States astronaut to orbit the Earth. General Dynamics’ Convair division designed and produced the Atlas boosters used in the launch. The Two of Spades features a hot air balloon – the grandaddy of flight and aerial transportation. In 1783 brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier succeeded in launching the first manned ascent from Earth – Étienne was lifted off in the Montgolfièr hot air balloon, globe aérostatique.

The Ace Of Diamonds - Flow Chart

Ace Of Diamonds – Management Flow Chart

The Two Of Diamonds - Communications

Two Of Diamonds – Communications

The suit of Diamonds is meant to depict modern aerospace management – and they are the most curious and enigmatic. They are wonderful representations of the Cold-War/Space-Race era. The illustrations utilize symbols to relate this part of the story making the message more subliminal. They also reflect the kind of protective secrecy that was so much a part of that era. The Ace Of Diamonds shows a flow chart suggesting the various areas of aerospace management. The third vertical row has a number of squares contained in the top square – a committee leadership governing this area, or a bureaucracy heading a bureaucracy? At the top of the flow chart flies the U.S. flag – that symbol could mean different things to different folks, depending on a persons cynicism and/or sentimentalism. The two of Diamonds shows an antique telephone and an inkwell – rather primitive devices chosen to portray ‘modern aerospace’ communications.

Below are a few favorites from the deck without descriptions. See what they bring to your mind.

The Nine Of Hearts

The Ten Of Hearts

The Six Of Clubs

The Eight Of Clubs

The Jack Of Spades

The Queen Of Spades

The Nine Of Diamonds

The King Of Diamonds

(Card deck images via Unkee E.)

Modified Biological Entities Or Cybernetic Man – A 1963 Discussion On Space Travel

Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Dehumanized and drugged, transistorized and plugged with electronic replacements for natural parts, a spaceman might survive. But would you still think of him as human?

The illustration above is from the November, 1963, issue of Popular Science magazine. The article is credited to Toby Freedman. M.D., and Gerald S. Lindner, M.D.. It’s a discussion about adapting man for space travel and exploration, and it’s remarkably dramatic. Below are the last few paragraphs from the article. If you’re curious enough to read the full article this link will take you to the terrific Modern Mechanix webpage for your enjoyment.

More profound is the biological approach, which seeks to understand adaptive mechanisms in other forms of life and apply them to man. Instead of hooking up a transistorized organ, the object here is to enable the subject to grow one. This is not as inaccessible as it sounds. Remove one kidney and the other one grows large to sustain the load.

Wonders or horrors? What guide can we look for to direct us in the development of these new powers? For if we can raise people’s general performance with stimulants, we can also reduce them to automatons with depressants, and dissociate them with hallucinating drugs. We can interchange their organs or intercept their heredity by scrambling their DNA. In short, we can alter them in any direction, letting loose in the world forces more powerful and menacing than anything that came out of the atom.

As in the case of the atom, are we going to back into this and find ourselves facing catastrophe without a policy? I have no answers to this question – simply a plea that we start thinking about it.

Let us plan to improve man as we modify him. Let us, while taking over from nature, follow her lead. The keynote is gradual improvement. We should try to optimize those capacities and abilities man already has, by all means available, but avoid radically tampering with the basic mechanism.

In contrast to the astronaut who accomplishes his space mission at the cost of trading most of his physiological systems for electronic ones, whose mouth is sealed, his lungs collapsed, his body wastes recycled through himself, his neural pathways partly severed, and his emotions dissected out we see another. We envision a man who looks quite normal, but who has been adapted to the oxygen requirements of a Himalayan Sherpa, the heat resistance of a walker-on-coals; who needs less food than a hermit, has the strength of Sonny Liston, and runs the mile in three, minutes flat while solving problems in tensor analysis in his head. We call him Optiman, and we think we can make him in the near future.

It we don’t, the Russians will.

(h/t to Sweet Dreams‘ Tumblr for the tip)

The A-4/V-2 – One Rocket Design, Two Roles In History

Aggregat 4, Peenemunde, 3 October 1942:The first man made object to ever touch space.

Aggregat 4, Peenemunde, 3 October 1942: The first man made object to ever touch space.

For the first time we have invaded space with our rocket. Mark this well, we have used space as a bridge between two points on the earth; we have proven rocket propulsion practicable for space travel. This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era of transportation: that of space travel.

– Walter Dornberger*

It has been an unfortunate fact throughout history: science and invention has almost always been corrupted by man for the use of destruction. Such has been the history of the German Aggregat rocket series. Aggregat was the project name chosen by the scientists who worked on and developed the A-4 – the first man made object to touch space. The term referred to a group of machines working together. The more commonly used name for the A-4 rocket is the V-2, from the German, Vergeltungswaffe 2 or Vengeance-Weapon 2. The two names – A-4 and V-2 – sharply contrast the aims of the scientists who developed this technological achievement, and the political class that manipulated it for destructive means.

Today the V-2 is infamous as the rocket that terrorized the British Isles and Europe during the Second World War. It is also known as the ‘grandfather of America’s family of large missiles.’* Beginning in 1945, the U.S. began it’s own rocket development program using V-2 components captured in the European Theater of Operations. With Project Paperclip, the U.S. government back-engineered the V-2 with the aide of captured German scientists and rocket specialists led by Dr. Wernher Von Braun. This earlier work would lead the way to the development of ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) and the threatened nuclear terrors of the Cold War.

Still, there were those who never lost sight of the more farsighted visionary aspects of the A-4/V-2. Beginning in 1946, the V-2 began to be used by the U.S. to launch an array of experiments – the results of which would become vital to the understanding of various properties of the atmosphere and the development of manned space exploration.

One of the most significant  of these experiments occurred on 24 October 1946. A V-2 rocket was launched from White Sands, New Mexico, that reached space by achieving an altitude of 342,900ft (104,600m). A mounted camera, provided by John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, captured the first photograph of Earth taken from space and a continuous motion picture of the Earth’s surface at altitude from 100ft to 65 miles (105km).*

The First Photo From Space

The first photograph of the horizon of Earth taken from space. Photographed at an altitude of 105km, at this point the camera was theoretically 1,200km from the horizon and the picture takes in 10,360km2 (40,000 sq miles) of space.*

Putting all politics aside, this was a great moment for the human species. For the first time people of the Earth saw what the planet looks like from above the atmosphere. The pictures didn’t show the images we’ve grown accustomed to in this age, but they did show the diversity of the Earth’s surface covered with ice, land, and water – and past the curve of the planet’s horizon, the darkness of mysterious space. A video of these profound moments is presented below.

While the history of the A-4/V-2 rocket has been cluttered with terror and horrors, it seems ironic that the same rocket would be used to show us images of the singular planet that we all share in the enigmatic vastness of space. This view vindicates the early vision of the scientists and engineers who celebrated the success of the Aggregat 4. It also condemns the darker forces of humanity that have used it towards their nefarious ends.

V2 Rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico (USA) in 1946 returned the first photos of Earth from space. (Video courtesy White Sands Missile Range)

The Colonization of Mars – Is This The TIme?


From April 22, 2013 to August 31, 2013, an application was made available to the public. It was the first of its kind. By the end of the sign-up period, 202,586 people from more than 140 countries had registered their interest for a position. Four of those applicants would be the first to do what humans have imagined for over a century and more – they hope to be the first humans to set foot on Mars.

The project is being developed by a Dutch non-profit organization led by entrepreneur, Bas Lansdorp. It is called, Mars One. Mars One wants to inspire and bring closer together the inhabitants of this planet – the project would be televised 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year as a reality based program.

Mars has been an enduring part of popular culture since the end of the 19th century. From serialized stories like H. G. Wells’, The War of the Worlds (1897) and the 1912 debut of the pulp magazine serial, John Carter On Mars, from the Orson Welles’ 1938 Mercury Theatre radio production of The War of the Worlds and series like the 1957 Mutual Broadcasting System’s Exploring Tomorrow, from 1938 film serial Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars and the 1959 science fiction film, The Angry Red Planet, from the 1962 UK television series, Space Patrol and the 1967 series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, every entertainment medium in every generation since has fantasized about the red planet.

The early expectations of human exploration and habitation of Mars often predicted an arrival during the 20th Century. The Mars One project hopes to land the first earthlings in 2023. It seems that so much technological development and resources were aimed at the development of destructive weapons and terrestrial superiority that there wasn’t much left for the idealized notions of space travel in the last century.

There’s still a predominantly ‘wait and see’ attitude abut the Mars One project, but one thing is certain – the mission has once again revived the popular imagination about Earthlings on the Red Planet.