THE COMPLETE BOOK OF OUTER SPACE
Starting in the late 1940s, a group of enthusiasts, “space-happy” in Robert Heinlein’s term, engaged in an open campaign outside the pages of science fiction magazines to convince the U.S. public that exploring space with rockets was the single most important thing mankind could do in the 1950s. Heinlein’s 1950 movie, Destination Moon, was the first major public example. A series of high profile special issues of Collier’s magazine, then a striving rival to Life and Look, ran under the collective title of “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” The first issue, March 1952, with art by Chesley Bonestell and others, featured articles by Willy Ley, Dr. Wernher von Braun, and Dr. Hans Haber, with more articles in October, all collected into an expanded version under the title Conquest of the Moon, which was published as an oversized hardback in 1953 by the prestigious Viking Press. The articles were drawn from lectures given at The First Symposium on Space Flight, held on Columbus Day, October 12, 1951, at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
Call them the Usual Suspects. Before they got to the Moon, they conquered every form of media, culminating with the biggest prize of all. The 1954-55 television season saw the launch of Disneyland, a program explicitly designed to propagandize for Disney’s theme park of the same name. It ran on ABC, and the network also helped bankroll the park’s development. Each episode was tied in to one of the park’s section, like Frontierland or Adventureland. Tomorrowland was a problem. Not until the 20th episode, the last one of the first season, airing March 9, 1955, did Disney present a Tomorrowland episode, titled “Man in Space” replete with a cartoon history of rockets and interviews with… Ley, Haber, and von Braun. Forty million people watched and it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short.
In the meantime, Jerry Mason, author and editor, had founded Maco Magazine Corporation in 1953. Rather than issuing titles on a regular monthly basis, Maco put out single-topic publications in magazine format, which allowed them to be heavily illustrated with pictures and drawings at a lower cost. Over the years Maco put out titles like The Complete Book of Gardening and Lawn Care, The Complete Book of Cats, The Complete Book of Fishing Tackle, The Complete Book of Horses, The Complete Book of House Plants, and Jim Beard’s Complete Cookbook for Entertaining, essentially a compendia of 1950s obsessions and stereotypes, especially when his Marilyn Monroe Pin Ups is included. Her body funded Mason’s publishing empire just as it did for Hugh Hefner’s contemporary Playboy magazine.
Though it’s hard to believe that the RoI was as great, Mason exploited the Usual Suspects for The Complete Book of Outer Space, reprinting the series of lectures they had done for the Second Symposium on Space Flight at Hayden Planetarium, October 13, 1952. To bulk out the issue, he added a few other presumably sellable names like Dr. Leslie R. Shephard, Technical Director of the British Interplanetary Society, Dr. Donald H. Menzel, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, and Hugo Gernsback himself, who had printed their articles in his short-lived 1953 magazine Science-Fiction Plus. Editor Jeffrey Logan contributed the only new content: “The Spaceship in Science Fiction,” replete with wonderful images from old magazine covers, and “The Flying Saucer Myth,” mocking it with a blurry photo of a featureless white ball that could have been anything.
Three additional articles appear, mentioned in the Acknowledgements to “Hugo Gernsback, for permission to reprint his own article; Reaction Motors, Inc., for the article by James Wyld; the American Rocket Society for a second article by Dr. von Braun” but I haven’t been able to track down the original sources.
The cover takes the rocket Chesley Bonestell (misspelled as Chesley Bonnestall inside) designed for the 1950 movie Destination Moon and places it "against an actual photo of star clouds in the Milky Way made at Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories." Bonestall's lush color drawings lose 99% of their punch in black and white but the hundreds of other photos, many from the Defense Department, made it superior in its overall coverage to the far more expensive Conquest of the Moon. It must have sold well, because Mason released a second edition (with a bare-bones solid red cover stripping out the starry background) in 1957, although that one is almost forgotten today. The mention of “The Flying Saucer Myth” was removed, indicating how thoroughly and quickly the fad had died out, but the title added SATELLITES in all-caps, a must after Sputnik turned everything upside-down.
Martin's Greenberg's Gnome Press, one of the seminal small press science fiction publishers founded after WWII, also grabbed at the opportunity to make some quick money. Maco published magazines not meant for the long-term. Gnome had a core audience of libraries, who for the first time were regularly adding the newly-respectable hardback science fiction to their collections. Greenberg bought 3000 magazines from Maco, turned the covers into a dust jacket, bound the interior pages into hardback yellow boards, and raised the price from 75 cents to a full $2.50, most of it profit. The title only stayed on future Gnome lists of books for sale for two years, indicating that it sold out quickly.
Maco also made some additional money from a UK edition, which for some reason changed the back cover. It cost 10/6, a standard price for a science fiction hardback in 1953.
Maco 1957 magazine edition
Gnome Press 1953 hardback edition
Sedgwick & Jackson UK 1954 hardback edition
Logan's compilation of images, real, speculative, and imaginary, are the best survey of rockets and space travel from the first half of the 20th century.