ROCKETS AND SPACE TRAVEL

From the Earth to the Moon: Passage Direct in 97 Hours saw its first American publication in 1869. The author, an obscure Frenchman named Jules Verne writing only his second novel, saw fit to place the launchsite of his moon capsule holding three men in Florida. Exactly 100 years later, the American moon program (confusing named Apollo, a sun god, probably because moon deities were unacceptably female, and hey, it's all up, isn't it?) stuck a capsule holding three men on top of a rocket lifting off from Florida.

 

For all of those 100 years, and the almost half century since, rocketships have been the prime symbol of the Future. Space was our destiny, the New Frontier, the playground for the stoic loner too crowded in the bustling cities, too independent to play by bureaucratic rules (except for all those times he was a Captain in the Space Navy), too stalwart and daunting to face down any enemy lesser than a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater.

 

Verne shot his capsule of a giant cannon, so he isn't technically the father of the rocket, not that anyone cares. Nor did it matter. Rockets are the one product of the Future that stem from science fiction and they appear long before my starting point of 1893 or Wells' Martian invasion of 1898. The indefatigable Edward Bleiler found Elbert Perce's Gulliver Joi: His Three Voyages, one of which, written in 1852, is in a very rocket-like device to the planet Kailoo. The Dominion of 1983 forecasted a technology-transformed Canada a hundred years hence as depicted by a "Ralph Centennis." "Rocket ships span the continent," Bleiler says, "making intercontinental flights at a mile per second." By the 20th century an index entry for rockets in SF would be "all of them." To this day, SF is synonymous with rocketships, an albatross around its neck that was hung there by space-happy writers.

 

It would not surprise me too much if somebody in the future tried to make out a case that during the years 1953 and 1954 a number of “space-happy” scientists (to use a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein) carried out a conspiracy to talk their governments out of tax money for their wild schemes. Scientific institutions, public lecture halls, the magazines, the newspapers, the radio waves, and the television channels were full of space-travel and satellite talk.

Willy Ley’s words, issued in his epic Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel, help to explain why the 1950s seem obsessed with space. The American government didn't care until the day after Sputnik. A cabal of enthusiasts infected the media - Collier's and Life magazines and Walt Disney's Disneyland television show being the primary vectors - with their determination to make travel to space, the moon, and the other planets as normal as the flying cars and jetpacks that were equally certain to arrive over the next decade.

 

Space retains its enchantment, as any glance at photos from the Hubble Space Telescope will prove.

Collier's, March 22, 1952, cover by Chesley Bonestell

ROCKETS AND SPACE TRAVEL

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

1. TO CALIFORNIA - BY ROCKET!

 

The Gold Rush of 1848 demanded the fastest crossings of the continent ever. Why not by rocket?

2. ROCKET TO VENUS

 

Headlines across the country when an inventor announced he was taking off for Venus.

 

3. THE NEW ROCKET MOTOR CAR

 

A rocket on a car? Wonder of wonders.

4. THE ROCKET MAIL

The first article on the possibilities of rocket mail.

5. GERHARD ZUCKER: ROCKET MAIL PIONEER

Rocket mail - in 1933? A forgotten attempt at a giant leap for mankind.

6. STAMPS FROM THE ZUCKER COLLECTION

A slideshow of beautiful examples of true retrorockets.

7. ROCKET CARS AT THE WORLD'S FAIRS

No world's fair of the 1930's could be without a rocket car ... ride.

8. PAN-AM'S ROCKET CAR

Gasoline that will power a rocket car driven by the Man from Mars? I'll buy that!

9. ROCKET MAIL TO MEXICO

A Boy Scout made the first international rocket mail flight? Yes, he really did.

10. THE COMPLETE BOOK OF OUTER SPACE

Everything we knew about space in 1953 in 144 picture-filled pages.

11. SPACE SHIP

 

How far did sci-fi get in 50s America? Suburbia.

 

 

 

We wonder what is out there and what our place in the vast universe might be. We wonder about its beginning and its possible end. We wonder if other beings are looking into their sky and wondering about us. Space is never alien as long as our imaginations suffuse it. Imaginations always win.

EK

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