Episode 106 continues the series we began with Episode 91: Disney in Space. Inthis installment of the series we take a look at Disneyland television show episode Man in Space which aired in March of 1955.
Man In Space
The show originally aired in March of 1955, more than two years before Sputnik, the first satellite was launched into space. It focuses on the possibility of manned space flight.
A few key people were important to the shows production. It was directed and produced by Ward Kimball, and what makes this choice particularly interesting is Kimball didnt really have any experience with space or rocket technology. Instead, Ward had been reading about rocket technology in Colliers magazine with articles by leading scientists and suggested that a show about the future of manned space travel would work for their Tomorrowland shows on the Disneyland TV show. With that, Ward was given the assignment of directing and producing the show.
The Post War 1950's was an exciting time of innovation and investment and ‘space’ seemed like an attainable goal. However, it is important to know that at this time the US Space program really didn’t exist. Everything related to space was really under the jurisdiction of the US Air Force. The Soviet Union, the chief rival to US for global economic and political domination, had been developing its own space program. They were on their way to developing the first satellite in space, which they would achieve in 1957.
Walt Disney began the show discussing how science and new technolgies that once seemed like miracles are commonplace today (1955). He goes on to say, “science has had an influence on our daily lives. Many of the things that seemed impossible now will become realities of tomorrow.”
To discover how man will achieve space travel, the main segment begins by discussing rocket powered ships, after a brief introduction by Ward Kimball. To understand rockets, the history of the rocket is traced, followed by a brief discussion on physics and propulsion systems. At times it might feel like you're watching a middle school video but the sequences go pretty quick.
One question that the show attempts to answers is, "how does a rocket get to the moon." What means have been explored to attain a lunar landing? Some in history have hypothesized that a using gunpowder could launch a man or rocket into the moon (yikes!). Luckily, the 1920's gave way to a fuel based rocket, and subsequent research followed. The Germans were really at the forefront of this technology in the 1930's, which served as the basis for a certain film about a Rocket man...(#ahem).
The Rocket sequence in the show was probably pretty exciting to watch in the 1950's. Even today the montage of rocket launches is eyte catching. The US Vanguard rocket was shown several times. Scientist Willie Ley was then introduced and he discusses how a fueled rocket would work.
Very funny One of the more humorous sequences of the show discussed how manned space travel might work. Our cartoon hero in this segment took on such obstacles as space sickness, eating in space, acclimating weigtlessness and the heat and cold of space might affect the body. Our cartoon astronaut had to experince all of these scenarios and so at the end he was pretty beat up. The actual science of how a rocket works is also examined, and how a space craft will attain orbit.
Wehrner Von Braun
By far the best part of the show is the animated sequence showing the rocket launch and its trip through space. Instead of showing a cartoonish view of space travel, the show is done with dramatic stills and serious narratives.
On our first episode of the Disney in Space series we looked at an early attraction in Disneyland, Space Station: X-1, and how it attempted to show what the earth might look like from space, or a satellite orbiting the earth. What made those first few years in Tomorrowland really unique was that the focus was more practical than whimsical, and today that has probably been reversed. In contrast, the Walt Disney Studio at the time seemed to be producing more science - fantasty films like The Absent Minded Professor.
Probably the most ironic element of this is that Werhner Von Braun, though not embraced by the US government, was actually right all along. The military passed on his ideas in 1955, in favor of the Navy’s Vanguard rocket system. Von Braun however would go on to build and successfully launch Explorer 1 (in an 84 days). The Explorer program led to America’s first successful space launch.
So, why was Disney at the forefront of practical space? One thing that I kept comiogn back to while researching for this show was my own affinity for Disney history and why I think that this stuff means so much to me. I think its important to understand that there was a time when Disney was influential in areas besides pop-culture. What they were doing had an impact on society. Perhaps they have gone away from it over the years, but to know that the company was at the forefront of what would become the country’s biggest and most daring endeavours is something to think about.
Another thing that drew us to this subject is that this was truly a different time in American history and Disney's place was significantly different. Disney was actually educating the public on what could be done in an area that was a hot button issue for US foreign affairs.
Enjoy this episode as it was fun to create!
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