Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color: Season 1, Episode 20

Man in Space (9 Mar. 1955)
"Disneyland" Man in Space (original title)

TV Episode  -   -  Adventure | Biography | Drama
8.3
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Ratings: 8.3/10 from 86 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 1 critic

With a combination of documentary footage and animation, the science and history of rockets, and the effects of space travel on man are illustrated.

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Title: Man in Space (09 Mar 1955)

Man in Space (09 Mar 1955) on IMDb 8.3/10

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Himself - Host
Heinz Haber ...
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Ward Kimball ...
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With a combination of documentary footage and animation, the science and history of rockets, and the effects of space travel on man are illustrated. Written by Kathy Li

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9 March 1955 (USA)  »

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(RCA Sound Recording)

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1.33 : 1
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ABC originally broadcast this episode in black and white. See more »

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Features Woman in the Moon (1929) See more »

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Wernher von Braun Lays It All Out For You
28 January 2012 | by (New York City/Colorado Springs) – See all my reviews

This is an excellent introduction to basic space physics and history. It is brought to you by the Disney folks and the future leaders of what a few years later would become NASA. Most of the information is still valid and useful. As a bonus, you get an up-close look at the nascent US space program and its Germanic roots. Legendary announcer Dick Tufeld ("Lost in Space") narrates in suitably dramatic fashion.

Perhaps the show's greatest accomplishment is how simple some complex concepts are made. Orbital velocity and booster rocket design are explained in particularly comprehensible ways. The brains behind the space program speak here in their own voices, and quite accurately predict numerous details of space flight years before anyone got anywhere near going into orbit: weightless food preparation, psychological testing, cosmic radiation shielding, space medicine, computer control. Some of the early testing methods shown, where volunteers were subjected to up to 35G's of force and violent air pressure changes, are fascinating and show the bravery of those involved. Disney animation is used throughout and is quite unobtrusive, aimed at an adult level. This was serious stuff, not prepared just for kids.

But "Man in Space" is terrific viewing today even if you already know all that. Some of the giants of rocket development - Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun - explain and propose ideas that in 1955 must have seemed far-fetched. Von Braun boldly predicts that a passenger vehicle could be developed within ten years, or by 1965 (actually, it happened a few years before that). This was when they were barely past the V2 stage! Sounds awfully similar to something President John F. Kennedy later said about the Moon....

Of course, some of the ideas were later dropped due to practical necessity. Von Braun's large model rocket, for example, while looking eerily similar to current designs of the 21st Century, was far too ambitious for the technology of the day, and liquid fuel ultimately was replaced by solid fuel. However, one understands the precise logic off of which these pioneers were building. If anything, the "mistakes" show just how far in the future these guys were reaching. At that level, science begins to depend on imagination and theories as much as facts and experience. If you listen closely enough to von Braun, you can see in your mind the blueprint unfold for what actually happened over the next fifteen years. He, of course, was behind it all.

I can't watch this, though, without feeling kind of sad. Back then, they knew how to make hard science exciting and appealing. Manned space flight was not considered a luxury, but an imperative. This type of wonky documentary could appear in prime time on a popular program, and made cutting edge science accessible to everyone. Compare that to today, when popular science has turned inward, focusing on software designed to make people feel better, economic panaceas and unmanned probes at the expense of grand adventures such as "the conquest of space." It would be so nice to get some of that buccaneering spirit back.


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