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|Index||19 reviews in total|
As with other reviewers, my impression of this never-syndicated,
never-published-on-video series rests on childhood memories, in my case from
age 7. However, at the time I had read a lot of popular books on the
prospect of manned space flight, and "Men Into Space" resonated perfectly
with the best that scientist-author Willy Ley and colleagues had to offer a
50's audience. As the episodes progressed, we witnessed man's first space
flight, EVA, moon landing, and moon base operation. Space was depicted as
silent (no "whooshing" spacecraft); multistage rockets were used; and full
pressure suits were de rigueur.
I suppose this series stood on the broad shoulders of the Heinlein-penned film DESTINATION MOON (1950), but you have to credit the TV show's producers with a level of scientific integrity not seen in in network sci-fi before or since.
I was fourteen when MEN INTO SPACE aired, and missed very few episodes. In
those days I had the pathetic notion that I would be involved with space
engineering or sciences, a star that was already setting as I augered in at
school. MEN INTO SPACE, however, kept the vicarious juices going, and it
fuelled my passion for the embryonic space programme. In a way it was so
good for television of the late '50s, one could almost consider an
instrument of propaganda.
I recall that it a good show, which as per others, did try to be realistic. There was an episode of a runaway thruster on the space station -- a proper Ley wheel, not the contemporary lash-up of ash cans. Another episode treated the ejection of nuclear waste into orbit or the Sun. As some of my juniors have commented, the situations and projects depicted in that humble half-hour show are yet to-day only contemplated, so perhaps MEN INTO SPACE was more science fiction than future faits accompli that my young hopes embraced.
It was too early, and certainly too "technical" for television then and possibly now. Whereas TWILIGHT ZONE and ONE STEP BEYOND (both of 1959 et seq.) could count on pure fancifulness to secure loyal audiences, MEN INTO SPACE was "hard" S.F. There were just not that many people out there then to sustain a series, and it went the way of its distant cousin THE MAN AND THE CHALLENGE, also from 1959. Having no cable, and not attending science fiction conventions, I have not seen MEN INTO SPACE since the summer re-runs of 1960, which is . . . FORTY years! I am glad, however, it made an important impression on so many young kids, and their comments are actually moving.
"Men Into Space" was one of two 1959 TV series created to 'cash in' on
the burgeoning NASA space program, as the first astronauts were being
selected, and this CBS production benefited from the participation of
two space 'legends' in the production team; for technical advice, Willy
Ley, America's best-known space 'expert', provided uncredited
assistance, and Chesley Bonestell, the 'father' of space illustration,
was listed as 'creator', and provided the remarkably accurate 'look' of
the series. As the pair had also worked on George Pal's production of
Robert Heinlein's DESTINATION MOON (1950), the series had a very
similar 'feel', with aerodynamic multi-stage rockets with fins, a
classic 'wheel-within-wheel' space station, correctly envisioned
'pressure-suit' inspired spacesuits, and a 'moon' that was composed of
jagged peaks and sharply defined craters (a conception that would carry
over to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and would only be
modified when astronauts discovered the clinging dust that actually
covers the lunar surface, and 'softens' the appearance).
With Ivan Tors as an executive producer, the stories were 'kid-friendly', with plots focusing on fundamental space issues (weightlessness, oxygen, navigation in space), although, with the Cold War raging, sabotage and politics were also touched on, if only lightly. Veteran actor William Lundigan starred, as 'no nonsense' commander Col. Edward McCauley, and while he seemed a bit old for hopping around space, he was an adequate 'father-figure' for the young cast assembled.
CBS expected the show to become a hit with kids, and marketed a variety of merchandise (including a 'lunch box' that I was a proud owner of!), but the special effects turned out to be cost-prohibitive, and the series was canceled after a single season, and never syndicated.
Considering the fanciful 'space opera' series ("Lost in Space", "Star Trek") that would dominate the airwaves within a few years, "Men Into Space", with it's realistic approach to space flight, was far ahead of it's time.
Like several of us whom have commented, I was about seven years old when this show aired and it made a large and lasting impression on me. I actually negotiated a special Wednesday night bedtime in order to be able to see it. I wanted the Col. McCaulley helmet, but alas, we were of modest means in my household. When the Mercury and Gemini projects were underway, I felt that we were right on track and my friends and I would be pursuing our careers in space. I even majored in aero & astronautical engineering - just when the whole thing succumbed to post-Apollo apathy and Watergate nonsense. Imagine my disappointment. As time went on, I found fewer contemporaries that even remembered 1950's space movie and TV sci-fi, so I largely forgot about it. Then about 4 years ago I came across a source of the entire series of episodes on videotape (for $160). Unbelievable! Some of the episodes are exactly as I remembered them. And unlike a lot of childhood memories, the show turns out to be actually pretty good: It is more technically accurate than anything shown on TV since. You can spot actors like Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Robert Reed (pre-Brady Bunch) and Angie Dickenson (as McCaully's wife in the pilot episode). One of the episodes was written by James Clavell (well before Shogun). For a while in the mid-1960's there was discussion of a sort-of sequel to be called "Beyond the Moon" that would feature 1970's missions envisioned by NASA with technical accuracy. TV Guide carried an article on it. But it never materialized and instead we got mindless stuff like "I Dream of Genie." Anyone interested in this should also look for "Riders to the Stars," "The Conquest of Space," and the recent "October Sky," all of which capture the time of Sputnik and big dreams. This is the way space (and sci-fi) should have been in our lifetime! I invite anyone interested in discussing this further to contact me.
But it was as adult as could be expected. A fine depiction of men (and women? I forget) on the moon operating from space bases. Forty years later we STILL have no moon bases! I remember best the great fear they all had about their space suits being punctured (what WOULD happen, besides "instant death"?). A well done drama. Never rerun, unfortunately.
This was a quite good pre-Mercury attempt to show the future of space travel
with emphasis on the team work of the crews involved. I recall shows
dealing with landing on the moon and what man would find there. As well as
working on building a space station and what would be involved. It did try
to be factual but took dramatic license on a number of occasions.
I am possibly the only one who still has his official Col. McCauley space helmet (still in the original box).
This ran against Ozzie and Harriet, as I remember, as well as my Cub
Scout base ball games. It was a fight against the whole family to let
the one sci-fi nut of the group to see the one show he really cared
Looking back at the tapes from this future perspective, it is still the most accurate portrayal of space flight on TV. It is the space program us baby boomers from the 60's wish we had developed and followed thru.
If you get a chance, watch it. For a half hour 50/60's series, it's hard to beat. I still remember wishing my parents had bought me that Colonel McCauliffe space suit from the 1960 Sears catalogue.
This show was another that vanished after one season but appealed to the imaginations of kids with unfamiliar concepts as weightlessness and a "hard vacuum". The show featured the McCauley character and crew blasting off on missions in a standardized multistage (?) vehicle, and doing space walks, rendezvous and powered landings. One episode had McCauley rescue a colleague on a very small asteroid doomed for destruction. As they departed the asteroid, the viewer sees petroglyphic markings on the space rock evidently left by an alien civilization (is this the episode titled "Is There Another Civilization?"). Shows of this genre inspired a generation of scientists and science buffs.
I think it was on Wednesday nights. It was absolutely my favorite program at that time. I have never seen a single clip of this show since it went off the air. The only scene from an episode I can remember is the time Col. McCauley got separated from his space craft and started drifting away in space. All he did was repeat his name: "McCauley.....McCauley...." until he was located and rescued. Around 10 years later I remembered this scene while watching "2001: A Space Odyssey" when the astronaut, Dr. Frank Poole, was terminated by the HAL 9000 computer and was left to drift in space. I kept expecting to hear Poole repeat his name. But it was not to be. Poole was expendable. McCauley wasn't.
As a 7 year old, I was virtually glued to the TV set every night this program was on. I was probably too young to be objective, in terms of the poetic license taken by the writers, but at least to a young boy each episode seemed believable and fascinating. I understand that the Sci-Fi Channel may occasionally broadcast some of these re-runs. I'd like to see them on Video tape if they're ever made available.
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