Review: Men Into Space / Author: John C. Fredriksen / Publisher: Bear Manor Media / Release Date: Out Now
One of the things to most admire and appreciate about science fiction and its fans is that nothing ever gets forgotten. No matter how obscure or old a film or TV series is, there’s somebody out there with enough love, passion and talent to gather all the information about it and write a book. Such a labour of love has been undertaken by John C.Fredriksen in this impressive volume.
It's fair to say that most of us here in the UK won’t have heard of Men Into Space, or that at best it’ll be a faded memory. The programme ran for one season of 38 half hour episodes on the CBS network in the USA, debuting on September 30, 1959 with the final episode shown September 7 1960. Although aimed squarely at adults and shown in a mid-evening slot on American TV, in the UK the BBC placed it in the children’s slot early on a Saturday night – the slot that on November 23, 1963 would be filled by their homegrown series about a time-travelling eccentric called Doctor Who.
In retrospect, it’s a shame that Men into Space was as short lived as it was. Taking into account the space mania of the day – the starting gun had been fired on the space race on October 4 1957 when Sputnik was launched into a low orbit – its cancellation is baffling. Fredriksen describes how the concept was rooted in reality as Colonel Edward McCauley of the U.S Air Force (Lundigan) was placed in situations that the real Apollo astronauts would face nine years after the series ended as they headed toward the moon. Set in the near future (seemingly the mid-'70s), each episode began with an opening narration that started with: "The story you are about to see hasn’t happened yet. It will happen when..."
Production values were high, senior officers of the United States Air Force were used as technical consultants to maintain the "hard science" aspect and several of the paintings used for concept designs were created by noted space artist Chesley Bonestell who had created the opening sequence of War of the Worlds in 1953.
This book is an exhaustive and definitive examination of the series. There’s a long introduction concerning the creation of the show, and each of the 38 episodes is recalled in minute detail. Even if you haven’t seen the series (and if you’re in the UK, then the chances are high that you haven’t), you’ll feel like you have. Upon finishing the book, I was struck by a feeling of regret that Men into Space isn’t available on DVD.
The real beauty of the book, though, is that it gives a fascinating insight in to the making of a TV sci-fi programme during the Golden Age of American television. A simpler and more naive time when anything that could be imagined seemed possible. Pure Americana.