The Ugly Space Ship and the Astounding Dream
Dr. A. A. Jackson



       I was 11, a week from being 12 years old. It was in the mailbox. ‘It’   was October 18 1952 issue of Collier’s magazine. I had seen the movie   Destination Moon; I had my copy of Fletcher Pratt and Jack Coggins’   ROCKETS JETS, GUIDED MISSILES AND SPACE SHIPS1. Where was the bullet  shape? The fins? The needle nose? This was not right! This was supposed to  be a space ship! It was ugly! 

Yet! That lighting, the color, that splash of molten rock! The detail! How could something so ugly ... catch my imagination? So real? I took that issue to my room, ugly! 

   It lay   about most of the day. Well... eventually I had to read it. That week I must  have read that issue 20 times! 

Air! If you don’t have air, you don’t need aerodynamics. I thought about Willy Ley and Wernher  von Braun’s words. Yeah! To land on the moon you don’t need a bullet shape. Almost any shape will do.

     I came to love that ugly space ship! It cemented itself to my soul. It  led  me to a life in science, a B.A. degree in Mathematics, a M.A. degree  in Physics and Ph.D. in physics. Most startling , to me, that series led me to 35 years of work in space flight , first Apollo , the Shuttle program, and now the ISS. All due to the romance of space expressed  by Chesley Bonestell, Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley.

Landing on the Moon

       March 22 2002 marks the 50th anniversary of the most influential   feat of popular science writing ever. The March 22 1952 issue of Collier’s   stands a landmark in the history of space flight.     

       Collier’s magazines from March 1952 to April 1954 outlined an amazing dream2. There was a huge vertical three-stage launch vehicle with   its horizontal landing ferry space ship, a large toroidal space station, orbital   transport ships, a base on the moon, exploration of the moon, and ultimately   a manned expedition to Mars. Even thought the exposition in each issue was   brief, all aspects of manned space flight were covered. Besides the hardware   there was coverage of the medical/psychological and training elements of  manned space flight, even the legal aspects of manned exploration of earth  orbit and the moon. The prose in the Collier’s issues was simple, direct  and clear. The illustrations on the covers and pages conveyed an immense sense of detailed design. Even if those articles were fairly short the amount of information contained in the paintings and drawings enfolded a mind boggling   amount of depth of thought.

Third stage ferry, space station, taxi and telescope in orbit.

     The March 22 issue of Colliers dealt with the design and building of the   space station. The basic building blocks ferry ship and were incredible,  in the words of Wernher von Braun: 

   “Imagine the size of this huge three-stage rocket ship: it stands  265 feet tall, approximately the height of a 24-story building. It base measures  64 feet in diameter. And the over all weight of this monster rocket ship is 14,000,000 pounds, or 7,000 lbs – about the same weight of a light cruiser.” Hardly mentioned is that in the building and testing this ferry ship, man would have made his first orbital flight!    

     Only 15 years later von Braun led his Marshall Space Flight Center crew  to design and build the Saturn 5.  

     Most interesting is how von Braun had expanded his idea of a Mars expedition   (more on that below). He now recognized the importance of establishing what  we call a ‘node’ in low earth orbit and introduced the space station. Important for many reasons the von Braun space station would serve as an assembly point for expeditions to the Moon and Mars. This was important  logistical concept and solution to a crucial mass ratio problem. Much more economic to launch from earth orbit than from a deep potential well.   

Cutaway view of the Ferry   Cabin (painting by Fred Freeman)

    The design of a total manned space flight mission had occurred before,  in 1939 The British Interplanetary Society had planned out a mission to the moon. The scale of the Collier’s space flight series was titanic. The space station and Moon expedition , and then the vision of a grand flotilla of ten space ships that would go to Mars for an expedition  time of 2 years, with 70 explorers! Fifty men go to the surface, 20 stay in orbit. Everything is worked out, even the 950! ferry flights needed to assemble the ten space ships. In the Collier’s series the build up to the Mars expedition is elaborated. First the Space Station is built, with the following logical Moon exploration.  

The Grand Flotilla to Mars

    One has the impression by the end of the lunar exploration exploration, in the Colllier's series, that mankind has a permanent foothold in space.

    The full realization ,1952 to 1954, of this Collier’s series is astounding,  not less due to the illustration artistry of Chesley Bonestell. Bonestell  ,who was  already famous for his paintings with astronomical settings.  The Collier’s series exceeded any illustration work he had ever done.  The composition,   point of view, color and , indeed, ‘sense of  wonder’ are probably   the greatest examples of ‘space art’  ever done. (Let us not for get the wonderful illustration work done by the  artists  Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep).

The English version of Das Marsprojekt

     The 1952-1954 space flight series is preceded by an interesting sequence of events. The Mars Expedition appeared in 1954, but the 1952- 1953 Collier’s  series, was kind of back fill. Von Braun and Peenemünde colleagues  * had envisioned the ferry ships and the interplanetary passenger-cargo  vehicles in 1948. This Mars ‘paper mission’ appeared  as the last installment of the Collier’s series April 30, 1954 , but had been worked out six years before!  

Dr. von Braun’s Mars paper project was worked on between the end of 1947 and through out 1948. It was published in special edition of the German space flight journal Weltraumfahrt in 1952, later that year in a hardback edition. Lucky for me I bought a copy  of the English translation in 1953, from the University of Illinois Press.    

This slim little   volume details the design of the earth-to-orbit ferry vessels, the passenger/cargo ships and the Martian landing ‘boats’. The chapter headings are,  (a) THREE-STAGE FERRY VESSELS, (b) SPACE SHIPS, (c) LANDING BOATS, (d) FERRY  FLIGHTS AND GENERAL LOGISTICS, (e) POWER PLANT PERFORMANCE and (f) INTERPLANETARY  RADIO COMMUNICATION.  

Das Marsprojekt   is an amazing technical conception for 1948! Von Braun implies the reason   for the size of the Mars mission design ,in his introduction, when he talks about Columbus and his exploration. It seems that von Braun realized that   the expedition needed redundancy. Though redundancy is not elaborated as a concept  in  Das Marsprojekt it is evident that 3 ‘landing boats’ and 7 cargo/transport ships insures the success of a mission , so far from home!      

Later in the   Collier’s series space taxies and space suits were invented. Expanding the 1948 ships and mission design to a space station and lunar expedition was a logical extension of the original conception.      

All in all the   Collier’s space series influenced thousands of people, some who became   wonder struck supporters and some who became active participants in American   space history. Like me!

*Though fully acknowledged , one notes, strong contributions were made to Das Marsprojekt by Krafft Ehricke, Dr. Hans Friedrich, Dr. Josef Jenissen, Dr. Joachim Mühlner, Dr. Adolf Thiel and Dr. Carl Wagner.

   All Chesley Bonestell art (c) copyright Bonestell Space Art, used with  permission       


   (1) Pratt, Fletcher. Illustrated by Coggins, Jack. Rockets , Jets, Guided   Missiles and Space Ships.

(2) The Collier’s Space Flight Series:
(3)Across the Space Frontier. ed. Cornelius Ryan (New York: Viking Press, 1952)
      (4) Conquest of the Moon, ed. Ryan (New York: Viking Press. 1953).

      (5) Marsprojekt; Studie einer interplanetrischen Expedition. Sonderheft der ZeitschriftWeltraumfahrt. Frankfurt: Umschau             Verlag, 1952.
      (6) Das Mars Projekt / Wernher von Braun. - Esslingen : Bechtle Verlag, 1952.